Almost Heaven: The Hudson River Valley by Z4


My most recent Z4 tour started with the top of a mountain, a sudden rainstorm, and two new friends, and it ended with a world-class collection of BMW motorcycles and automobiles. In-between were some of the most interesting and beautiful sights I’ve seen on any of my GS and Z4 trips. Continue on, faithful readers, and see if you agree…

The overall goal was to get to Cape Cod in 2 days, by proceeding up the Hudson River as closely as possible until reaching Saratoga Springs. Conveniently, the May/June 2013 issue of RoadRunner Magazine had just such a tour. Actually, I used only a portion of their route, which is described at Hudson River Valley: America’s Rhine River. With a few modifications, I had my GPS route all set.

My first stop wasn’t scheduled, but I spotted this historic train station in Tuxedo, New York and had to take a look. The building was constructed in 1885 and received a thorough renovation in 2009. It originally served the wealthy residents of Tuxedo Park, which was a vacation and hunting resort for people from New York City. The name “Tuxedo,” incidentally, comes from the Lenape Indian word “Tucseto,” which means “place of the bear.” Or, depending on whom you believe, “clear flowing water.” (I report, you decide.)

And, yes, it’s still a working railroad station, with numerous trains daily to Secaucus Junction and Hobocken, allowing an easy transfer to Penn Station in downtown New York. (I don’t know if this damsel was rushing to escape a suspicious roving photographer or the ominous-looking conductor. I’m willing to assume that she just wanted to catch the train.)

I reached the official start of my tour at 12:45—only to discover that Lake Kanawauke Road was closed for repairs. That necessitated a lengthy detour on Seven Lakes Road, which turned out not to be a bad thing at all, as suggested by this photo of Lake Tiorati. (The lake’s beach and swimming area were also closed for repairs. Go figure…) Moreover, it was a beautiful day for top-down BMW driving.

The park at Bear Mountain has entertained visitors since 1913. I have it on good authority that these nattily dressed folks were the very first people to ever explore the park (and that they enjoyed hiking in their Sunday-dinner clothes).

Remember the hapless railroad employee in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” the one who refused to open the door of the railroad car and kept saying “I work for Mr. E.H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad…”? Well, E.H.’s widow, Mary Averell Harriman, negotiated the deal to create the state park and donated a substantial portion of the land for it. Without her philanthropic efforts, Bear Mountain State Park would instead have become Bear Mountain Prison.

The Bear Mountain Inn has recently undergone a 5-year renovation, although it looks largely unchanged compared to these historic photos. I guess it was a lot of work to get rid of the ivy vines. Note the earlier forms of transportation. Nowadays, anyone can drive right up to the inn—even suspicious-looking photographers.

Back in 1913, everyone came to the park on steam cruisers from New York City. The fastest steamboat on the Hudson was the 1864 Chauncey Vibbard, which set a record in 1876 of 6 hours and 20 minutes from NYC to Albany. As best I can determine, that record still stands for commercial passenger vessels.

However, one of the most popular ships to Bear Mountain was the DeWitt Clinton, named for the sixth governor of New York. It originally served as a U.S. Navy transport and was notable for carrying British soldiers across the English Channel during World War I. The Great Depression ended the DeWitt Clinton’s service as an excursion boat, and she found herself once again transporting troops across the English Channel during World War II. Following that war, she was steathily pressed into service to take Jewish refugees to their new home in Israel, apparently much to the displeasure of various U.S. and European government officials. No one knows what ultimately happened to this historic ship.

I reached the summit of Bear Mountain and promptly found evidence that I’m not the only one who reads RoadRunner Magazine.

The top of Perkins Tower offered a great view of the surrounding countryside, not to mention the dark clouds that were rolling in.

As I meandered around the mountaintop, I soon bumped into an ebullient Italian (is there any other kind?) named Michele and a charming post-doc graduate student named Alina. The three of us struck up quite an interesting conversation, with elements of English, French, Italian, and Russian. Alina took this photo of Michele and me, with the Hudson River in the background. Michele is a businessman, who has been a U.S. resident for several decades. He had returned to Bear Mountain for the first time since he was a young man.

Alina is originally from Russia, and she has a Ph.D. in one of the most esoteric branches of Chemistry that you can imagine. She was on her way to a conference and stopped at Bear Mountain to do some sightseeing. Here she is, perched on one of the wooden benches that offer a relaxing view of the valley.

