Exploring the Mid-Hudson Valley

A Guide to Exploring the Mid-Hudson Valley
“Between Dinner and Vespers”
by Nadine Revheim, AHC – Fall 2006

It has been many years since I have been able to spend an extended amount of time at the monastery. My quarterly retreats and times of silence, reflection and gathered community have been ongoing since a Benedictine Experience in 2000 and a week-long stay in 1998. So when I had the chance in the fall of 2006 to plan to be at Holy Cross Monastery for my second of two weeks vacation, I arrived somewhat rested and ready to explore the Hudson River Valley.

I knew there were many historical sites and places of interest within driving distance and I had made the decision to try to explore as many as I could with the stipulation that I would try to maintain presence at all offices and meals (the latter being greatly enhanced by the culinary delights of the CIA-trained chef Edward Wolfe).

I allowed myself to be somewhat spontaneous in my excursions, not limited by weather, and not necessarily informed of available times for tours; so it did become a discipline of “letting go and letting God” and allowing myself to be guided by the spirit. I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed since the autumn foliage would be a constant companion during my mini-adventures. However, I did learn the value of some advanced planning along the way and offer some suggestions along with my daily trip diary.

Wednesday, October 18

Leaving Holy Cross Monastery (HCM) at 9:19 AM after the Eucharistic Feast of St. Luke, my destination was Catskill to see “Cedar Grove”, the home of Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School of Painting. Driving north on Rt. 9W, I passed the familiar sights of downtown Kingston, Ulster shopping centers housing Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Chico’s and Coldwater Creek, then onto winding roads past defunct and ongoing industrial sites, through the town of Saugerties and finally the approach to Catskill.

Making a right turn onto Rt. 385, I did ask someone how to find the home, and used her directions to follow the road until I got to the Catholic Church at the top of the hill and made a left and Cedar Grove would be on my right within a few blocks. Having made it to my destination (the driveway is shared with a local synagogue), I was disappointed to find that tours were only available on weekends at this time of the year; but I walked around the yellow Victorian home and onto the porch that had a visual panoramic display of the Catskill mountain range that one could see to the west and was satisfied to see the morning mist and clouds floating along the peaks of the mountains with the sun shining on the glistening leaves.

I realized that I was near the approach to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and decided to go to Hudson which was directly across the river and easily followed the signs posted when I left the driveway and turned right. The first exit on the other side of the bridge led to Rt. 9G and a quick ride to the entrance to “Olana”, home of Frederic Church, the famous student of Thomas Cole.

I approached the house with its fabulous autumnal landscaped environs that had been created by Olmstead (Church’s cousin, known for Central Park) and stood at the crest of the hill after parking the car and experienced the feeling of being in one of the paintings that takes in the magnificence of the river and valley and mountains in layers of colors and textures and brilliant light.

Unfortunately, the house was closed for tours because of renovation, but having taken a house tour here in 1998, I was able to focus on the grounds and saw that there were many trails and places to reflect on the natural beauty that has been preserved at this site. I would have been able to have taken a cultural landscape tour, but I knew I had to continue “home”, south on 9G and over the Rhinecliff Bridge to return to HCM in time for Diurnum, noting the other gems along the way that I would return to on another day.

NOTE: If you plan to take a tour at both houses, it would be best to go on an afternoon excursion; otherwise each house would be a morning trip since driving time is approximately 45 minutes one-way.

Thursday, October 19

Leaving HCM at 9:12 AM to go “over the river and through the woods”, north on Rt. 9G to “Montgomery Place” (closed for renovations), past Bard College and onto “Clermont, home of the steamboat” and residence of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase and co-invented the steamboat. The tour was informative and made me realize how short our history truly is as I heard the docent tell us how the original home had been rebuilt after being burned down during the Revolutionary War because of Livingston’s involvement in writing the constitution!

A lovely house in a lovely setting with lovely views; just lovely! Unfortunately the tour had been delayed and so I missed Diurnum but prayed as I returned the familiar trek south on 9W. I decided to stay on the west bank of the Hudson in the afternoon, leaving HCM after a short lesson in Library of Congress Research with Brother Bernard for some promised assistance with his librarian tasks. I traveled south on 9W into Marlboro and easily found the entrance to the “Gomez Mill House” thinking I was just on time for a 2:30 tour.

I was told the tour would not happen until later but that I could tour the house independently. This house was built in 1714 and is one of the oldest continuously lived in residences in the US, housing five distinct families, beginning with a Jewish pioneer, Luis Moses Gomez, who makes this historical site the oldest surviving Jewish dwelling in North America. Gomez lived in NYC but built a fieldstone trading post which was the original structure on this site. Gomez was ecumenical and contributed to the steeple construction at Trinity Episcopal Church in NYC, so it shouldn’t feel surprising to see a page from the Gutenberg Bible on display which includes the Shema prayer, shared by Jews and Christians.

With the waterwheel of the small mill still operational, this respite off 9W took me back in time as each room displayed items from the multiple families that lived in the home, including artisan Dard Hunter from the Arts and Crafts Movement, social activists in NAACP and preservationists. I found myself at the “Benmarl Winery” for a congenial tour and tasting of some New York wines on my way “home” to HCM for Vespers. The view from the winery was spectacular to the east towards Wappingers Falls, resplendent in the late afternoon sun on trees and distant quarry, adding to the vintner refreshment.

