Part of traveling, for me, is to just be in the car, driving along, and see a sign pointing me somewhere, and I simply follow it. That is exactly how I stumbled upon a charming “country home” in Staatsburg, NY. The town of Staatsburg dates as far back to 1690, when the English colonial government handed out land grants in order to energize expansion into the Hudson Valley. The area was slow to grow, but land grants would bring some who were brave enough to settle the unknown territory. The Dutch were especially fond of this area. A New York City doctor, a man of Dutch origin, Dr. Samuel Staats, and a man by the name of Dirk Vanderburgh purchased a sizable piece of land, part of one such grant, from the original owner, Henry Pawling. The new owners combined their names and called their new town, Staatsburgh. The “h” was dropped off roughly 200 years later. Staatsburg is now a very tiny town, right outside of Hyde Park. The population is less than 500 people, according to the 2010 census. What I discovered, just milling around in the area, was a sign that pointed me to a place called the Staatsburg State Historic Site.
Before committing myself to a historic site for what I was sure would be a couple hours, I wanted to drive through the tiny town. Staatsburg is so tiny that if you blink, you’ll miss it. But there was a sweet, small town charm, that bordered on what I would say is still very much country living. I found myself surprised that a town located so close to New York City could still remain so small and so country. The homes lined the main road, which, I felt, was just a one road town. I learned later that the Old Albany Post Road ran through Staatsburg, making this town a stop for travelers as early as the mid-1600s.
I came across St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. Designed by Richard Upjohn, famous for the Gothic Revival architecture (as seen in St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church (1892)), a movement he, himself, introduced into American culture, as well as another style, the Italianate style, which became very popular, and for which Upjohn also became very well-known. The church is a site to behold and is so well preserved that one would never assume its age. I apologize for the photo. The sun was not cooperating with me the day I snapped this picture.
I drove through town and turned around to head back to the state historic site. I, at first, could only find the back exit. I could not see any signs directing me into the site so I decided to drive around the other side to find the entrance. The gate at the entrance was as spooky as the gate at the exit, but I was not to be deterred. I wanted to visit, or at least see from my car, this state historic site.
Thankfully, I found the entrance.
I could not see anything at first, through the trees, as I entered. And then, up ahead, in the distance, almost into my view out of nowhere, slightly off to my left, my eyes could not believe what I saw.
She was just gorgeous sitting at the top of that grassy hill in all her splendid glory. I was so excited to have followed my heart and taken the path that led me to this gorgeous mansion. I would learn that this beautiful structure was the country home of Ogden Mills, a man who came from money, but was also a prosperous financier and philanthropist in his own right, and his wife, Ruth Livingston Mills. I would also come to learn that this mansion was not the original home on this land. Ruth Livingston, the great-granddaughter of Morgan Lewis, the 3rd governor of the state of New York, inherited the original home. Ruth had grown up in the home. In the 1890s, right in the middle of the period known to us today as the Gilded Age, or the American Renaissance, the Mills’ began to remodel and enlarge the home to the magnificent mansion you are able to visit today.
A brief history of the Gilded Age. This was a period in history immediately following Reconstruction, roughly the last three decades of the 1800s. This particular period is specifically of note because this is when America really came on the scene globally, technologically, governmentally, and socially. The Gilded Age was essentially the culmination of the Industrial Revolution, or more specifically, the shift within, both, America and Europe, from an agricultural to an industrial society. Basically, this is when manufacturing moved away from the home and into large factories. This is also the period when, in order to find work, families uprooted themselves from their farms and moved into the cities. The steam engine, the age of science, and the mass production of American goods marks this period. Some men were becoming very wealthy. This is the age of Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller, the titans of the Industrial Age. This period is also marked by poor working conditions, poor living conditions, low wages, and child labor, as well as an increase in pollution from factories which had no restrictions or safeguards against polluting. This period saw an increase in wealth for those who capitalized on the industrial market and was the beginning of the middle class, which was led by the factory owners who were becoming increasingly wealthy off the backs of their underpaid workers. Mark Twain saw both sides of this period. He called this period the Gilded Age because he believed the time period was shiny, covered in golden glitter (as people were becoming incredibly wealthy), but if you scratched the surface you’d find great corruption underneath. The term was first used to describe this period in Twain’s book, co-authored with Charles Dudley, titled The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873).