Minutes later, the rain began falling in earnest. We quickly traded email addresses, and then we went our separate ways. I managed to get another couple of photos from under an umbrella before driving back down the mountain. This is Iona Island in the Hudson. Native Americans lived here for hundreds of years before selling the island to Dutch settlers in 1683. By the late 1800s, the island had an amusement park, restaurants, a hotel, and a steamship dock. Then in 1900, Iona became a Navy munitions dump; the several buildings visible in the photo are all that’s left of the original 164 facilities. Iona Island is now owned by the Pallisades Interstate Parks Commission but is off-limits to the public. The railroad tracks crossing the island are still active, much to the probable disgust of the resident Bald Eagles.

The Bear Mountain Bridge began operations in 1924 and allowed direct automobile access to the park (much to the financial distress of the steamship companies). The historical photo shows the last portion of the bridge being built. At that time, it was the longest suspension bridge, and the first to have a concrete deck, in the world. Although the bridge strikes me as very scenic, the New York Times ran an editorial in 1924 calling it “an infliction of ugliness on the Hudson.”

When I’d parked the Z4 on top of Bear Mountain, I’d put the top up for security, since I knew I’d be venturing some distance from the car. I needn’t have worried about theft or vandalism, given the friendly and like-minded group of tourists on hand, but it proved to be a godsend when the rains came. In fact, it continued to rain and shine, back and forth, for the rest of the day. As soon as the top would dry, down it would go—only to come back up quickly during the next shower.

My faithful Canon SX10 camera, however, does not have a convertible top. While I was taking this photo of St. Mark’s Chapel, a local resident named Melissa wandered over and volunteered to hold my umbrella for me. Very thoughtful! St. Mark’s was built in 1923 in the town of Fort Montgomery, in anticipation of an influx of visitors to the nearby state park once the Bear Mountain Bridge was finished.

Melissa also told me about some nearby trails with interesting historical artifacts. They turned out to be the site of the west redoubt (an entrenched fortification) of the original 1776 Fort Montgomery! Not much was left, but it was a fun hike. Fort Montgomery, and the nearby Fort Clinton, were among the first fortifications built by the Continental Army during the American Revolution, with the goal of controlling ship traffic on the Hudson River.

Forts Montgomery and Clinton played an important role in the Revolutionary War. On October 6, 1777, 2,000 British troops attacked the 600 colonial soldiers stationed there, moving in from the non-river side, where the forts’ defenses were the weakest. The British also had support from Navy bombardments. Ultimately, they drove the colonial forces from the two forts, both of which were then destroyed. Roughly half of the Americans were killed, wounded, or captured. However… the diversion of British forces for this battle resulted in a stunning victory by the Continental Army at Saratoga, where General John Burgoyne had to surrender all 6,000 of his surviving troops. His surrender turned the tide of war in favor of the colonials, and the rest is, well, history. (Photo of battle reenactment courtesy of the Visitor Center’s video, “Battle of Fort Montgomery.”)

My hike also led me directly beneath the Route 9W bridge over Popolopen Creek. It looked a bit spindly from my vantage point, but scenic nonetheless.

Back on the road, I soon discovered that an anticipated highlight of the tour—the Storm King Highway, running from West Point to Newburgh along the Hudson—was closed for repair! The historic 1916 road offers some of the best views of the river anywhere. Sigh… I’ll content myself for now with this historic postcard. Fortunately, my longish detour also offered some dramatic vistas such as the one below. The buildings on the right are part of the West Point complex. (Postcard courtesy of History of Storm King Highway, which tells the amazing story of how this road was carved into the side of the mountain.)

The village of Cornwall-on-Hudson lies just south of Newburgh. Such diverse individuals as British writer Amelia Barr, custom bike builder “Indian Larry,” and General David Petraeus lived here at one time or another. I was looking for the 1826 Canterbury Presbyterian Church but managed to mistakenly find the 1858 St. John’s Episcopal Church instead.

Fortunately, I correctly located the Sands Ring Homestead, which was built in 1760 by Nathaniel Sands and served as one of the earliest meeting places for Quakers in this part of New York. Since 1950, it’s been a museum of colonial history.

Cornwall-on-Hudson also offered an opportunity to spot Pollepel Island, home to the ruins of Bannerman’s Castle. On my visit, however, I learned three things: First, the Hudson River is very wide at this spot; second, that the island is on the far side of the river; and third, that the castle is on the far side of the island. So I looked in vain for quite a while.

If I had been able to see the castle, it would have looked like the photo below (courtesy of James Dunham on Flickr). After the Civil War, Scottish immigrant Frances Bannerman VI bought a huge amount of war-surplus arms, munitions, and other military equipment and started one of the first Army-Navy surplus businesses in the country. By 1900, he needed a place to store it all, as it would no longer fit in his downtown New York City warehouse. (Moreover, his warehouse held 30 million rifle cartridges, which the city frowned upon for some reason…) Bannerman bought Pollepel Island and built a huge, castle-like arsenal there.

