Looking to explore beyond New York City? Here's a tip: Take a short train ride for a scenic day trip to see the historic mansions and estates in the lower Hudson River Valley.
This spectacular part of New York State, located just north of Manhattan, can be reached via Metro-North’s Hudson Line trains out of Grand Central Terminal. The trains stop at towns like Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow, Garrison and Irvington. From those train stops, hail a taxi for a short cab ride to these famed manors (or ask your concierge about car services).
Start your adventure at these six Hudson Valley destinations:
Sprawled on a rugged knoll overlooking the Hudson River, Lyndhurst is one of the nation’s finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture, with its high vaulted roofs and steep gables. Lyndhurst is also a time capsule.
Not only do rooms contain original furnishings and objets d’art but rooms or groups of rooms reveal the tastes and lives of three different owners: former New York City Mayor William Paulding, who first commissioned architect A.J. Davis in 1838; New York businessman George Merritt, who died in 1873, seven years after doubling the building’s size to trumpet his wealth and showcase his linden trees; and the very private railroad magnate Jay Gould, whose family occupied the estate from 1880 until 1961.
In October, daytime tours feel like Martha Stewart meets the Addams Family, befitting a place where two Dark Shadows movies were filmed in the 1970s. Even as eerie tableaux transform each room and guides emphasize Victorian mourning traditions, decorative arts buffs still thrill to details of faux painting throughout the home or A.J. Davis’ singular wheel-back chairs.
The upstairs vaulted art gallery, adjoining a guest bedroom, is the most swoon-worthy space, with original works by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Jean-Léon Gérôme. Oh, to wake to the stunning view of the Hudson River and grounds from the gallery’s huge, arched window!
You can marvel at Ferdinand Mangold’s pioneering landscape design, in which sweeping lawns are accented with specimen trees, such as a massive copper beech, and the curved entrance drive reveals “surprise” views, such as the United States’ first steel-framed conservatory and, in this month, 400 soft-sculpture scarecrows crafted by local artists, schoolchildren and businesses.
Get there: 635 S. Broadway, Tarrytown, New York, www.lyndhurst.org, 914.631.4481
Dutch for “lookout,” Kykuit, pronounced “kigh-cut,” presides 500 feet above sea level on 250 lush green acres. The six-story Georgian Revival mansion housed four generations of Rockefellers—from Standard Oil magnate and philanthropist John D. to his son Junior to four-time New York Governor Nelson.
Built in 1908 of local limestone and draped in wisteria vines, Kykuit’s non-ostentatious rooms seem modest compared to other Gilded Age estates; it’s the artwork, the gardens and the sight lines that take your breath away. Inside the entrance hallway, your eye immediately alights on a Tang dynasty bodhisattva figure transecting the magnificent view of the Hudson and Palisades cliffs beyond.
Original artwork spans 2000 years—from 100 B.C. Han dynasty pieces to Auguste Rodin sculptures in the garden to Andy Warhol silk screens of Nelson’s wife, Happy. Nelson amassed a spectacular 20th-century art collection, most of which is on view in the basement gallery, which seems like a secret wing of the Museum of Modern Art.
Touchingly, works by Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso share space with a glass display of old bottles the Rockefeller children dug up on the grounds. Outside, admire the beaux arts formal gardens, in which each garden is its own formal room replete with terraces, pools, fountains or an allée of linden trees.
Sculptures by modern giants like Louise Nevelson and Isamu Noguchi harmonize surprisingly in the classical spaces. Rumor has it that Nelson would helicopter over the landscape to decide where to position a particular piece.
Prefer historic autos to art? The cavernous coach barn holds pristine vehicles—from a 1907 Ford Model S to Nelson’s 1959 Chrysler limo.
Get There: Sleepy Hollow, New York. Tours start at Kykuit Visitor Center at Philipsburg Manor, www.hudsonvalley.org/historic-sites/kykuit, 914.366.6900
The Union Church Of Pocantico Hills
The Rockefellers’ reverence for art finds expression in an unassuming Baptist church. From outside, you’d never know The Union Church of Pocantico Hills contains stained-glass windows designed by modern masters. Henri Matisse designed the rose window—with forms echoing his cutouts. The window was his last artwork, before he died in 1954.
Marc Chagall’s nine windows illlustrate Bible stories with his characteristic floating figures, and super-saturated colors. Extremely knowledgeable docents tell the story behind each window, dedicated to departed Rockefellers and friends—such as the moving ultramarine crucifixion, which honors Nelson’s son Michael, who died, tragically, on an anthropological mission. 555 Bedford Rd., Tarrytown, New York, www.ucph.org 914.631.2069
“If ever I wish for a retreat, whither I might steal from the world and its distractions … I know of none more prominent than this little valley,” so Washington Irving wrote of the lower Hudson Valley in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the story of Ichabod Crane’s encounter with the Headless Horseman that draws thousands to this area around Halloween.
Irving was the first American to make his living with his pen. After years abroad, he returned in 1835 to the beloved state where he was born, and created Sunnyside. With stepped gables, Dutch roofs, Tudor chimneys and Moorish tiles, Sunnyside reflects Irving’s romantic vision and extensive travels.
Guides in 19th-century garb lead you through simply furnished rooms occupied by Irving and his extended family—including Irving’s office with a daybed behind velvet curtains, an oak desk and his walking stick.
Get There: 3 W. Sunnyside Lane, Irvington, New York, www.hudsonvalley.org/historic-sites/washington-irvings-sunnyside, 914.591.8763
In 1750, Philipsburg Manor was a bustling milling and trading complex and home to 23 enslaved Africans. The manor house dates back some 300 years, and guides in Colonial garb reenvision the life of those who worked the grist mill and concocted medicinal tinctures. Philipsburg Manor is the only living history museum dedicated to telling the story of slavery in the Colonial north.
Get There: Sleepy Hollow, New York. Tours start at Kykuit Visitor Center, www.hudsonvalley.org/historic-sites/philipsburg-manor, 914.366.6900
Regarded as a prime example of clean, classic Federal-style architecture in the United States, Boscobel is the farthest north of these Hudson Valley estates, but well worth the scenic, hourlong train ride. Born in New York, but a British loyalist in London during the Revolution, States Morris Dyckman planned to return to New York in style, but he died in 1806 before his country estate was completed.
Boscobel owes its existence to his wife, Elizabeth, who finished her husband’s dream house, and to Lila Acheson Wallace, who funded a restoration and relocation of the home in 1956.
While only a few pieces in the house are original to the Dyckmans—including a small exhibit in the Carriage House gallery—all are authentic and in the New York Federal style—from the white decorative wooden swags on the balcony to the furniture by cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe. Every room and hallway abounds with craftsmanship, elegance and period artwork.
Outdoors, every vista delights. Situated at the narrowest part of the Hudson River, across from West Point, Boscobel’s 60-acre property features an herb garden, an alley of apple trees and relaxing chairs. There are a one-plus-mile woodland trail and rustic gazebos. Leave time to linger in the 19th-century village of Cold Spring in the Hudson Highlands, chock-a-block with antiques shops and restaurants.
Get There: 1601 Route 9D, Garrison, New York, www.boscobel.org 845.265.3638