This is the best way to experience seeing the Hudson River by walking on top of it. It is especially nice on a beautiful day.
The day I walked over the “Walkway over the Hudson” it was a rather cool September day in the last days of the summer but still it was a spectacular day to see the river with blue skies and sunshine.
The views are just amazing
On both sides of the bridge, there are small parks to sit and relax. There are signs all over the bridge to tell the story of the bridge and the people who helped save it. The best part is to just sit around the rails and see the views of the Hudson River.
What is nice too is when you are leaving the Walkway is that you can tour Little Italy and Downtown Poughkeepsie. The Riverfront area of the City is changing quickly and new bars and restaurants are opening.
The towns and neighborhoods to visit after leaving the Walkway
The history of the ‘Walkway Across the Hudson’:
The bridge now known as the Walkway Over the Hudson opened in 1889 as the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge to transport western raw materials to eastern industrial centers. Rosendale cement was used in the original construction of the piers. At the same time of its opening, it was the longest bridge in the world.
In addition to freight trains, the bridge hosted passenger trains connecting Boston, New York, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington as early as 1890. Trolley cars termed “rapid transit” were modified to run on both trolley and railroad tracks and served tourists, students and shoppers (from New Paltz to Lucky Platt’s). Special West Point Football trains ran from 1921-1930. Circus trains, milk trains, trains for hogs and cattle-the uses were varied and the impact was huge. At its peak as many as 3,500 rail cars crossed the bridge each day.
There were two sets of tracks until 1918 when gauntlet track, also called interleaved track, was installed to handle the weight of diesel locomotives. It was removed in 1958.
During World War II the bridge was painted black to make it less visible in the event of an attack. Painting continued until the 1960’s. The high quality of the steel used in the original construction does not need to be painted. Metal experts during reconstruction stated that the absence of paint in fact helped keep the steel in the good condition it is in today.
The fire that destroyed the tracks in 1974 was probably started by a spark from a train’s brakes. From Carleton Mabee’s ‘Bridging the Hudson’, page 247: “An hour after a Penn Central train with 100 cars crossed the bridge on May 8, 1974, a thick cloud of black smoke hung over the bridge. Wooden ties were smoldering and wooden walkways were burning, fanned by a moderate breeze. Because Penn Central had no guards or maintenance men on the bridge at the time, the fire was not quickly reported. When firemen arrived at the site, they found they could not easily pump water up to the top of such a high bridge.
When firemen arrived arrived at the site, they found they could not easily pump water up to the top of such a high bridge. When they tried turning on the water to flow into the bridge. When they tried turning on the water to flow into the steel pipe which ran the length of the bridge, a line meant to help fight fires, they found that because it had not been drained the previous winter, it had burst at several points-Penn Central had known it but had not repaired it.”
It was rebuilt and re-opened in October 2009 as the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park thanks to the efforts of a dedicated friends group, the Dyson Foundation, many donors and New York State.
At 212 feet above the Hudson River, this 1.28 mile linear park boasts scenic views north to the Catskills and south to the Hudson Highlands.
The Walkway is amazing on a sunny day
The Walkway is part of the Hudson Valley Rail Trail Network and was inducted into the Rail-Train of Fame in 2016, it connects Ulster County’s Hudson Valley Rail Train to the William R. Steinhaus Dutchess Rail Trail.
The ADA compliant 21 story glass elevator provides seasonal access from Poughkeepsie waterfront at Upper Landing Park a short walk from the Metro North train station.
The Walkway welcomes more than 500,000 visitors annually from all over the world who enjoy walking, cycling and running amidst its scenic beauty.
Today, the Walkway is operated and owned by NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the NYS Bridge Authority it is open year round, offering programs, events and tours made possible through membership and donations to the Walkway organization.
(This information was taken from the Walkway over the Hudson website and pamphlet and I give them full credit for all of this information).
A trip to the Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-the-Hudson is an interesting step back into the Colonial history of this country. During the summer, there is an interesting walking tour of the home offered usually from the end of July to Labor Day. Then the house is closed to prepare for the huge ‘Pumpkin Blaze’ during the months of October and November and then the house is shut down until the spring.
The house tour is interesting because it shows the home as a working farm and place of commerce for the family. This was not a weekend home for the family working in the City but crops being grown for shipping, vibrant gardens that supplied the house and a small tavern for travelers along the Albany Post Road as well as a place for shipping goods down the rivers.
