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Day Trip: Up the River to Hudson, New York and a Visit to Frederic Church's Olana

(updated) Summer in the city has been long and hot, and for those of us who never managed to get away, the season has felt even longer and hotter than usual. Worried that the summer was drawing to a close, I vowed to go somewhere or anywhere, even if overnight, preferably to a small city at a northern latitude with some visual architectural interest, surrounding views of nature, and a sense of history. I also wanted to escape the perpetual sounds of jackhammering, street shouting, car honking, fire engine clanging, and the myriad other noises that characterize my overly-long summer days.

View of the Hudson River from Parade Hill.
I selected Hudson, New York for my escape largely because of its proximity to Olana, the fanciful residence of Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900). Having heard of the marvelous estate he designed, one with Persian-style influences and of a grand scale befitting one of the most successful painters of the latter half of the 19th century, I decided to board Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express and check it out for myself.

Warren Street. Hudson, New York.
Traveling by train from New York's Penn Station to Hudson, New York takes two hours and is a pleasant trip along the banks of the scenic Hudson River. The train station in Hudson is conveniently located in the historic section of town. Taxi service to nearby hotels is available, or if traveling lightly, it's an easy walk up the hill to Warren Street, the main commercial street.

Warren Street. Hudson, New York
At the western end of Warren Street, the promenade known as Parade Hill offers pretty views of the river. A walk east on Warren Street, away from the river, features block after block of well-maintained examples of 19th century architecture. Hudson provides a perfect living textbook of prominent American styles of domestic and commercial architecture - Federal, Georgian, Greek Revival, Queen Anne, Shingle Style, Beaux Arts, Renaissance Revival, Neo-Gothic and so forth. Several gems sit on side streets. Check out the painted Victorian on Union Street, as seen below.

For shopping, Hudson is a serious epicenter for antiques, with something like sixty-five shops. Many are high-caliber. New Yorkers may remember one of them, the store Historical Materialism (and actually, who can't remember such a cleverly-named business?), now located at 601 Warren Street.

a house on Union Street. Hudson, New York.

Stately willow tree. Hudson, New York.
Though I didn't have many occasions to sample the local fare, several restaurants in Hudson come highly recommended, including Swoon, Ca'mea, American Glory BBQ, and Baba Louie's. For morning coffee or tea, try Verdigris Tea & Bakery, Cascades or Nolita Bakery & Cafe.

While strolling Warren Street, wander into Spotty Dog Books & Ale, a casual, crammed, but comfortable combination of ale house, book store, and art supply shop. Hours of operation for many businesses in Hudson are a bit more casual than in the big city, so call ahead to be sure any destination on the wish list is in fact open.


View Quick Getaways: A Day Trip to Hudson, New York and to Frederic E. Church's Olana in a larger map

Olana, the artist residence of Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900)

The next morning, following breakfast at Cascades, I called several of the local taxi services to take me to the Olana State Historic Site, but to no avail. Finally, Columbia Taxi came to the rescue, and about ten minutes later, after a winding climb on a hill above the river, the taxi left me off at the entrance, a short nature trail that leads to the back side of the stunning structure.

While a few of us waited for the first organized tour of the morning (and that's the only way you can see the house's interior), I wandered around to the front of the estate. This is what I came for - the sight of the green Hudson River valley, moody and beautiful on an overcast morning, with the Catskill Mountains in the distance.

View of the Hudson River from Olana.
The majestic Persian-style home of Frederic Edwin Church sits south of the town on a tall hill overlooking the river. Inspired by architecture he encountered in his travels to the Middle East, Church designed the house himself in consultation with Calvert Vaux. Church knew the site well. As one of Thomas Cole's students, he sketched views of the Hudson River on this same spot, and later, in 1867 after establishing himself as one of the most successful painters of his era, he acquired the land for the future estate.

Olana, the residence of artist Frederic E. Church
Walking through the rooms on the tour, the visitor can see, among the many paintings and sensuous artifacts, his sketch for The Heart of the Andes (1859), the sensational painting that brought Church enormous fame in New York City and then overseas. Olana represents an extension of Church's imagination, but it also functioned as a family home, enhanced with modern conveniences and the support of seven individuals on the domestic staff. In later years, the artist, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, had the house enlarged, adding an open piazza and studio with additional stunning views of the river as it sweeps north.

View from the open porch at Olana. The Rip Van Winkle Bridge, in the distance, was built in the 1930s. Thomas Cole, Church's mentor, lived on the other side of the river. His house, Cedar Grove, is also open for tours.
After spending the morning gathering vivid memories of the Hudson River landscape, it was time to catch the train back home to New York City. I benefited from the twenty-four hours away. As the train hummed along the tracks back into Penn Station, I realized that I was ready again to see some urban landscapes and all the people in them. But, then again, can you imagine what Hudson and Olana must look like a few months from now, among the blazing reds, oranges, and ambers of a crisp autumn day?

More information:
Visit the Amtrak website for train schedules. The Ethan Allen Express and Empire Service offer departures for Hudson several times a day.

Visit the official website for Olana for more visitor information.

Read also on Walking Off the Big Apple:
City Escape: Discovering Local Color in Hudson, NY (April 2012)
Art Trip Up the River: A Visit to Dia:Beacon
Art and Spectacle in Nineteenth Century New York
The Tenth Street Studio Building and a Walk to the Hudson River
Art Trips Up the Hudson: Day Excursions from New York City to Museums and Historic Sites

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from August 24 & 25, 2010. Remember that clicking on any of the above images enlarges them.

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