The Hudson Valley area of New York, about a six-hour drive from Buffalo, has a wealth of history and is the perfect place to spend a few days visiting landmark sites located along the Hudson River.
Some of these sites include the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, which consists of Roosevelt’s presidential library and home in Hyde Park. Nearby are the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site and the Vanderbilt Mansion. Farther up the river you can visit the homes of noted artists Frederic Church and Thomas Cole, as well as the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site in Kinderhook.
My family spent several days in this area last summer and visited a number of these sites, most of them located on or near Route 9.
Our first stop was the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. Our visit began with an hourlong guided tour of the Roosevelt family home, Springwood, where we learned about Roosevelt and his family.
Next, we were able to take a self-guided tour of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, which is located in the same complex. The presidential library, which opened in 1941, was the nation’s first presidential library. Expect to spend three hours or more touring the site, including time to pay your respects to Franklin and Eleanor; they are buried in the rose garden located near the family home.
Two other Roosevelt homes are nearby: Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s personal retreat, and Top Cottage, which was Franklin’s hilltop retreat. Val-Kill is the only National Historic Site that is dedicated to a first lady; Top Cottage was used by FDR as a place to meet privately with foreign dignitaries.
As you continue north on Route 9 you’ll see a sign for the Historic Hyde Park Railroad station. Turn down that street and soon you’ll see the circa-1914 station on the banks of the Hudson River. It is a museum operated by the Hudson Valley Railroad Society. However, when it was a train station, it was used by Roosevelt when he was governor of New York.
The next place to visit is the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. This mansion was the spring and summer country home of Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt from 1896-1938. Frederick was the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, a wealthy and well-known shipping and railroad tycoon in the mid-1880s. The 54-room, Beaux Arts style mansion designed by McKim, Mead, and White is opulent, yet by Vanderbilt standards it is modest; Frederick’s brother, George, built America’s largest home, the 250-room Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, N.C.
When we visited, the exterior of the mansion was undergoing a major restoration. But we still were able to take a guided tour of the interior of the home and then stroll in the formal gardens, which feature multiple tiers, more than 2,000 rose bushes, several fountains and multiple seating areas.
You can also take a tour of another area mansion, Staatsburgh State Historic Site, also known as the Mills Mansion. It was the home of Ogden and Ruth Mills in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The property was donated to New York by their daughter in 1938.
Continue north on Route 9 for another 20 minutes to Rhinebeck, which has several points of interest, including Wilderstein, the home of FDR’s cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley. The Queen Anne-style mansion is open for tours May to October. All items in the home were owned by the Suckley family.
If you like vintage aircraft be sure to stop at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, which has one of the largest collections of early aircraft in the country. Also in Rhinebeck is the Beekman Arms, America’s oldest operating inn.
We stopped for dinner in nearby Red Hook at the Historic Village Diner; a circa-1927 Silk City diner. It has been named one of the top 20 diners in the nation by Country Living Magazine.
The next day we explored some of the towns farther north on Route 9. The Village of Hudson has a downtown area full of antique stores and art galleries.
The first site we visited was Olana State Historic Site, the home of Frederic Church (1826-1900) who was the leading painter of American landscapes. It took Church more than 40 years to create the Persian-style home, which is set high on a hill overlooking the Hudson River, and the 250 landscaped acres surrounding it. Olana was not merely a home to him; he considered it to be a work of art.
The house, which can be viewed by guided tour only, has the original furnishings, including Church’s paintings.
Across the river, you can visit Cedar Grove, the home of artist Thomas Cole (1801-1848), who is regarded as the Father of American Landscape Painting and the founder of the Hudson River School art movement. He was a mentor to Frederic Church.
The last stop on this drive is the Martin Van Buren National Historic site in Kinderhook, which is about 20 miles south of Albany. This home, which Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States, called Linderwald was where he lived after he left public office. After watching the 10-minute film in the visitor’s center, you can take a ranger-guided tour of the home’s interior.