Van Cortlandt Manor
The home is furnished in the most modern furnishings of the time and you can see how the house reflected the needs of the family at that time. It was more of a home than a luxurious place to entertain. The furnishes are practical, very in fashion of the time and nicely decorated.
The Dining Room
The tour of the kitchens and storage areas show that even in what was the modern era was not such easy living without servants. The estate was somewhat self-contained with animals and provisions being raised on the land and there is even an area where fabric such as flax and cotton where spun and made into clothing.
The kitchen dining area
The upstairs bedrooms show that the linens were under lock and key even with the servants and that the rooms were well-appointed and comfortable. A lot of the family heirlooms still reside in the house and it gives you a perfect look at what life must have been like when the family lived here.
Don’t miss the gardens as well. Some have been over-grown because of the lack of volunteers but still you can see the beauty of the flowers and trees around the house. The house sits right on the cross between the Croton and Hudson rivers and even though it is now grown in, you can see that the house stood at one of the busiest sections of Upstate commerce.
The Pumpkin Blaze-Hudson Valley Historical Association:
During the months of Halloween, there are thousands of pumpkins that line the walks and beautiful displays to see along the paths of the estate and the river. This event is sponsored by the Hudson Valley Historical Association and is one of their biggest fundraisers. Don’t miss this annual event every fall.
The Blaze is amazing!
The Pumpkin Blaze in 2019:
Some pictures from the MoMA Pumpkin Museum:
Their version of “The Scream”:
The Van Cortlandt Manor ablaze with lights and sounds
Justin Watrel at the Pumpkin Blaze
My Aunt and I at the Pumpkin Blaze in 2019
The Pumpkin Blaze in 2022:
Entering the Pumpkin Blaze in 2022
Pumpkins greeting you in all shapes and sizes
The Pumpkin Planetarium at the Pumpkin Blaze
Pumpkin Bee Hive
The “Terror Zee Bridge” at the Pumpkin Blaze
The Pumpkin Carousel
The Pumpkin Fire Services
The Headless Horseman is the theme of many October festivals in the Hudson River Valley
The History of the Van Cortlandt Manor:
By Royal Charter, Van Cortlandt Manor was originally a 86,000 acre tract granted as a patent to Stephanus Van Cortlandt in 1697 by King William III, stretching from the Hudson River on the west to the first boundary line between the Province of New York and the Colony of Connecticut, on the east, twenty English miles in length by ten miles in width in shape nearly a rectangular parallelogram forming, “The Manor of Cortlandt”.
The massive holding was acquired by direct purchase from the Indians, in part by Stephanus van Cortlandt, a native born Dutch gentleman of New York and in part by others whose titles he subsequently bought, this tract together with a small tract on the west side of the Hudson River opposite the promontory of Anthony’s Nose, which he also purchased from the Indians.
The Manor House was built sometime before 1732 but was not any owner’s principal residence until a grandson, Pierre Van Cortlandt, moved there in 1749. At the time the manor house was on a 1000 acre portion of the original tract.
Pierre brought his family to the estate in 1749 and established the manor into it most vibrant days, according to some. During this period, the manor was operating an apple orchard, dairy farm, a bee house, a kiln, a tavern and a carpenter and blacksmith shops. Van Cortlandt Manor was a self-sustaining community while Pierre and his family resided in the estate. At this time, tensions leading to the Revolutionary War were building and the manor would become a place of wartime retreat.
Pierre sided with the colonies and the manor was used to assist the Continental Army, using its resources to make food and supplies. Pierre was involved with military legislature and his son Philip was a soldier for the Continental Army. Eventually Pierre and his family vacated the manor in the thick of war. The manor was ransacked by the British Army and left in poor standing. Philip, becoming a brigadier general by the war’s end, returned and along with his sister, Catherine, brought the manor back to working order.
Van Cortlandt Manor became an essential stop on the route from New York to Albany in the years that followed the war. The mills were once again thriving and provided the community and travelers with food, supplies and lodging. Pierre and his wife did not return until 1803 once the manor was in full working order again. The manor was passed down in the family until it was sold to a non-relative, Otis Taylor in 1945. By this time, the property had lost its luster and was not the flourishing estate it had once been.
In 1953, John D. Rockefeller Jr. purchased the property and began restoring the manor to previous prominence. In 1961, Van Cortlandt Manor became registered as a National Historic Landmark.
Disclaimer: This information on the history of the house was provided by Wiki and I give them full credit on the information.