In addition, Bannerman built a smaller castle home on top of the island. Sadly, both castles have been abandoned since 1950 and have been deteriorating steadily, with only the walls still standing. The main arsenal was badly damaged by fire in 1969, and the winter of 2009-2010 brought down large parts of both the arsenal and castle. I suspect the days are numbered for the rest, although the Bannerman Castle Trust is doing its best to stabilize the ruins. (Before and after photos courtesy of Dan “zeno 108” and Garrett S. Ziegler, respectively, on Flickr.)

The St. Thomas Episcopal Church has graced the banks of the Hudson River since 1848 (with a congregation dating back to 1728). It’s notable for being the first Medieval Gothic church in the United States and for its stained glass windows, one of which is by Tiffany.

I’d stayed overnight in Newburgh while traveling to Cape Cod last year and fell in love with its history and architecture. I passed on through this year, taking just enough time to photograph this interesting pair of front steps. No cookie-cutter designs in this town.

I also looked for the historic David Crawford House, but an inexplicable case of Major Ineptitude landed me half a block short and on the wrong side of the street. I was sure that this mansion was the right place… Well, there’s always next year!

After recrossing the Hudson to its eastern shore, I somehow managed to find the village of Fishkill on the first try and the First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church on the second try. The church was founded in 1716, and the current building was constructed in about 1784, in part using the stone walls of the original church.

With fingers tightly crossed, I next set off on the 23-mile trip to Millbrook, NY, hoping that my destination would still be there… Specifically, I wanted to find the 200-room Halcyon Hall, which was built in 1893 as a resort hotel and soon after became the main campus building of Bennett College serving as such for nearly 90 years. The women’s college had gone bankrupt in 1978, and Halcyon Hall had been vacant ever since. Weather and vandals had caused substantial deterioration over the years, and the county had scheduled Halcyon for [I]demolition[/I] in 2012, to make way for condominiums. Would it still exist?

I had carefully figured out a good photographic vantage point when planning the trip. When I arrived, I was ecstatic to see glimpses of the old building through the trees. It was still there! However, my path to the other side of the trees was blocked by a narrow but deep stream.

With the help of my somnambulant Zumo GPS, I managed to drive right up to the old entrance, only to find a chain-link fence, a locked gate, and several obvious “No Trespassing” signs.

Figuring that anything outside of the fence was fair game, I set off on foot to circumnavigate the property and arrive at the front of Halcyon Hall. Along the way, I discovered a neatly flattened section of the fence, presumably trampled by Fervent Explorers, and I was mightily tempted to wander on in. But my goal was a photograph of the building’s full exterior. (If you’d like to see the inside, check out Hudson Valley Ruins. It’s something!) Soon enough, I found several good exterior vantage points, with the following results.

Halcyon Hall is in pretty bad shape, and one of the dormer sections has collapsed altogether in recent years. Town preservationists succeeded in their efforts to have the hall listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, but the county has sold the property rights to a condominium developer. The recent recession has put a damper on those plans; let’s hope the preservationists will win out in the end. Here are a few photos from Bennett College in the early 1900s (courtesy of the Hudson River Valley Heritage and the Millbrook Free Library). If you want to see this fascinating old building, I suggest that you go soon.

In the last pair of photos above, incidentally, it appears to be either the exact same room or very similar ones—the first one in its original hotel configuration, and the second as a typical dorm room for the college.

As fabulous as this first day of my tour had been so far, there was still more to come. This rural setting along Fallkill Creek was nice enough…

…and it was all the better given that the house in the distance was Eleanor Roosevelt’s “Stone Cottage” on her Val-Kill retreat. Her close friends Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman lived here from 1925 to 1947.

This is the actual Val-Kill home, which the First Lady used as her retreat from the rigors of public life. It started out as a furniture factory, designed by Mrs. Roosevelt to provide training and jobs for local men and women who could no longer make a living as farmers. The venture failed during the Great Depression, and she had it converted into a modest home. Following Franklin Roosevelt’s death, Eleanor lived here for the rest of her life—in the process hosting many dignitaries. Winston Churchill had dinner here, sitting by the outdoor fireplace.

I have it on good authority that this friendly fellow is a direct descendant of Mrs. Roosevelt’s own beloved pet chipmunk, “Mr. Chips.” It’s also possible that I made this part up.  🙂

The Roosevelts’ formal home was the Springwood estate in Hyde Park, NY. FDR was born at Springwood and lived his whole life here, excluding his White House years. It was built around an 1800 farmhouse and expanded significantly in 1845, again in 1866 when FDR’s father, James Roosevelt, bought the estate, and a final time in 1915 by FDR and his mother. Springwood is open for public tours, although not if you arrive at 7:00 PM, as I did!

