I have toured Castle Williams several times when visiting Governors Island over the last two years. The fort sits at a strategic site on the island facing Manhattan. The fort was originally built to protect New York City from the British during the War of 1812. The British knowing that the City had been fortified for battle never attacked New York.
The tour takes place twice a day for about an hour and you tour the first two levels of the fort. There are all sorts of signs around to show the history of the fort and its uses over the years. The one thing they don’t like is you touching the walls as the fort is still pretty fragile.
The nicest part of the tour is the observation deck at the top of the fort and the views of the Lower Manhattan skyline. It is a spectacular view of the harbor. You can see by the view why the fort was built where it was built and for its purpose before the War of 1812.
It really is a treat to see how fortifications mattered for cities in this time of history in this country.
The History of Castle Williams:
Castle Williams is a circular defensive work of red sandstone on the west point of Governors Island in New York Harbor. It was designed and erected between 1807 and 1811. It was designed by the Chief Engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lieutenant Colonial Jonathan Williams for whom the fort was named after. It was considered a prototype for new forms of coastal fortification.
The castle was one component of a larger defensive system for the inner harbor that included Fort Jay and the South Battery on Governors Island, Castle Clinton at the tip of Manhattan, Fort Gibson at Ellis Island and Fort Wood, which is now the base of the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island. This system of forts came to be known as the Second American System of coastal defense and existed to protect harbors like the one in New York from British interference with American Shipping.
Its usefulness as a fort began to end in the 1830’s, so Castle Williams subsequently served as barracks for the island’s garrison and new and transient troops. The castle was then remodeled by the U.S. Army for use as a prison in various forms during the Civil War and through the first half of the 20th Century.
In 1901, Secretary of War Elihu Root, who worked hard to modernize the Army, made a commitment to preserve the castle and overruled army leaders who wanted to demolish both it and Fort Jay. By 1903, the castle was fitted up as a model, state of art prison facility. In 1947, extensive renovations were carried out with the wooden catwalks replaced by concrete enclosed walk ways, hiding the beautiful stone arches on the third level and resulting in the industrial appearance of the courtyard today. Castle Williams ceased operations as a military prison in 1965 just before the U.S. Army left Governors Island.
The Castle again faced a demolition challenge as Coast Guard officials in Washington DC, who took control of Governors Island in 1966, wanted to demolish it. Instead, the castle was remodeled as a youth community center with a nursery, meeting rooms for Scouts and clubs, a woodworking shop, art studios, a photography laboratory and a museum. By the late 1970’s, the community center moved to another location and the fort became the grounds-keeping shop for the Coast Guard base.
Over time, the roof failed and broken windows allowed serious water damage to occur inside the castle. In the mid-1990s, the roof was replaced and new windows stopped further water damage to the structure but the interior remains closed until it can be made safe for public access. The National Park Service proposes to stabilize and restore the castle and eventually provide access to the roof, allowing the public to admire the harbor and the modern skyline of the great city (this has since opened on my last visit).
Castle Williams was individually listed in the National Register of Historic Placed on July 31, 1972. It was recorded by the Historical American Buildings Survey in 1983. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985 and the New York City Landmarks Historic District in 1996. It has been part of the Governors Island National Monument by Presidential Proclamations signed in 2001 and 2003.
(This information was provided by the National Park System Division of Cultural Affairs).
The Castle has since opened for tourists and touring since my last visit in the summer of 2019.
The entrance to Mesier Park where the Homestead is located
The plaque outside the home
I visited the Mesier Homestead recently and toured the home with a local docent. Home to four generations of the Mesier family, the house has been added onto since it was built in the mid-1700’s. The rooms are decorated with furnishings from the Victorian era and shows life as it may have been in the late 1880’s at the height of the Victorian era.
The Mesier Homestead in the summer months
The tour of the rooms shows how the home was added onto to meet the increased demands of a growing family and one of increasing affluence. The original home was added onto from the back to add service areas and work areas for the household.