Places to Eat:
Located in the ShopRite Mall next to the Blaze:
The food at New Happy Garden in the Shoprite Mall is excellent and you can sit down in the restaurant. It is the perfect place for lunch or dinner before or after the Blaze. Their Lo Mein and General Tso’s Chicken are excellent. Please read my reviews on TripAdvisor.
Springwood, the home of the Roosevelt family in Hyde Park, NY
I have visited the childhood home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt many times over the years. It is an interesting part of not just Hudson River Valley history but of American history.
Parts of the house were built in the late 1700’s and added on later by the families who lived in the house. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s father bought the house and continued to add on to it. Most of the estate is still intact as well as the homes that the President built separate from the main house to give he and his wife some privacy from his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, who owned the home until her death.
The entrance to Springwood was decorated for the holidays
Visiting Springwood is like a step back in time. Unlike the grand mansions of the Mill’s and Vanderbilt’s up and down Route 9, Springwood looks more like a home just on a larger scale. The self-guided tour takes you through the first story of the house which includes the dining room, living room, sitting rooms and offices of the President and of his mother, who ran the staff and the household.
The inside of Springwood as you enter the foyer which was decorated for Christmas
The house is done in dark woods, representing a time before the Victorian age when the Federalist look was in and the later additions represent the trends in Victorian style. The furnishings were functional and very homey not like the elaborate ‘over the top’ furnishes in some of the other mansions. The Roosevelt’s were old money Hudson River Valley compared to the Vanderbilt’s who money was earned after the Civil War and did not have to prove themselves to Upper Crust Society.
The Living Room/Parlor of the house where people would gather after dinner
I was impressed with the amount of sporting goods, stuffed animal species and just the general hominess of the house. It looked like someone still lived there. The downstairs area for the servants and the kitchen are functional and not huge. This is a house that was built for a family and for entertainment but not on the scale of the Astor’s or Vanderbilt’s. It ran for a growing family that lived in the house.
The Library and the Dining Room were decorated for Christmas as well as the foyer was decked with garland and bows. I am not sure how many times the family celebrated Christmas here being in the White House but I am sure that the family came home for the holidays. Mrs. Roosevelt, Franklin’s mother, ran the roost so the house functioned a certain way while she was alive.
Our first part of the self-guided tour was of the Living Room, Dining Room and Library on the first floor. The Living Room was smaller than most of the homes in this area again reflecting that the mansion was a home not a showplace. It was used all year long by Franklin’s family and was built to accommodate the growing family that he and Eleanor had created.
Th tour guide told us that the house was set up for Christmas the last year that FDR was alive and they had taken it from pictures and accounts that the family had done that year. The Dining Room had been set for Christmas lunch circa 1940’s with elaborate china and silver and even a children’s table so the kids would not be left out.
Christmas lunch at Springwood
The full Dining Room with the kids table in the background
The Library was decorated for the holidays as it had FDR’s last year alive and everything the site did was based on those pictures and accounts from family members.
The Library has gone through a full renovation and was decorated beautifully for the holidays
The Library was a very comfortable place to relax and socialize
The Christmas tree and the family presents in the Library
At the holidays when I visited in 2019, the house was going to be closed in April of 2020 for a full restoration and renovation of the lights, interior alarms and plumbing for about a year so the only Christmas decorations in the house was a tree in the library (the books had started to be removed from the shelves) and the formal dining room had been set for dinner. The rest of the mansion was in the process of being packed up so we didn’t get to tour it that time. During December 2022, the whole house was finally opened post-COVID and renovation and you could see it all in its glory.
Springwood at Christmastime
Even the upstairs bedrooms looked like any other American home at the time but a touch bigger. I could see by Eleanor’s room that she did not spend much time there. You can see where the adjustments were made when the President developed polio. I am glad that the man showed determination and did not let that stop him in his life. It proved to me that a disability limits you only if you let it.
The upstairs held the bedrooms of Mrs. Roosevelt, Franklin, Eleanor and the all the children. Each room was carefully cleaned and refreshed during the renovation so they look pristine now as if the family was still living there.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s Bedroom
Sara Roosevelt’s Bedroom
The Pink Room is where the King and Queen of England stayed when they visited the Roosevelts
The Pink Room where dignitaries stayed
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Bedroom
The modern bathroom with indoor plumbing
There was a large household staff to take care of things on the estate and in the house. The kitchen was the last stop on the tour in the basement. There must have been a lot of action here with such a big household to feed.