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt are buried together in their rose garden, near the mansion.

James Roosevelt’s horse stable is still in fine condition. I didn’t see any horses through the window, but check out the collection of race ribbons on the left.

I happened across this place as I was driving down to the Hudson to get a look at the old Hyde Park railroad station. I had no idea what it was, but subsequent sleuthing identified it as the coach house for Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt’s nearby estate. The noble BMW Z4 seems to fit right into the posh setting, wouldn’t you agree?

The sound of falling water drew me to a nearby waterfall. This is only about one-third of it. The total vertical drop was so great that I couldn’t find any way to reach the bottom level for a better photo.

Eventually I actually made it to the Hyde Park Station. Through the doors of this relatively plain depot passed the Roosevelts, the Vanderbilts, British King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and many other dignitaries. President Roosevelt made his final trip here after his death, when his body was returned to Springwood for burial.

By now it was approaching 8:00 PM, and I had little hope that the Vanderbilt estate would still be open. It was, however, as long as the sun hadn’t set completely, so my luck held out yet again! Approaching on the long driveway, I was struck by the ornate beauty of the mansion—it would have fit right into the Loire Valley in France.

A closer look confirmed the extraordinary elegance and beautiful design. I’ll return one day for a proper tour. In the meantime, the historic photos below are courtesy of the National Park Service. The land had been owned by various others, including John Jacob Astor, dating back to 1764; the Vanderbilts purchased it in 1895, and the mansion was finished by 1899. Frederick Vanderbilt ran the New York Central Railroad for 61 years, amassing an enormous fortune in the process. His own railroad could whisk him comfortably from Hyde Park to New York City and back whenever he liked.

From the grounds of the Vanderbilt mansion, I could look across the Hudson and see what looked like another stately mansion. Zooming in, I discovered that it was more church-like in nature, and I later learned that this is the Holy Cross Benedictine Monastery and guesthouse, in West Park, NY. It has been training monks, ministering to the spiritual needs of visitors, and manufacturing incense ever since 1904.

I could also see that the sun was setting and more rain looked to be on the way. It was 8:30 PM, I had not arranged any place to stay that night, and I had skipped lunch and dinner in the tenacious pursuit of touring adventure. After considering these circumstances, naturally I decided to continue touring! (In fairness, I did take 2 minutes for the ever-helpful Siri to find an historic inn in nearby Rhinebeck; I booked their very last room, no doubt with minutes to spare.)

As I searched for the entrance to the Mills Mansion in Staatsburgh, NY, I couldn’t help noticing a substantial amount of construction equipment and supplies. Thankfully, the Staatsburgh State Historical Site was open until sundown (another 10 minutes, at best), despite the repairs. The original part of the mansion was built in about 1832, and Ruth Livingston Mills and her husband Ogden expanded it in 1895 to its current size of 65 rooms, 14 bathrooms, and 23 fireplaces. The Mills lived in this mansion each Fall. They divided their time between four other, equally grand dwellings for the rest of the year. This is the back of the house, incidentally. The front is even nicer.

These two photos (courtesy of HISTORYonics’ terrific website) illustrate the interior of the Mills Mansion. Those dining room walls are made of marble, in case you were wondering. Some of the rooms were modeled after the most luxurious staterooms of the ocean liner Titanic. Ruth and Ogden had actually booked passage for the Titanic’s return trip from New York to Southampton in England. That voyage, of course, was never to be.

With a last look at the glorious sky, and my elegant parking space, it was time for a mad dash to Rhinebeck.

Naturally, the Saint Margaret of Antioch Church merited a photograph.

In Rhinebeck, my not-so-trusty Zumo woke up long enough to help me find the Beekman Arms Inn. Their dining room had just closed, but the very helpful staff suggested I try the Terrapin Restaurant, which turned out to be housed in this former church. They were open until 10:00 PM, and their duck and guacamole quesadilla was superb. Best of all, I met Jason and his wife (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten), who were sitting at the next table. In the course of an extended, very interesting conversation, they told me about yet another mansion nearby—abandoned in 1950 and now in ruins. Was my day complete or what?

My room at the Beekman Arms was probably not a lot different from what George Washington, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, Horace Greeley, William Jennings Bryan, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Wolfe, Franklin D. Roosevelt, or any of the Inn’s other notable guesets might have experienced when they stayed here back in the days. Other than the window air conditioner, modern bathroom, and free Wi-Fi, I suppose… (By the way, it is said that the quarrels between Burr and Hamilton, which ultimately led to the duel in which Hamilton was killed, originated in the Beekman Arms.) If you like classic old hotels, then this is the place for you. A call home and a quick scan of emails, and it was lights out.