The entrance to the Mesier Homestead
A portrait of Mrs. Mesier in the hallway
When you enter the foyer from the front door, there are reproductions of family portraits hallway that had served as the parlor of the original house. As the house expanded, this area became the formal entrance to the home. To the right of the foyer, there is the Living Room, where the Historical Society has uncovered one of the two fireplaces from the original home that once heated the rooms.
The reproductions of Mr. and Mrs. Mesier in the Living Room
During the late 1800’s, the son of the owner heightened the ceilings to get rid of the railroad ties that once decorated the ceiling. This gave the room a more modern look and showed the affluence of the family that could heat a home with heigh ceilings.
The Mesier Homestead Living Room
Another view of the Living Room
The room furnishings included family paintings, a then modern Victrola, ornated furniture and diagram of the family tree. The small steps led to a small office off the Living Room that was added onto with more family objects.
The Library and Office off the Living Room at the Mesier Homestead
When you entered the room from the kitchen and the Butler’s Pantry where food was finished and readied to be served, a formally set Dining Room for dinner showed the family’s status in the community.
The Dining Room at the Mesier Homestead
The sideboard and the Dining Room table
An ornate china set from England enhanced the table with fine linens that the family would have owned. A newly opened fireplace that had once heated the dining room was shown by a heating unit that would have been used in the Victorian age. All sorts of fine decorative objects lined the tables and shelves.
By the amount of space available for living and entertaining with the separate rooms for use in the home it showed how times were changing with the affluence of that time. The family would show off their fine things to show their status in the community.
The Fan Collection from Victorian times
The second-floor tour is a view of the slave/then servants’ quarters and the two-family bedrooms. What I thought was interesting on the tour is how the family had to co-mingle in the bedrooms because of the number of children in the family and how mom and dad were not always alone. The rooms had to be expanded so that there was plenty of room for the growing family.
The Children’s bedroom on the second floor
There were many family items in the house like clothing, children’s toys and playthings and items for recreation like bikes, ice skates and musical instruments of a time before TV, movies and radio. There were also items for spinning and making clothes.
Children’s toys during the Victorian Age reflected imagination and preparation for adulthood with blocks, dolls, kitchen items and other playthings to stimulate the mind.
During Victorian times, the way people shopped and carried themselves changed after the Civil War with the rise of department stores and the merchant class. Instead of making your clothes, you bought them at the store and there was protocol on how Victorians behaved and handled themselves in society regardless of class.
The care of grooming a Victorian woman had in her bedroom
One of the rooms was also set up like a small school with original children’s desks and blackboards. There is even a Civil War era flag that was found in one of the local homes hanging in the room.
The tour guide also noted the drafts in the house before insulation was put in and the conditions of the time with weather effecting living conditions inside with drafts in the winter and heat in the summer through the roof plyboards. This was modern living at the time. The heat would radiate from the lower level of the house and the Dutch doors would let fresh air in the warmer months. These were modern in comparison to our modern homes. This was the interesting part of the home.
When I asked why the back rooms had not been renovated like the front of the house, our tour guide explained that the Meiser’s were a very devout family and even though they were affluent for the times, they were restrained and not showy like you would see in places like the Vanderbilt mansion. They would not have entertained like that on a grand scale. It was an interesting perspective that those things did not mean that much to these older families.
The original section of the homestead from 1742 is currently being renovated. This is the original hearth and oven of the kitchen.
The tour takes about an hour and is a fascinating step back in history of the way these families lived.
Recently the house was decorated for the Christmas holidays with garland, holly and fragrant oranges that once masked the household smells. They also gave the house a festive fragrance. These popular tours last through the holiday season.
Please check their website for a list of their activities.
The History of the Mesier Homestead:
The Mesier Homestead and surrounding property was sold to the Village of Wappinger’s Falls in 1891 with the understanding that it forever be known as Mesier Homestead and Mesier Park. The Wappinger’s Historical Society acquired full custodianship of the Homestead in 2007 and through ongoing fundraising efforts has been able to restore the Homestead to its present appearance.