The kitchen at Springwood
The kitchen at Springwood was a busy place with so many people in the household and visiting
The grounds were interesting. The formal rose gardens are beautiful when in season and the estate does have views of the river. On the grounds of the estate as well is the Presidential Library, Museum and the gravesites of the President and his wife, Eleanor. Thes are located in the Rose Gardens that they loved so much.
The Springwood Estate
The Stables were very elaborate and held the trophies and ribbons of the family’s champion horses. The stables are now long empty but still display all the glories of the past when this was still a working farm.
The inside of the Stables
The only problem we faced on our visit in the Summer of 2019 was that the house was that a sweltering heat wave hit the Valley and the humidity hit 98 degrees. The house was boiling hot because they could not open the windows for fresh air and the whole house smelled musty and old. That is the bad part of all that wood trimming and paneling, it does smell when it is hot.
Still the ranger talked about the history of the house and the role it played not just with the government influence during WWII but at the holidays and how Sara Delano Roosevelt had influence on her family.
Still it was an interesting tour that takes about 45 minutes and is an important part of the foundation of a very important family.
History of FDR at Springwood:
Franklin’s father, James Roosevelt purchased the 110 acre estate in 1867 for $40,000. The property included a house overlooking the Hudson River and a working farm. FDR was born in the house on January 30, 1882, the only child of Sara and James Roosevelt. Growing up with a view of the majestic Hudson River, he developed a love of the river and the valley through which it flowed. By age eight, he was sailing the Hudson. As a young adult, racing his ice yacht “Hawk” was a favorite winter pastime.
Franklin accompanied his father on daily horseback rides. During these times, he became immersed in the land, its history and particularly the trees. In later years, he expanded his parents’ land holding to nearly 1,500 acres and planted over half a million trees. His interest in tree farming translated into a New Deal program, the Civilian Conservative Corps (CCC). The CCC provided jobs to unemployed men age 17-28. Over 10 years, enrollees planted over three billion trees and built over 800 parks nationwide.
Surrounded by the rich agricultural heritage of the Hudson Valley all his life, FDR felt a strong affinity with farmers. One of the first New Deal programs instituted during the Great Depression, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, was designed to help farmers retain their land. His subsistence homestead projects relocated poverty-stricken families into government subsidized rural communities that provided decent housing, cooperative work and farming and schools.
When Franklin Roosevelt married Eleanor Roosevelt in 1905, they resided in both at Hyde Park and their New York townhouse. Franklin and Eleanor had six children, one who died in infancy. FDR supervised the expansion and redesign of the house to accommodate his growing family and his political ambitions, ensuring it reflected the Dutch Colonial architecture of the Hudson Valley.
FDR contracted polio in 1921 and was paralyzed from the waist down. He held out hope for a cure but was never able to walk again unaided. The multi-level home was adapted to his needs with ramps along the short steps. The trunk lift, installed years before the onset of FDR’s polio became his transportation to the second floor.
In 1932, FDR was elected to the first of an unprecedented four terms as President of the United States. His presidency redefined the role of government in America, establishing programs designed to improve the lives of all Americans. These programs included Social Security, the Federal Deposit and Insurance Corporation, the Securities & Exchange Commission, the establishment of minimum wage and unemployment insurance.
During his 12 years as President, FDR led the nation through an economic crisis of enormous proportions and the Second World War. He continually returned to this home he loved, seeking strength and relaxation. He entertained foreign dignitaries here including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In the small study, FDR and Churchill initiated a document known as the “Hyde Park Aide Memoire”, that outlined possible future uses of the atomic bomb.
On the afternoon of April 12, 1945, FDR died from a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, GA. He was laid to rest on April 15th in the rose garden here. One year after his death on April 12, 1946, the home was opened to the public. At the dedication, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “I think Franklin realized that people would understand the rest and peace and strength which he gained here and perhaps go away with some sense of healing and courage themselves.”
(Home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Historic Site pamphlet)
History of the Springwood:
The estate was part of the 1697 agreement of the English Crown that gave 220 square miles to a group of nine businessmen from New York City. To ensure that everyone had access to the river, the land was divided into “Water Lots”, one of which was deeded to William Creed, one of the nine partners.
The central part of Springwood is believed to have been formed from a large farmhouse which was constructed around the year 1800 in the Federal style. In 1845, the estate was purchased by Josiah Wheeler, a merchant from New York City. Wheeler undertook a remodeling of the house, giving it a then fashionable Italianate style with a three story town at the south end as well as front and rear piazzas spanning the entire length of the house.
