Although Manhattan Island is world-renowned for its sights, restaurants, and cultural offerings, few venture beyond its boundaries. Yet the Hudson Valley, rich in natural scenery and historic attractions, can be easily explored within a day or two and is only a short drive from the city.
Located over the Whitestone Bridge, the 150-mile valley, running from Yonkers to Albany in lower New York state and split by the Hudson River, is comprised of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area which had been established by United States Congress in 1996 to recognize, preserve, protect, and interpret the nationally significant history and resources of the valley for the benefit of the nation. Four primary, north-south routes access the area: the Taconic State Parkway and Route 9 on the east side and Route 9W and I-87, alternatively known as the New York State Thruway, on the west side.
Driving over the Whitestone Bridge during a recent autumn visit, which seemed to link two diametrically-opposed worlds, I felt as if I had been disconnected from the city’s congestion and stresses, deposited on to the Hutchinson River Parkway, threshold to rural New York State and, beyond, the barnstorming grass field of the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. Navigating Route 9, which curved between shale rock and autumn-torched, multi-colored trees, I paralleled the blue-reflective surface of the Hudson River whose western shore rose toward Bear Mountain in a collage of colorful tree bursts. The ruby reds, appearing like flames, dominated the palette, while the burn oranges, as if glowing like pumpkins in the sunlight, were almost luminescent. The golds, although more subtle, were rich, while the light yellows and gentle greens seemed to cling to late summer. The route eclipsed both topographical and seasonal boundaries.
Irvington, one of the first historic sights in the Lower Hudson Valley, had been named for Washington Irving, author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, and was the location of his gabled and weathervaned house, Sunnyside. Philipsburg Manor, located nearby in Tarrytown, had been an 18th-century farm and gristmill.
Van Cortlandt Manor, dating from the late 1600s and home of New York’s first Lieutenant Governor, had been developed as a major tourist attraction with its 18th century tavern and blacksmith and hearth-cooking demonstrations. The town of Stoney Point, a Revolutionary War strategic fort, is located across the river.
The Storm King Art Center, in Mountainville, is an outdoor sculpture park featuring contemporary works by Calder, Moore, and Noguchi.
The Hudson-spanned Bear Mountain Bridge, which leads to the Highlands of Hudson, accesses both Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks on the west side, while the US Military Academy at West Point, located on the east side, is the nation’s oldest military academy, identifiable by the stone embattlements on its shore.
Newburgh, located across the river in Mid-Hudson Valley, had been the location of the last east-west Hudson River ferry before the current Newburgh-Beacon Bridge had been constructed in 1963. The historic area, the location of the 1835 Dutch Reformed Church designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, also encompassed Washington’s Headquarters, the oldest publicly-owned historic house museum and site of his residence during the last 16 months of the Revolutionary War. The nearby New Windsor Cantonment had been the living quarters of his troops.
Hyde Park, on the river’s east side, had been the birthplace of Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt, United States president, and features Springwood, the Roosevelt home; the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum; Val-Kill, the retreat of Mrs. Roosevelt; Top Cottage, the president’s hilltop retreat; and the Vanderbilt Mansion, the 50-room residence of Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt. Across the river, New Paltz, with its historic, stone church- and house-lined Huguenot Street, commemorates the 1690 French emigrant settlement, itself only minutes from the Victorian Mohonk Mountain House, a National Historic Landmark, and Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, located just east of the historic villages of Rhinebeck and Red Hook, is a living, early-aviation museum featuring original aircraft and engines and offers weekend air shows from mid-June to mid-October.
After walking through the wooden, bridge-like entrance on one recent visit, the 1920 barnstorming-resembling aerodrome had appeared before me.
An original 1909 high-wing, fabric-covered Bleiriot XI arced skyward, albeit briefly, from its rolling, sweeping grass field straddled on either side by the red, orange, and yellow October-brushed trees reminiscent of the 1910 and 1920 barnstorming days, creating the illusion that this era of aviation had somehow been preserved and had continued to play out within the time vacuum beyond the museum’s gates. The hangers, as if ignorant of the calendar, proudly braved the winds, bearing such names as Albatros Werke, Royal Aircraft Factory Farnborough, A.V. Roe and Company, Ltd., and Fokker. But it was the multitude of mono-, bi-, and triplanes which most fiercely wrestled with one’s present-time conception.
Fifteen-minute flights in a 1929 New Standard D-25 biplane are offered before and after the air shows themselves, three of which I have personally taken during my many visits. Assuming an ear-shattering explosion from its propeller and pelted with engine-spitting castor oil, the D-25 gently lifted its tail wheel off the ground and surrendered its dual, fabric-covered wings to the sky. Bitten by the stinging, slipstream-produced October wind whose force almost inhibited respiration, and periodically needled by the engine-spit castor oil, I looked out over the wing. The ground, camouflaged by a dense pattern of orange, yellow, and red autumn-transformed trees, was otherwise devoid of contemporary civilization as the biplane surmounted the silver surface of the Hudson River.
The Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, located a few miles from Rhinebeck, crosses the Hudson River and accesses the 1,094-square-mile Catskill Forest Preserve, location of three, 1,500-foot mountains which provide winter skiing: Belleayre, Hunter, and Ski Windham.
So beautiful had the Hudson valley been that it had spawned a 19th century painting movement called the Hudson River School of Landscape Painters, which had been sparked by Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, whose Persian-style estate, Olana, is located on the river’s west side. Painting directly from nature, these artists, among others, had created a visual medium which expressed optimism, vitality, and personal theology through color, light, and perspective.
Dotted with vineyards, the valley affords the tourist the opportunity to sample many local New York State wines.
Albany, with its modern sculpture-resembling architecture, is located in the Upper Hudson Valley and is characterized by the granite French Chateau State Capitol building. The state capital since 1797 and the second incorporated city in America, it continues to operate under its 1686 charter, and has continually served as a transportation center since the Indian trail days.
The Hudson Valley can alternatively be enjoyed from Amtrak’s day-long, 381-mile route from New York to Montreal designated the “Adirondack” and considered one of its four most scenic US rail journeys.
The next time you visit Manhattan, take the “short” drive over the Whitestone Bridge: it may take you a “long” way…