The Mesier Homestead at Christmastime:
Christmas time at the Mesier Homestead is a festive and elegant affair of decorations and the home being set for a Christmas in the Revolutionary War era. The only difference is the the home has a Christmas tree which did not come into existence until the Victorian era.
the outside of the home decorated with wreaths and garland
The Front Porch
The front door with wreaths and garland
Entering the main hallway of the Mesier Home
The other end of the Hallway
Even the doors were festive with wreaths
The family portraits in the hallway were adorned with garland
The Living Room was the centerpoint of the house on Christmas morning with children coming downstairs to see what Santa had left them in the later part of the 1890’s into the early 1900’s. The tree would have been the centerpiece of the room sparkling in Christmas morning and a place for the family to gather for the day. Nothing has changed in this tradition except electronics.
The Living Room was decorated for both a Victorian and Revolutionary Christmas
The Victorian Christmas tree was lit brightly for the holidays and added a festive touch to the room
The rest of the Living Room was set with flowers and garland
The Library was set with flowers and wreaths and made for a very welcoming environment. This would have been a quiet place on Christmas morning for the family with festivities all through the house.
The Library was simple decorated and elegant
The comfortable Library
Even so, the house was beautifully set with garland all over the mantels and doorways and the Dining Room was set for a formal Christmas lunch which would have been eaten after church. The concept of gift giving on the holidays also did not come about until the Victorian era as well. Still Christmas lunch had been part of the holiday tradition for years.
The Dining Room was set for an elegant Victorian Christmas lunch
Victorian china adorns the festive Christmas dinner table
The mantel in the Dining Room was adorned with garland and oranges which gave the room a wonderful fragrance of pine and citrus
The family portrait in the Dining Room got special attention
Mesier Homestead decorated for the Christmas holiday season
The Wappinger’s Falls Christmas tree is just outside the house
The bandstand outside the house was decorated to the hilt.
The History of the house:
The house itself is part of the ‘Rombout Patent’ of land that had been bought by the Dutch from the local Indian tribes by three prominent Dutch families. This section of the property was bought by Nicholas and Adolphus Brewer and contained 750 acres of land around the Falls area, and they built the first stone house in the village near present Mill Street. In 1742, the Brewers built a mill on the east side of Wappinger Creek.
Nicholas Brewer built the Mesier Homestead in 1741, which he sold in 1777 to Matthew Van Benschoten who in turn sold it to Peter Mesier, a merchant from New York City. In May 1777, soldiers and local residents attacked Peter Meiser’s house in Wappinger’s Falls, disputing the price of tea for sale in a small store inside the home. Mesier was a merchant from New York City and a Loyalist. The angry mob struck Mesier, beat his slaves and drank wine stored in the cellar. They also took the tea and left a small amount of money behind. The house was in the possession of the family for the next four generations (Wiki).
The organization’s goal for 2020 and beyond is to restore the original 1741 building so it can be a showcase of our Colonial history. Your membership, gifts and in-kind donations will help us maintain and restore this jewel of Wappinger’s Falls.
The Wappingers Historical Society Native American Collection:
The Wappingers Historical Society is the curator of an extensive collection of Native American artifacts, many of which stem from the Stoneco/Clinton Point and Bowdoin Park area in the vicinity of the Town of Wappinger. This collection of artifacts was once considered to be the largest private collection in New York State.
Victorian Hair art of the dead
It consists of over 2000 objects, many of which are projectile points (arrowheads and spear points). Some of these have been found to date back 8,500 years. Also included are tools such as scrapers, knives, axes and hatchets. A small portion of approximately 100 pieces of the collection is on display at the Mesier Homestead and can be seen as part of our guided tours.