As I made my way to the top of the hill, I was just in awe of this magnificent building.
This picture of the mansion was taken as soon as I exited my car. What a gorgeous structure, was my first thought. I slowly looked around at the view. The Hudson and the Catskill Mountains are beautifully on display everywhere you look. Literally, breathtaking grounds and views.
As soon as you begin walking to the gift shop, which is a must visit beyond the fact that this is where you purchase your tour tickets, there are information boards along the walkway to start your learning about this home and the family that lived here.
The gift shop itself has many wonderful reproductions of china pieces, for Tea, of course, and other items from the period. The vast number of titles of books available for sale span topics about this historic site, the history of the period, and, of course, Downton Abbey, which is discussed often during the tour. It is a small gift shop but easily navigated and not too small that you feel crowded. It should also be noted that this gift shop has been said to be “a top gift shop in the area.”
The cost of the tour is a steal at twice the price. Adults are $8, Students and Seniors are $6, Children under 12 are free. Please click here for hours of operation.
The tour is fabulous. Your first stop is a room where you get to see wonderful pictures of the Mills’ and learn how they obtained their wealth, how they lived their lives, and their family histories. Once you begin moving through the tour, you will not believe how incredibly spectacular this home truly is, even in comparison to the Vanderbilt Mansion, which is just a few miles down the road.
As you progress further into the house, your tour guide connects everything in the home to the period by associating it with the PBS hit series, Downton Abbey. This is fun for fans of the show. Personally, at the time of my tour, I had never watched the series so much of those comparisons were lost on me, but I was able to enjoy the commentary as it still informed me about the history of the period and the home itself. Every room we entered was equally as beautiful as that pictured above, which is the main entrance to the home. I am only showing you bits and pieces because this home is a treat that truly must be enjoyed with your own eyes.
Staatsburg is a relatively new historic site and they are still doing work to restore all areas of the home. What I did find wonderful about this particular fact was that we could see the actual construction of the walls from the period in which it was remodeled originally. Care is taken to ensure the tourist is aware of what is happening with every aspect of the restoration of the home.
The kitchen is an amazing spectacle of how the other half lives. So huge and the stove itself was something of a wonder. I was mesmerized by the shear size of the kitchen and of the seemingly “modern” conveniences that were used during the period. The huge glass windows provided wonderful views of the outdoors…the kitchen is a marvel and I hope you make this trip and see it for yourself.
The history that this family was associated with was impressive. There are gorgeous family paintings that date as far back as Revolutionary times, with one being of an ancestor who swore in George Washington as President. There is a rifle that has seen some history, as well as an old newspaper showing the fate of the Titanic, which, incidentally, touched this family as well. There are rooms that are so beautiful your eyes will melt looking at them. The tapestries hanging on the walls and on the floors are breathtaking. The staircases, oh the staircases. The entire tour takes roughly an hour, maybe a little longer, but when it is over, you are almost wishing to go again.
Once outside, the beauty continues.
The view from behind the mansion is breathtaking. Probably the most beautiful of all of the mansions in, and around, Hyde Park. The back side of the mansion is exquisite. The duel, curved staircases makes you wish you lived in this home, or were planning a wedding where money was no object.
As you make your way away from the mansion toward the exit, there are many beautiful sculptures that mark the grounds.
I am sure they have some significance, and the only thing I had wished when I was leaving this historic site, is that they had provided me with some literature that would have extended outside. I would have loved more information about the family and why these sculptures were chosen and what they represented for the family, if anything more than just yard decor popular during the period. (Update: I have been informed by the Staatsburg curator that not much is known about the sculptures on the property. I was appreciative for this comment).
I believe this is the most beautiful of all of the sites I visited in the Hyde Park area. Staatsburg is not to be missed. I would guess, if I had to guess, that a three or four day trip to Hyde Park would yield enough time to see everything comfortably, meaning not a feeling of being rushed. There would still be plenty of time for meals at any one of the restaurants in town. Again, as in my previous post about Hyde Park, I highly recommend The Eveready Diner. You will not be disappointed.
2 thoughts on “A Wonderful Trip Back in Time: The Gilded Age at Staatsburg State Historic Site”
What a great writer…Felt like I was walking along beside you. This is your calling.
Thanks Judy….maybe one day we can take a trip together and you can walk beside me. You’d love many, if not all, of the places I’ve visited.