In 1866, the estate which has been reduced to one square mile, James Roosevelt bought the house and expanded the main house adding the servants wing, two more rooms and the carriage house. James Roosevelt passed away in 1900.
In 1915, FDR and his mother, Sara made the final additions and renovations to the house for the growing family and for entertaining political and family friends. Sara Roosevelt used the New York firm of Hoppin & Koen and doubled the size of the house by adding two large fieldstone wings (designed by FDR), a tower and a third story with a flat roof. The clapboard exterior of the house was replaced by stucco and most of the porch was replaced with a fieldstone terrace with a balustrade and a small columned portico around the entrance. The inside layout of the house was redesigned also to accommodate FDR’s growing collections of books, paintings, stamps and coins.
The grounds were also changed with the planting of almost 400,000 trees all over the estate in a thirty year period. Today large portions of the estate have been turned over to the Forestry Department of Syracuse University.
Disclaimer: The history of the Springwood and of FDR are living there was taken from Wiki writings and the pamphlet of The Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Site and I give their writers full credit for the information. Please see the attachments from the National Park site for more information.
Hours: Open Thursday-Sunday: 11:00am-5:00pm (the last tour is at 4:00pm)/Open Monday Holidays from April 19th to October 28th. The mansion then closes to prepare for the holiday season. Closed on Thanksgiving and Easter. There are special programs from January to April so please see the website.
Admission: $8.00 for adults/$6.00 for groups and Seniors/Children under 12 are free. Special events have separate fees and can run from $8.00 to $10.00 and above.
I have been a Friend of the Mills Mansion for about five years and have attended many special events at the mansion including their Afternoon Tea & Lectures, the Annual Meeting and Talk, The Holiday Party and the Isadora Duncan Dance and Reception. Their events are a lot of fun and are very engaging. It also includes a tour of the mansion which is very interesting. Try to get on one of their theme tours.
The Friends of Mills Mansion Meeting on April 2019
Their Special Events:
I recently attended their Summer fundraiser “Sunset on the Terrace”, an evening of cocktails, appetizers and music. On a beautiful sunny evening, there is nothing like it. We were entertained by the Perry Beekman Trio with an assortment of jazz music while passed hot and cold appetizers were passed around the room. It is a relaxing night of light food and cocktails and wine while chatting with members as the sun sets on the mansion’s terrace. Now I know why the Mills loved this house so much.
Another event I have attended over the past few years has been their “Christmas Cocktail Party” that is held in the formal dining room which is decorated for a Victorian Christmas.
Mill’s Mansion at the holidays is spectacular
What is nice is that everyone is dressed in suits or tuxes for the evening and like its Summer counterpart, it is a evening of light appetizers both passed and on the tables, light desserts and an assortment of wines from a local vineyard.
The Mills Mansion Holiday Party in 2018
The “Winter Lectures & Teas” have gotten more interesting over the years. The tables are laden with tea sandwiches, scones and small cakes and the Staatsburg blend of tea. They are always refilling everything for you and I have seen some big eaters at the table. The lectures this year were on various subjects taking place during the Victorian era that included “Bicycling and the Women’s Movement”, “Masquerade Balls during the Season” and “Etiquette & Calling Cards during a Social Visit” by visiting lecturers from colleges or local historians.
Afternoon tea here is wonderful
I recently went to the Victorian Halloween Lecture which was very interesting. These are a nice afternoon of good food and interesting discussion.
Mill’s Mansion Halloween Tea
The last lecture I went to before things shut down in February 2020 was on “Masquerade Balls of the Gilded Age” which was very interesting. The enormous amount of money that was spent on a one night affair is almost mind boggling. The Vanderbilt Ball alone cost almost three million dollars in today’s money.
These were not just social occasions but a change to show off your wealth and creativity. It was what money could buy back then before the coming of personal and income tax and the Great Depression. The speaker discussed the food and the music and the fact the home was filled with flowers out of season.
The Famous Vanderbilt Ball
She discussed how the balls were created during Roman times in Venice for the start of Carnival (Mardi Gras was the next week) and how they developed during the Renaissance. She then discussed how they played a role in High Society during the Gilded Age and they were considered a little risque at the time. It was a very interesting discussion. As usual, the tea and cakes were delicious and they did a nice job decorating the room.