The Native American collection is extensive at the Meiser House
The Mission of the Wappinger’s Falls Historical Society:
The Wappinger’s Historical is dedicated to preserving and promoting the history of the Town of Wappinger, the Village of Wappinger’s Falls and neighboring communities and to maintain the custodianship of the Mesier Homestead.
When you are a member of the Wappinger’s Historical Society, you help:
Storage area of the house
*Preserve and expand our archives, collections and library to actively chronicle the life of our hamlets, village and town for future generations.
*Develop and implement programs and exhibits so that people of all ages can better understand their connection to history.
*Safeguard our architectural heritage of the 1741 Mesier Homestead.
(This information was taken from the Wappinger’s Falls pamphlet, and I give them full credit for it)
The Mesier Homestead in the summer months
Their wonderful gift shop that should not be missed
Open: Sunday-Monday 9:30am-5:00pm (closes 4:00pm between November and January 5th) The house is only open between April and the beginning of January.
Fee: Adults $18.00/Seniors $15.00/Children (5-18) $9.00/Children (under 5 years old) Free (This is for house and Garden/Garden tours are different and depend on the season. Please check the website)
My review on TripAdvisor:
I recently visited the Boscobel House and Garden for their Christmas decorations and for a tour of the house at the holidays. Like most houses of its time period (the house was built in 1806), it was Post-Revolutionary War and the decorations would not have been that lavish as in the Victorian times.
The Grand Foyer at Boscobel
The house was tastefully decorated with garlands and mistletoe along the archways inside the foyer and with holly and mistletoe inside the house. Some of the tables were set for afternoon tea and entertaining in the Reception Room and there was a small table Christmas tree which were just coming into vogue after the War of 1812. The Reception Room was also set for entertaining as would be done in the holidays months in the later 1800’s.
The lights of Boscobel during the holidays
Our tour guide, Sam, was fantastic and I hope when you tour the house he is your guide. I was impressed with his knowledge of the house and of the Dyckman family. I had not realized that they were related to the Dyckman Farmhouse family in Inwood (See my review and write ups on the Dyckman Farmhouse here on VisitingaMuseum.com and MywalkinManhattan.com).
He told the story of the man who had the house built, how he made his fortune, how he died young and then his son and his wife dying around the same time and the son-in-law squandered the fortune with a series of bad investments and the house was foreclosed. It sat empty and was falling apart until a group of local citizens saved it.
The house is now back in its full beauty and furnished in period furnishings to reflect the time that the house was built. The tour takes you through the main foyer which you would have been received in and there would have been dancing here with a band at the top of the steps.
The Drawing/Receiving Room at Boscobel
We next viewed both the Drawing/Music Room where Mrs. Dyckman would have received guests and where informal entertaining would have happened. There was also musical instruments and player music boxes on display.
We then toured the Library area with books that were brought in from England and furniture that had been custom made for the house.
We crossed the foyer again and entered the Formal Dining Room, where the table was set for a holiday dinner. The candles had been lit (they were electric) and the room had a warm glow to it. The windows must have let in natural light so earlier meals must have been quite nice when in the summer months the sun shined inside the room.
The Dining Room for the holidays at Boscobel
There was custom made china set on the places and there was family silver next to it. The side boards were made by Sheraton and the cut glass had been imported from England.
We then toured the back areas of the Butler’s Pantry where all the food would have finished and plated. The room had all sorts of gadgets to keep the plates warm and where all the silver and china would have been kept.
We then toured the upstairs bedrooms, where we learned the family would have ‘camped out’ in for the cold winter months. I was surprised to learn that the whole front of the house was closed off and the upstairs bedrooms would have been sealed off with fireplaces to keep them warm and the cloth hangings around the bed to keep out the drafts. Both mother and son’s bedrooms were nicely furnished with period furniture.
The bedroom at Boscobel
Our last stop was the kitchen in the basement back area of the house where all the food would have been prepared and brought up to the Butler’s Pantry. There were all sorts of kitchen equipment for roasting, baking and boiling. You could tell that it was not easy work cooking these elaborate meals without the modern conveniences that we take for granted today. These cooks had a tougher time with the stoves and fireplaces as a source of cooking.