I was able to get a photo of the hotel the next morning, during a short walk around Rhinebeck’s historic district. William Traphagen started an inn nearby in the early 1700s. His son, Arent Traphagen, moved the inn into a larger building in 1766, and the Beekman Arms was born—making it the oldest operating hotel in the United States. It’s named in honor of local resident Col. Henry Beekman, Jr., who was the grandfather of Robert R. Livingston (one of the five drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the first chancellor of the State of New York), who in turn was the great-great-grandfather of our old friend Ruth Livingston Mills. It was apparently a tight-knit community (although perhaps not up to West Virginia standards in this respect…).

The 1852 Church of the Messiah was stately looking, but what I really liked was the glimmer of sunshine that lit up the little tree in the front lawn.

The Reformed Church of Rhinebeck dates back to 1731, with construction of the current building by 1808. Although it’s not readily apparent from this photograph, two of the church’s walls (including the front wall) are made from stone, and the other two (including the side facing the camera) are made of brick. This odd arrangement resulted from the practicality of the Dutch settlers: only some could afford to buy bricks for the new church; the other members donated stones from their fields. Also, it’s not every church that has a cannon in its cemetery. It’s in honor of the many Revolutinary War soldiers who are buried there. The crude headstone in the second photograph was roughly lettered by hand and dated May 26, 1775.

After a filling breakfast at the inn, I motored off to find the ruins of the old mansion that Jason had told me about. On the way, I happened across a waterfall over Landsman Kill—”kill” being the Dutch name for a stream. I parked at a nearby and apparently abandoned house, which had an intriguing plaque identifying it as “The Gatehouse” and “Building #26.” The overgrown dirt path leading uphill from the gatehouse was marked “No Trespassing.” As usual, I was sorely tempted, but I had a long way to go to Saratoga, and I still had to be in Falmouth, Cape Cod before the end of the day.

Later research about the mysterious gatehouse led to a most entertaining tale by local historian Nancy Kelly. It’s well worth a read, but the gist of it is that the gatehouse guarded the entrance to Linwood Hill, an 1842 Gothic Revival “cottage” that was later the home of one Harrison B. Dyar, Jr. By age 16 (in 1872), Harrison had already started his lifelong study of insects. He received degrees from MIT and Columbia University, and became the Smithsonian Institution’s foremost expert on mosquitoes. He married his MIT sweetheart, and the happy couple had a daughter and a son. Later, Harrison married a Smithsonian research assistant, and the new happy couple had three sons. Given the high mortality associated with childbirth in those days, second or even third marriages were not at all uncommon—unless, as in this case, the first wife was still alive, the original couple was still married, and the happy bridegroom used an assumed name…

Nine years later, the existence of two concurrent families came to light, Wife #1 filed for divorce, Harrison lost his job with the Smithsonian, and otherwise all was well. He continued his relaxing pastime of building elaborate, brick-lined tunnels under his house in Washington, DC (including statues and Latin inscriptions for good measure), and he became active in the monotheistic Bahá’í religion and argued forcefully in support of polygamy.

Did I mention that Harrison’s father had invented a working telegraph 10 years before Samuel Morse but had to flee the country after being indicted for allegedly using his new device in a bank-fraud scheme? Or that his mother was reputed to be a psychic? I tell you, there is a fascinating story behind every one of the old structures in the entire country! Linwood Hill, incidentally, was demolished in 1910 by its next owner and replaced with the stunning Fox Hollow mansion, which still stands today at the end of the overgrown path that I didn’t follow. (Harrison Dyar, Jr. photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution; Linwood Hill drawing courtesy of Rhinebeck’s Historic Architecture by Nancy V. Kelly.)

Meanwhile, back at the Landsman Kill waterfalls… I first tried getting a photo from the bridge but wasn’t altogether satisfied. See the rock outcropping on the left of the first picture? My second attempt was made from that rock, but it wasn’t that great, either, since I was concentrating on not falling into the creek!