Hostess Alva Vanderbilt at her famous Ball
The Masked Cocktail Party for Christmas 2022 fundraiser:
The mansion ready for a Christmas party
The Mills Mansion, Staatsburgh, was decked out for the holidays on the night of December 9th, 2022 for a private fundraiser to raise money to replace the curtains in the library on top of other repairs at the mansion. This sold out event was packed the whole evening and was attending by over a 100 people who spilled over into the library and foyer.
Entering the party through the decorated foyer lead to the festivities as it would have during the Gilded Age
The Christmas Tree in the foyer was amazing
There was an open bar with wines and spirits plus water and non-alcoholic choices, passed appetizers with items like gourmet cheese spreads, chicken on a skewer and Christmas cookies. The band was wonderful and played all sorts of contemporary hits as well as Christmas music.
Everyone dressed for the Mills Mansion Ball-The Masquerade Cocktail Party Fundraiser December 9th, 2022
The three main rooms on the top floor were decorated to the hilt for the party
The main dining room was decorated with the theme of masks
People were in a festive mood
The Dining Room table was the focal point of the room
People gathered all over the Dining Room for the event
There was an air of mystery in the Dining Room with everyone wearing masks
The lead singer of the band had the most beautiful 1920’s star outfit
People enjoying themselves in the Dining Room
The Dining Room was packed at the height of the evening
The Band was excellent
The mask decorations were amazing
The party continued in the Library which was also decorated for the holidays
The Library Christmas tree was ablaze the evening of the party
I was only at the party for about an hour but I had a really nice time and I needed it. I had to get my mind off school and with the few drinks and lively conversation mixed with wonderful food, it was an enchanting evening. It was so nice to see people all dressed up again and very age appropriate to the time period. I felt like I had been carried back to the mid-1920’s.
I was also nice to tour the mansion in such a lively time of the day. People were having such a good time.
Visiting the Mansion at the Christmas Holidays:
Don’t miss visiting the Mills Mansion during the Christmas holidays. The house is decked out for a Victorian Christmas even though the Mills did not spend much time at the mansion during the holiday season preferring to live in their New York mansion during the holiday social season.
The holidays are a sumptuous display of the beauty of the Christmas season and a way of showcasing all the nooks and crannies of the house. It showed how Victorians may have enjoyed the holiday season.
The Mills Mansion foyer Christmas tree in December 2022
The foyer was adorned with flowers and garland as you entered the home
The Mills daughter and grandson
The family portrait gallery
The Reception Room between the Foyer and the Dining Room
The Dining Room:
Masks were the theme in December 2022
Masks adorned the Dining Room for Christmas
Still the house is decked out every year with different decorations and the formal dining room has just had the ceiling repaired and new velvet curtains put on the windows. The foyer steps of the older part of the mansion have been repaired with new curtains and rugs as well. Don’t miss seeing the tree in the foyer.
The volunteers are all on staff to answer any questions so feel free to ask about how the Mills entertained and lived in this era. The mansion is so beautifully decorated for the holidays.
The Mills Mansion dining room at Christmas in December 2022
The Dining Room was designed for a Masquerade Ball theme in December 2022
The Butler’s Pantry off the Dining Room for the holidays in December 2022
Still the house is decked out every year with different decorations and the formal dining room has just had the ceiling repaired and new velvet curtains put on the windows. The foyer steps of the older part of the mansion have been repaired with new curtains and rugs as well.
The Mills Mansion Library at Christmas in December 2022
The Christmas tree in the library is very elegant
Family portraits in the Library
Down the hall from the Dining Room and the Library are the bedrooms of the hosts of the house, Ruth and Ogden Mills. These elegant bedrooms shared a modern day bathroom.
Ruth’s Private Office:
Ruth conducted her business from her private office. Her portrait sits proudly in the room.
The Bedrooms and Personal Family Space:
Ogden Mills bedroom on the first floor
The modern bathroom at the Mills Mansion
Ruth Mills grand bedroom
The staircase was fully decorated for the holidays as well with garlands and trees
The landing of the staircase to the first floor
The decorated staircase
The mansion’s beautiful gift shop is located at the bottom of the stairs.
In 2020 and 2021: (During COVID)
Recently with the COVID-19 pandemic and outbreak affecting cultural sites all over the United States, New York State has enacted Phase 4 of reopening with the exception of opening museums, restaurants and bars for business so they all have to take it “outside”. That Staatsburg site is no different as the inside of the mansion has remained closed.