What I thought was a nice touch at the end of the tour in the kitchen area was that Sam served us cold apple cider and small gingerbread men which I thought was special keeping with the house’s tradition of a place of entertainment. I thought it was gracious and very much welcome.
It really was an interesting tour and I will have to return in the summer months.
History of Boscobel House & Gardens:
States Morris Dyckman was a descendant of a German-Dutch family whose roots in New York stretched back to 1662. During the American Revolution, he was a Loyalist serving as a clerk in the British army’s Quartermaster Department. In 1779, he accompanied his quartermaster superiors to England and for the next decade he rebutted the government allegations that the quartermasters had engaged in profiteering. (As the keeper of the department’s ledgers, he well knew how they had fattened their purses, assets Dyckman’s biographer James Thomas Flexner). The officers were eventually cleared, largely because of Dyckman’s testimony. They rewarded him with an annuity.
Dyckman returned to America in 1789 after a general amnesty of Loyalists had been declared. Five years later, he married Elizabeth Corne, a member of a distinguished New York family and 21 years his junior. Dyckman returned along to England in 1800 to settle problems with the payment of his annuity. The trip lasted nearly four years but was a success. He returned a rich man worth more than seven million dollars today. Before he left England, he bought many items for the house including silver, china, glass and books for his library.
The architect for the house was unknown but records show that Mr. Dyckman had some influence in the design of the house. Mr. Dyckman died in 1806 at age 51 and the house had only had the foundation finished at time. His 30 year old wife, Elizabeth finished the house in 1808 with the help of her husband’s cousin, William Vermilyea. She furnished the house and added to its inventory. She and her son, Peter lived in the house upon finishing it. She lived in the house until her death in 1823 and her son, Peter died the following year in 1824 at age 27. The house stayed in the family until about 1899 and then was foreclosed on. According to the guide, the house had not been updated at that point and was falling apart. The house had a series of absent owners over the next few years and then sat empty. It was bought by Westchester County in 1924 and the grounds were turned into a park.
Boscobel House & Gardens in winter
In 1945, the park was acquired by the Veterans Administration for a hospital and the owners took care of the exterior for a time. By 1954, the house was considered an excess on the budget and was being sold for $35.00 for demolition.
The house was saved by Historian Benjamin West Frazier and some friends of his who raised about $10,000 to have the house moved and dismantled to save ‘this treasure’. The house was stored in pieces until 1955, when Lila Acheson Wallace, the co-founder of Readers Digest became involved in the project.
She purchased the land that the house now sits on and devoted her time and money to have the house restored and worked with the curators of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she was a donor to help restore the house into its period design with landscaped gardens and period furniture. In 1959, she commissioned the firm of Innocenti & Webel to create the gardens that surround the house. The house opened to the public in 1961.
(This information was taken from the Boscobel Museum Booklet and I give them full credit for the information)
I enjoy coming up to Germantown to visit the Clermont Mansion at any time of the year especially at Christmas time. The old mansions of the Hudson River Valley show their real beauty at this time of the year.
The Clermont Library decorated for Christmas
Walking around Clermont is like walking through a history book. To think you are walking around the very rooms that family members who wrote the Declaration of Independence, were Governors and Ambassadors from our country and who owned most of Upstate New York lived is really incredible. The Livingston Family did so much for the United States in the formation of this country is a testament to the family.
The tour was wonderful because of the one on one conversation I had with my tour guide, Molly. We started in the entry hallway where the family hang many of the family portraits and the long hall lead to wonderful views of the Hudson River.
The next room decorated for the holidays was the Music/Withdrawing Room with more beautiful views of the river and a very interesting clock on the mantle that there are only two in the world. This clock represented the first balloon launch in France and this was the clock where the balloon went up. In France was the other clock with the balloon going down. I thought that was pretty interesting.