NOTE: Both tour and tasting times seem to be flexible and either can be fit into a sliver of time since they are only 20-25 minutes from the monastery.

Friday, October 20

A driving rain and an incoming group of day retreatants did not stop me from heading to Woodstock to see the village that was pivotal to my generation’s quest for “love and peace”. Luckily, a visiting community priest gave me directions to wind my way through Kingston and connect to Route 28 (which is right off the NYS Thruway exit for Kingston) and proceed west and then take Route 375 north into the quaint, artistic and sleepy town that does not wake up and start business until after 11 AM.

Since I was not in shopping mode, it was fine to do some window shopping in the gentle rain and to stop at the Woodstock Cafe for a lemon poppy scone and Assam tea. I had learned of the chain of “Bread Alone” cafes at a local farmer’s market near my home. Had I realized how close Boiceville was to Woodstock (by going further west on 28) I might have explored their main bakery. They are true artisans of traditional hand crafted breads and pastries.

My afternoon trek was loosely planned and I thought I might have time to see several sites on the west shore, not including the already visited FDR Home and Vanderbilt Mansion. I chose the Mid-Hudson Bridge and traveled north on Rt. 9, bypassing “Val-Kill” and heading to “Wilderstein”, a Victorian mansion that was most recently inhabited by Margaret (Daisy) Suckley, in whose honor they were having a special exhibit of personal keepsakes and furnishings.

Daisy was a long-time friend of FDR, having gifted him the famous Scottie Fala and was heir-apparent to letters that were exchanged confidentially with FDR during his presidential years, now published in a book, “Closest Companion”, compiled by Geoffrey C. Ward. Leaving the mansion with the clouds lifting and glimpses of the Hudson through the framed pictures from the expansive verandah, it was easy to bypass the village of Rhinebeck to return to HCM while looking for a rainbow to appear in the clearing, misty skies near Rhinecliff.

NOTE: I did not find the same exact route through Kingston when I returned from Woodstock, but I have learned to trust the homing pigeon instinct back to HCM. I did notice you could drive to Saugerties from Kingston, which increases the possibilities of driving routes. If you want to shop, Woodstock requires an afternoon visit. Since Wilderstein is close to the village of Rhinebeck, it is best to take the Rhinecliff Bridge rather than the Mid-Hudson Bridge.

Saturday, October 21

A highlight of this vacation was being present at the monastery for the Fall Foliage weekend. After Eucharist, I enjoyed the meditation provided by Suzette Cayless on using one’s imagination in one’s prayer life and thought of all the images that had crossed my mind as I had traveled back in time and space throughout the week when we had another surprise visit on the Hudson with the sailing of the reproduction of the slave ship, the Amistad.

It was a magnificent sight since the day was filled with a brilliant sun in contrast to the previous day’s soaking rain and was in keeping with the time machine feeling that the Hudson River jaunts had provided. I savored the rest of the morning knowing that I had the intention to visit the Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck at the fairgrounds in the afternoon. I had known about the festival, which usually occurs on the third weekend in October, for several years, but I didn’t know it was the 34th annual fair. The festival occurs throughout the weekend with vendors of wool, handmade items and kits, sheep, sheepdogs, and other family fun.

I petted a willing long-hair sheep, watched the border collies herd the sheep, swept through the tents with a maze of colors and textures and was able to have time to make a thoughtful purchase of some silk and lambs wool from a vendor called “Autumn Farm House” from Pittsburgh with lightning speed, but then found myself in a traffic jam as I got ready to leave the parking area! After ½ hour of fretting about Vespers, I think my prayers were heard; I was able to make it back over the Rhinecliff Bridge and with the help of my car, automatically returned south on 9W to HCM.

Sunday, October 22

Since I like closure and had the intention to see “Val-Kill”, I had to make the difficult decision to leave HCM after lunch rather than staying for Vespers with Kairos in order to take a tour of the Eleanor Roosevelt Center. Heading over the Mid-Hudson Bridge, it is not far before you find the entrance once you travel on Rt. 9G north of Poughkeepsie.

I arrived right after a special event was ending; the annual Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal Ceremony to acknowledge those who contribute to the arts, education, citizenship, philanthropy, community services and other humanitarian concerns that reflect Mrs. Roosevelt’s ideals. A tour of the simple stone cottage and home of our most famous first lady was very touching.

It was astonishing to find out that the family had auctioned off her personal possessions and that the home had been rented out for years after she died in 1962. The work of the preservationists to insure that the property was not sold for private development in the 1980’s was very much appreciated today when one can have the perspective of Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy. It felt special to know that the grounds had been filled that very morning with those who were honored in her name, affirming the same values in these challenging times.

I overheard a guest say to a friend when leaving the monastery….”all good things must come to an end”…..so to prolong the afterglow of my adventures, I drove home the “slow way” down Route 9 to 9D and over the Bear Mountain Bridge, holding close the many blessings of the week at HCM: the times spent in the Hudson River Valley in the house and beyond; talking with guests and finding several jigsaw puzzle pieces; working on library tasks; attending all but two of the daily offices; enjoying the meals and feasts; praying and seeing the Benedictine way.