That leads to new creativity and ideas of how to show off the mansion and it’s grounds true beauty. The State Park site has now created two different programs for the Summer months, the ‘Landscape Tour’ of the mansion’s former ice house, greenhouse, boat house and walking paths and the ‘Programs on the Portico’, lectures of the mansion’s past starting with a lecture of “Staatsburgh’s Servants”.
The Landscape tour of the property was very interesting as our group strolled through the grounds first to the site of the old ‘ice house’ by the river, where ice was cut in the winter time and used for the ‘ice boxes’ in the home which was those days ‘modern refrigeration’. We also visited the site of the ‘boat house’ where water sports by the river started the day and the yachts that used to flow up and down the Hudson River.
Our next stop on the tour were the sites of the old greenhouses that used to supply flowers for the mansion and fruits and vegetables for the kitchen. They disappeared over fifty years ago. The site of the stables is now an overgrown woods but once lead to bridle paths around the estate. The tour is about 90 minutes.
The ‘Programs on the Portico’ lectures started with the theme “Staatsburg’s Servants” later in the afternoon. These 3:00pm lectures on the ‘front porch’ of the mansion are socially distanced and under cool shade.
The lecture was on items that the servants would use when the family was ‘in residence’ in the warmer months and how they would be used day to day. Items like a hand-cranked ice cream maker and a scoop for desserts, a bottle closer for beverages, a rug cleaner and a meat press for meals were just some of the items displayed and discussed. It was explained how the house would go through a deep cleaning when the family was away and when they were ‘at home’ how the house would be cleaned around them.
On a recent “Lecture on the Portico”, the topic of the “Titanic” was discussed. It seems that Mr. And Mrs. Mills had tickets on the return voyage to Europe from New York. They lost many friends and family members like J.J. Astor on the sinking of the ship. Our lecturer talked about what you would wear, you would eat and how you would dine on the ship and all the protocols of behavior. Between the sinking of the ship and WWI this ended the “Gilded Age” and ushered in the “Jazz Age” after the war was over. All of the these lectures and tours are free.
Another tour I was on recently was the “Exploring the Village of Staatsburgh” tour where a small group of us toured the Village of Staatsburgh where the mansion was located and learn about the history of the town. It was taken from the perspective of how the mansion was dependent on it and the town benefited from the Mills family and the people that worked there.
We met at the Staatsburgh Library which was a old church at one time.
We visit the homes of the people who lived there like the Head Housekeeper, the Estate Manager and Butler and the footman. It was interesting to see how these people lived when they were not working.
The homes in Staatsburgh were beautifully decorated for the holidays
We learned how the town was created, how the businesses like the railroad and the ice manufacturing businesses were developed and how they grew. We learned a how the town was much more developed before WWII and the effects of the development of Route 9 bypassing the town changed it.
St. Margaret’s Church was where we started the tour which is an amazing church. The stained glass windows are beautiful.
When we were on the tour, we saw how the town progressed from being dependent on the mansions and estates to how businesses like ice harvesting became prominent in the area up until the 1950’s. Our last stop was the old Hughes Department store in the old downtown area which is now a sail store for boating.
As a member, we also had a recent concert on the portico to hear the duo “Acute Inflections” perform on the lawn. We all stayed socially distanced on the lawn but still the concert was nice and this is what being a member of the Friends group is all about. These small events make a big difference.
The duo “Acute Reflections” performed that day
“Acute Reflections” performing
Another recent tour I took at the Mills Mansion was the “Estates of Staatsburgh” tour where we visited the abandoned estates of the Lee and the Hoyt families. The Hoyt’s were distant relatives of Ruth Livingston and their mansion still stands up on a buff in the woods overlooking the Hudson River. The family lived there until the 1960’s when the land and home were sold to the State of New York to create the park.
The abandoned Hoyt Estate will soon be a Visitors Center for the Park
The Lee Mansion burned down in the late 1950’s and all that is left of their estate if the old ice house, which is the size of a regular home. Most of these old estates we came to find out were self sufficient with agriculture and light manufacturing.
The Hoyt Mansion in its heyday
We got to see all the back trails to these old estates and the old driveways that once led to them. They have been abandoned since the 1960’s and have almost a spooky appearance of being lost in time. With the foliage in the background, it gave them a Halloween appearance. The tour was very interesting how the Gilded Age didn’t last too long when modern times came into play with income tax.