The Balloon Clock on the mantle decorated for Christmas
Our next stop was the Library which seemed very homey and relaxing. It looked like a room that a family would want to spend their time in after a long day. The windows faced the river and the formal gardens at that time and let in a lot of light. The room was decorated with a elegant tree and looked like the family was ready to walk in and join us for the holidays.
The Library of Clermont
Next it was off to the formal Dining Room where the portraits of Margaret Beekman Livingston (a VERY distant relative of mine by marriage) and her husband, Robert Livingston hung. She had saved these along with the grandfather clock before her first house was burned by the British during the war years. It was set for Christmas lunch when the family would dine together.
The Clermont Dining Room is very elegant at Christmas
We also toured where the food was prepared and prepped from the kitchen to the Dining Room, which was all done in organized fashion. I was told by the tour guide that for the most part the family lived her year round unlike some of the other mansions who only lived here during certain times of the season.
We took a walk upstairs to see the upstairs bedrooms and see where the third Mrs. Livingston lived. I thought it was interesting that she had two beds in her room in which neither was big enough to accommodate her.
Then it was back down to the formal hallway for the end of the tour. The one thing I have to say about Clermont is that it looks like someones home not some grand mansion like the Mills or Vanderbilt mansions that looked like they for a moment time or only for a season. This family lived here all the time.
I will have to come back to see the gardens in bloom during the Spring and Summer.
The home in all its beauty
The History of Clermont:
The name Clermont derives from “clear mountain” in French and was inspired by the view of the Catskill Mountains across the Hudson River from the estate.
The estate was established by Robert Livingston following the death of his father, the first Lord of the Manor was inherited by the eldest son, Philip Livingston, 13,000 acres in the southwest corner later named Clermont was willed to Robert. The original house was built around 1740.
Robert Livingston of Clermont died on June 27, 1775 and the estate passed to his son, Robert, who was known as ‘Judge Livingston’ to distinguish him from his father. Judge Livingston was a member of the New York General Assembly from 1759 to 1768, served as Judge of the admiralty court from 1760 to 1763 and was a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress of 1765. He married Margaret Beekman, daughter of Colonel Henry Beekman. Their son, Robert R. Livingston, later known as “Chancellor”, served on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Judge Robert died about six months after his father, on December 9, 1775.
Burning and Rebuilding:
In October 1777, British ships sailed upriver from New York City in support of General John Burgoyne who was north of Albany. That same force had already stormed two forts in the Hudson Highlands and burned Kingston, New York. Major General John Vaughan led a raiding party to Clermont and burned Livingston’s home because of the family’s role in the rebellion. Margaret Beekman Livingston rebuilt the family home between 1779 and 1782. Robert R. Livingston became the estate’s most prominent resident. Chancellor Livingston administered the oath of office to President General Washington, became Secretary of Foreign Affairs and negotiated the Louisiana Purchase.
He also partnered with Robert Fulton in 1807 to create the first commercially successful steamboat on the Hudson River, the North River Steamboat (later known as the Clermont) which stopped at the house on its inaugural trip.
The home’s final Livingston owners were John Henry Livingston and his wife, Alice. They added to the home and greatly valued the homes important historical role. The Livingston’s built second mansion on the property known as Arryl House, which burned down in 1909. The ruins of Arryl House are still visible at the south end of the property. Alice Livingston was responsible for creating many of the landscaped gardens that are continued to this day. Following John Henry’s death, Alice turned the Mansion and property over to the State of New York in 1962 so that all the people of New York could enjoy it.
The house is now a New York State Historic Site and was designated a United States National Historic landmark in 1972. It is a contributing property to another National Historic Landmark, the Hudson River Historic District. Although locate in the town of Clermont, its mailing address is in the nearby town of Germantown.
(This information is a combination from the Clermont Website and Wiki and I give them full credit for this information. Please check the website above for more information on the site and its activities through their Friends site.)