Empire State of Mind: New York Heritage Weekend Is Here
Frederick Church’s quirky, Persian-inspired homestead, Olana, grandly set atop a hill for the kind of Hudson River Valley view that inspired so many of the painters’ contemporaries (i.e., the Hudson River School), is the ideal starting point for New York Heritage Weekend, May 19 and 20. Established in 2009 to commemorate the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial, Heritage Weekend celebrates the architecture, art, agriculture, landscapes, and military history of the entire state, from New York City to the Canadian border.
Church clearly had visions of an American empire — or perhaps just a New York State one – based as much on individual artistic expression and respect for natural beauty as it was on business smarts and enterprise; the eclectic design of his own home is a bold testament to those ideals. Thus it’s no surprise that Olana is the epicenter of the Empire State’s Heritage Weekend in the Rural Intelligence region. Here are a few highlights, all perched along the Hudson River, of what the weekend has in store.
This Saturday and Sunday, Olana will host nearly 20 special events – all of them free – including lectures, special guided tours, and on-site talks ranging from preservation of the Viewshed to the preservation of textiles and the conservation of paintings. On Saturday, visitors can take advantage of a rare opportunity to see Olana’ Studio Tower, which is rarely open to the public (tours every half hour, 1 - 4 p.m, advanced registration required) and partake in a perambulatory horticultural talk and tour (1 p.m.).
In addition, Olana opens two major exhibitions on Saturday: Life after LIFE: Preserving Olana, about past and future projects to restore the landscape, farm, house, and collections of Church’s estate, in the Sharp Family Gallery; and Olana’s Dynamic Landscape, featuring work by renowned architectural photographer Peter Aaron, in the Coachman’s House Gallery. Visitors are welcome to join Aaron’s opening reception at 4:30 p.m. which will be followed by his artist’s talk at 5 p.m.
Olana State Historic Site
5720 Route 9G
Open 8 a.m. to sunset daily, year round
Free during Heritage Weekend
In Germantown, Clermont, home to seven generations of the Livingston family (including Robert R. Livingston, Jr., who administered the oath of office to President George Washington, among other notable achievements), celebrates it past as a working model farm with Gardenfest. For $5 per car, visitors can tour the estate’s resplendent gardens and purchase Clermont’s heirloom plants while enjoying a Farmers’ Market with locally produced foods plus live music by the Acoustic Medicine Show.
Clermont State Historic Site
1 Clermont Ave
Gardenfest: Saturday, May 19, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
$5 per car
Mansion tours: $5 adults, $4 seniors/students, free for children 12 and under
Open Wednesday – Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm, April 11 – October 31; Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. November 1 – December 20
The Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, the glorious gilded-age country palace built by Frederick Vanderbilt in 1895, has chosen Heritage Weekend to debut a new program, At Your Service: Behind the Scenes at Vanderbilt Mansion (Saturday & Sunday, 2 p.m.; reservations recommended). During this chance to experience — quite literally — the upstairs/downstairs life of Downton Abbey, visitors will be assigned the role of a family servant while learning the ins-and-outs of the palatial digs. The innovative tour, which includes spaces rarely seen by the public, requires participants to climb 74 stairs, so it is clearly not handicapped-accessible. Nor should it be seen as child’s play; the program is recommended for ages 10 and up.
On Sunday at 1 p.m. there will be a free, guided Vanderbilt Landscape and Garden Tour, but only if the weather cooperates. This program is fully family-friendly. Call 845-229-7770 or 845-229-6432 for status if the weather is questionable.
Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site
Albany Post Road
Hyde Park, NY
At Your Service: Behind the Scenes at Vanderbilt Mansion
Program begins Heritage Weekend, Sat., & Sun 2 p.m. Continues Friday -Sunday through October
Tickets are $8, not appropriate for children younger than 10
Mansion: Open 7 days; guided tour only, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. $8.
Grounds: Open 7 days year-round, sunrise to sunset. Free
Historical precedent originally interpreted for the present finds one of its dreamiest manifestations on Bannerman Island (formally Pollopel Island) in the Hudson River, where the Scottish-born David Bannerman constructed an ersatz Scottish castle as the focal point for – of all things – a storage site for his expanding munitions business. Accessible only by boat, and seemingly left to ruin for ages, the island is now open for guided tours. (The ruined castle itself cannot be toured, as it is being stabilized.)
Your journey begins at 1:30 p.m. at Beacon Ferry Dock, Beacon, where you’ll embark for a short boat ride to the island. From there, be prepared to get your day’s worth of exercise; the trek includes 68 steps and a good deal of walking, some of it along steep, rugged trails. Visitors are advised to skip the high heels; sensible shoes are a must. In addition, there’s neither electricity nor running water on this primitive island, so it’s wise to tend to your needs before you embark on the 1.5-hour island tour. Bottled water is available for sale on the boat. This expedition is family-friendly; neither the boat nor island is handicapped accessible. The tour is limited to 46 people, so advance ticket purchase is highly recommended.
Bannerman Island Cruise and Walking Tour
Departs Beacon Ferry Dock, Beacon 1:30 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday, rain or shine
$30 adults; $25 children 11 and under
Advance ticket purchase suggested; go to Pride of the Hudson or call Zerve 800-979-3370