You’ve all heard the expression “keeping up with the Joneses,” I’m sure. It originated in a small community southwest of Rhinebeck when Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones built a magnificent brick Norman mansion in 1853, which she named Wyndclyffe. Inspired by Ms. Jones’ home, neighbors were soon busily having their own mansions built, to “keep up.” Ms. Jones’ niece was the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Jones Wharton, who visited frequently as a child but seems not to have liked the place all that much. Although she used Wyndclyffe as the setting for “The Willows” in her book Hudson River Bracketed, she also characterized it as “a monstrosity.” In her autobiography, Mrs. Wharton wrote, “The effect of terror produced by [Wyndclyffe] was no doubt due to what seemed to me its intolerable ugliness. … I can still remember hating everything at [Wyndclyffe]… and from the first I was obscurely conscious of a queer resemblance between the granite exterior of Aunt Elizabeth and her grimly comfortable house…”

Well! My task, however, was not to critique Wyndclyffe but to find it. With Jason’s directions in mind, I managed to locate it on the first try. It’s surrounded by tall trees, with only portions visible through their gaps.

Like Halcyon Hall, it was surrounded by a fence. I managed to get this photo of the back of the mansion by holding the camera over top of the fence.

In searching for a better vantage spot, I scrambled up a bank and discovered a hole cut neatly right through the fence. I would never take advantage of such a tempting opportunity of course, unless a much better photo depended on it…  I will leave to your imagination the means by which I achieved this last shot. It’s a wonderful old mansion, but its days are clearly numbered. Over the last 50 years, it’s sold for as much as $85,000 (1971) and as little as $1.00 (1953). It has deteriorated badly, and sizable portions have collapsed altogether.

The following photos of the ruins in 1979 are courtesy of the Library of Congress, as is the architectural drawing above. Compare the front of the mansion in 1979 with my photograph above; somewhere along the way, the porch on the left has disappeared altogether.

These interior photos show the central hall, the staircase off of the hallway, the library, and the first-floor parlor and whatever was above it.

I left Wyndclyffe both reluctantly and hastily, and continued on to the Wilderstein Mansion, which is open to the public—although not on the day of my visit, unfortunately. It was named after a rock with Native American petroglyphs found on the property (“wilderstein’ meaning “wild stone” in German). It was built in 1852 by Thomas and Catherine Suckley in the Italianate style and remodeled in the Queen Anne style by their son in 1888. The last of the Suckleys to live there was Margaret (Daisy) Suckley, who died in the mansion in 1991 at the age of 100. Daisy, and her long affair with her sixth cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt, were the subject of the 2012 movie Hyde Park on Hudson, starring Laura Linney and Bill Murray. This is as close as I could get for a photo, absent a more compelling excuse for wandering right up to the house…

I went through the village of Rhinecliff for a quick look, discovering in the process that there are a number of lighthouses on the Hudson River. This one is the Rondout Creek Leading Light, near Kingston, NY. It replaced an earlier lighthouse near this spot in 1915, with the prior 1867 structure collapsing altogether in 1950.

I also learned that the Rhinecliff-Kingston railroad station is here, with Amtrak service to Penn Station in New York City. At non-peak hours, the wide access road makes a heckuva skateboard ramp. This fellow was doing a good 20 mph; at the far end of the parking lot, he would jump vertically off the board, begin running in mid-air, and then attempt to “hit the ground running.” He was quite good at the “hit the ground” part. Fortunately, he always hopped right back up for another go.

For reasons I couldn’t fathom, the RoadRunner route took me on a long detour away from the Hudson and right across Ashokan (“place of fish”) Reservoir. I knew that it was New York City’s deepest source of drinking water, at as much as 190 feet deep, but it didn’t sound all that interesting. The lake was filled in 1912 to 1914, becoming the largest reservoir in the world at that time—much to the disgust of the roughly 1,000 residents whose homes, farms, quarries, and other properties were seized through eminent domain proceedings. At full capacity, it holds 122.9 billion gallons of water.

Once I drove there, I saw the wisdom of the author’s route. It was scenic to beat the band. In particular, my visit had been preceded by several days of heavy rains, and Ashokan Reservoir was running well over capacity. It made for quite a sight at the Olivebridge Dam and spillway, where the water was cascading in every direction.

In the interest of ensuring clean water, swimming in the reservoir is strictly prohibited. Fishing is okay, if you can obtain a permit. I guess a substantial annual supply of fish poop is not considered a problem. The Spillway Road has been closed since 2001 to prevent terrorism, but the Reservoir Road remains open. Access to the road and bridge are strictly limited, as indicated in this photo.

The Reservoir Road bridge is quite a sight, although access to the lake shore is also strictly limited. With all the restrictions, limitations, and snooty permit requirements, one might be a bit tempted to piddle spitefully into the reservoir. I of course chose not to sully the fishes’ natural habitat.

Oh, here’s a Mountain Laurel picture, just for Jody!

And a photo of the 1857 Old School Baptist Meeting House, just for Cathy and Kim!

And the Dutch Reformed Church, just to demonstrate that I actually made it to Woodstock, NY! (The famous 1969 music festival was going to be held in Woodstock, but it actually took place nearly 60 miles away when Woodstock would not issue a permit to the organizers.) The church was built in 1805 and moved to its current spot in 1844.