To ring in 2021, the park had their “First Day Hike tour, ‘Staatsburgh in Winter”. There were two walking tours around the estate. One entitled “Staatsburgh in Winter” which discussed the winter time fun at the turn of the century and the activities the Mills family enjoyed when they were at the estate in winter months. It seems that Ruth Mills was quite an accomplished figure skater. The family also owned an ice yacht, “The Beatrice” that they rode on the frozen river.
The Mills Mansion New Year’s Day Walking Tours-Me with the dark jacket and white mask
The second tour we took later that afternoon was “When Ice came from the river: Ice Harvesting in the Gilded Age”. We toured the river and the cove areas of the estate and discussed the ice block harvesting business that Mr. Mill’s had on the river. The family ice house could hold 500 tons of ice that was sold down in New York City. It was interesting to see how the process of clearing the snow and cutting the ice into blocks served as refrigeration for thousands of residents before refrigerators came into use.
Both tours our groups walked the back of the estate and the river front along the Hudson River. The tour guide had a long conversation on how the river was used during the Winter and that life continued in a productive way even after the holidays were over. It was a great way to spend the first day of the New Year.
The park continues to amaze me in their adaption on running events during the COVID era.
In 2021, the mansion had been opened for the Christmas tours, but I was not able to attend. There was not that much time to run back and forth to the Hudson River Valley but in February 2022 the mansion finally resumed inside tours of the first floor of the mansion to the public.
The mansion looked like it had gone through a deep cleaning as everything looked shiny and new. It would have made Mrs. Mills proud. I was lucky to come up to Staatsburgh during the ‘Spring Thaw’ and it was 56 degrees out so I could enjoy the grounds as well. I learned some new things about how the Butler’s Pantry worked, and we were able to see the ice chests and china and silver that the family used for service. I swear I learn new things on each tour I take here.
All of these can be seen on the organization’s website.
In 1792, Morgan Lewis, the third Governor of New York, purchased an estate covering of about 334 acres and commissioned the construction of a colonial-style house on the site of the present mansion. In 1832, the first house was destroyed by fire, said to be the act of arson committed by disgruntled tenant farmers.
The current home, originally built in 1832 and greatly expanded in the 1890’s, the Mills Mansion (also known as Staatsburgh) is emblematic of the great country estates built in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to house America’s wealthiest families.
Staatsburgh is a New York State Historic Site located within the boutonnieres of Mills-Norrie State Park. It is an elegant example of the great estates built by America’s financial and industrial leaders during the Gilded Age.
A 25 room Greek Revival structure was built on the site in 1832 by Morgan Lewis and his wife, Gertrude Livingston, replacing an earlier house that had burned down. This second house was inherited by Ruth Livingston Mills, wife of noted financier and philanthropist Ogden Mills.
In 1895, Mr. and Mrs. Mills commissioned the prestigious New York City architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White to remodel and enlarge their Staatsburgh home. After the completion in 1896, the house was transformed into a Beaux-Arts mansion of 65 rooms and 14 bathrooms. Its exterior was embellished with balustrades, pilasters, floral swags and a massive portico. The rooms were furnished with elaborately carved and gilded furniture, fine oriental rugs, silk fabrics and a collection of art objects from Europe, ancient Greece and the Far East.
In 1938, the house and 192 acres were given to the State of New York by Gladys Mills Phipps, the daughter of Ruth and Ogden Mills. The estate is now operated by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. In 1988, the Friends of Mills Mansion were organized to support the preservation and educational work at the site.
(Friends of the Mills Mansion Website)
The outside of the mansion features a massive portico, balustrades, pilasters and floral festoons. The central part of the mansion is layered into a basement, three floors and an attic. In the north and south wings, there is a sub basement, a basement and two floors. Ceilings in the older part of the building dating prior to the enlargement (the first floor of the central part) are about 14 feet high, whereas the ceilings of the later construction (first floor of the north and south wings) can be about 18 feet high. The interior of the building is decorated in French styles of the 17th and 18th century. However, some architectural elements of the previous home have been preserved in the process.
The Mills Mansion poses several challenges to preservation: On the outside, a gray sprayed concrete finish which was added later as a preservation measure need to be removed and replaced with a more suitable surface treatment. At the same time, the decorative cornice and many decorative elements need to be either restored or replaced. On the inside of the building, wall paint and furnishings fabrics are in need of replacement, marble and wooden surfaces need to be cleaned and the objects of the mansion’s collection need to be conserved.