The Ulster & Delaware Railroad operated in this part of New York starting back in 1868. With the growth in Catskill Mountain resorts, the railroad’s business exploded, and this station in Phoenicia was handling 675,000 passengers a year. The line went bankrupt in 1932, thanks to the Depression, and was bought by the New York Central Railroad. Operations ceased for good in 1976, and the Empire State Railway Museum later purchased the Phoenicia Station and used it for Summer and Fall scenic train excursions. Then came Hurricane Irene in 2011, which flooded Esopus Creek and severely damaged the station and tracks. I hope the museum and its tracks are able to return to service some day.

I stopped in Tannersville only long enough to get a photo of this building, which I believe was once a boarding house. Note the third-story façade.

Kaaterskill Creek has carved a narrow, winding gorge through the Catskill Mountains, creating a number of dramatic waterfalls in the process. One of these, Bastion Falls, immediately borders Route 23a. I had to forgo a photo, unfortunately, since (i) there was no place to pull over on the very narrow road, and (ii) someone had unwisely chosen to drive a honking big tractor-trailer up the mountain in the other lane. I saw him approaching the hairpin at the falls, and I stopped well short to give him plenty of room to negotiate the turn. He still came within inches of knocking the left front fender right off my Z4! Here are an old postcard and Andrew Stockwell’s beautiful photo of the 70-foot-high waterfall.

What I failed to realize was that an even more formidable waterfall was another 0.4 mile up the mountain—namely Kaaterskill Falls, probably the most scenic and best-known waterfall in all of New York. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that the popularity of Kaaterskill Falls led directly to the development of the Catskills into a major resort area. Prior to about 1815, most of Colonial America considered this area to be entirely unsafe, as portrayed by the famous painting “The Murder of Jane McRea.” Subsequently, two things happened to change opinions. First, in 1819 Washington Irving described Kaaterskill Falls in his popular story Rip Van Winkle, which is set in this area. And second, in 1826 Thomas Cole’s dramatic paintings of the waterfall and surrounding area encouraged many people to travel to the Catskills to view the 260-foot-high waterfall. Before long, guest houses, restaurants, railroads, and the rest of the area’s resort infrastructure sprang up to handle the flood of tourists.

In nearby Palenville, I found the stately Rowena Memorial School. It was built in 1899 in honor of Lysander Lawrence’s deceased wife, Rowena. He paid for its construction, but soon thereafter the town’s population became divided over the school’s maintenance costs—to the point that a proposal to demolish the building received serious consideration! The school was replaced in 1977 with a larger building that merged several districts, and Rowena School became a library through 1986. It has been occupied somewhat sporadically since then, with significant deterioration.

Palenville, incidentally, claims to be the home of Rip Van Winkle—illustrated here by N.C. Wyeth—and who am I to argue? In fact, I’d been planning to stay overnight at the Rip Van Winkle Motor Lodge (really!), but I was concerned that I might oversleep…

Approaching the town of Catskill, I spotted the 1860 David Van Gelder Octagonal House behind some trees and down a steep incline. After some exploring, I located its driveway only to discover that the view of the house is largely blocked by trees. Octagonal houses were briefly popular in the mid-1800s after being espoused by a noted phrenologist. (Really, you can’t make these things up.)

Remember Thomas Cole, whose paintings helped popularize the Catskill Mountains? He so liked the area that he moved into Cedar Grove (an 1815 house in Catskill, NY), married local girl Maria Bartow, and founded the American naturalist art movement known as the Hudson River School. He built two studios, which, following his death, became a center for the movement’s artists. Cedar Grove is now better known as the Thomas Cole House, having been purchased by the Greene County Historical Society in 1998 to prevent its demolition. A full restoration followed, and the house opened to the public in 2001.

Although many artists followed the landscape style pioneered by Thomas Cole, he had only one formal student. Frederic Edwin Church was from a wealthy family and became very well known in his own right, often referred to as “the Michelangelo of American art.” His paintings proved very lucrative, and in 1870-1872 he built the Persian-styled, mountaintop estate known as Olana. Later in life, as arthritis reduced his ability to paint, Frederic Church turned his grounds into a living landscape, comparable to the gardens of Frederick Law Olmsted.

Did you happen to notice the painter working at his easel in the lower right corner of the photo of Olana? He was from Brazil, and his fellow art students had long-since finished their landscapes and departed. This gentleman had chosen to paint the entire Hudson River scene, rather than just a small portion, and he had been struggling all day to capture the subtle shades of green. Let’s hear it for perfectionism! And let’s hope that he caught his plane back to Brazil on time the next morning!

From Olana, I hustled the Z4 north along the eastern bank of the Hudson, crossing back over to the western side at Troy, north of Albany. It was time to get to Saratoga, but I had one more important stop to make on the way. Cohoes, NY has a long history of industry and transportation, including the Eric Canal and the Mohawk River to supply power. Harmony Mills was the largest textile mill in the world in 1872. Today, its main building has been converted to luxury “loft” apartments.

But my real reason for visiting here was to see Cohoes Falls. The original Native American name for the falls translates to “place of the falling canoe,” which was apt given the drop of 90 feet. It was here that the Mohawk Indians founded the Iroquois League of Nations, joining together the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora nations.

Cohoes Falls is wider than, and about the same height as, the American Falls at Niagra. Compared to Niagra’s Horseshoe Falls, however, Cohoes is half as wide and half as high. Still, it’s an incredible sight, especially following several days of heavy rainfall. This photo was taken from the south, near the hydroelectric power plant.

Upstream, a short hike across the power plant’s intake canal leads to a closer vantage point. The flow of the water created a nice cooling mist plus a deafening roar—so much so that it was hard to hold a conversation even at close range. Surprisingly, during the summer months the flow of water over the falls is negligible, in significant part due to the diversion of the Mohawk for the power plant and canal.

After admiring Cohoes Falls, it was time to make another mad dash, this time to Saratoga Springs. This area is justifiably famous for the pivotal Battle of Saratoga in 1777, but that wasn’t why I was heading there. Nor was I trying to make the horse races at the famous Saratoga Springs racetrack or to visit the hot springs and geysers. No, I had a much more important destination in mind: The Saratoga Automobile Museum. It opened in 2002, in the plant formerly used for bottling Saratoga Springs mineral water, and quickly developed a reputation as a world-class car museum.

As good luck would have it, the museum’s featured exhibit during May to early November is “BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine.” It includes 11 vintage and more modern automobiles, together with 11 classic motorcycles (plus a current S1000RR). The BMW automobiles ranged from the famous (and priceless) Andy Warhol M1 “art car,” which finished sixth overall at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans, to a miniscule Isetta “bubble car.”

Other competition BMWs included the M3 GT that won the American Le Mans Series GT championship in 2010 and the 3.0 CSL that raced in the American IMSA series in the mid-1970s, including a win at the 24 Hours of Daytona with Peter Gregg and Brian Redman.

The next section of the BMW display featured an awesome collection of vintage BMW motorcycles, including a 1925 R32, which was the first model that BMW ever produced, with its “boxer” engine, shaft drive, and “suicide shifter.” Other bikes on display were a 1929 R62, 1931 R16, 1934 R11, 1942 R12, 1955 R25/2, 1969 R60/2 “Polizei,” plus the more recent R100RT, K1, and S1000RR. These first two photos show the R25/2 and R62, respectively—I think. I will certainly welcome any assistance from John / Unity!

I particularly liked this original, unrestored R12. It was found in a French barn about 18 years ago and has been preserved as is. It started life as a normal civilian BMW, complete with black paint and white pin-striping. At the start of World War II, however, it was commandeered by the military and given a brushed-on coat of green paint. With the passage of time, the original black and white BMW finish is starting to show through.

I was also taken by this R11. As with almost all the other bikes in the exhibit, this one had a current license plate and inspection sticker. It is ridden regularly (although perhaps not quite as often as it would be if RocketMan owned it!)

If only one could reach back in time and grab one of these brand-new BMWs, right from the factory…

The 1990 K1 and 2013 S1000RR stood out from the vintage collection. In their own way, they’re no less pioneering than the earliest BMWs, showing that BMW Motorrad is continuously experimenting and developing new engineering breakthroughs.

I’d seen one of the pre-war BMW 328 roadsters in a museum in France, some years ago, but I’d never seen two of them in one place! These cars have 2-litre, 6-cylinder engines and can be considered the vintage forerunners of our modern-day Z4’s. Each of these examples is worth well over $500,000—particularly the black one. It was originally owned by Baron Huschke von Hanstein, winner of the (scaled back) 1940 Mille Miglia and the legendary director of the Porsche factory racing team in the 1950s and 1960s.

Have you heard of (or seen) a 1988 BMW Z1? Only 8,000 were produced, and just a dozen or so were ever imported into the U.S. They had a number of pioneering features, some of which made their way into other models (e.g., the rear suspension) and others of which didn’t (e.g., the slide-down doors).

The 1956-1959 507 roadsters are among the rarest of BMWs, with only 252 produced. The 507 cost far more to build than BMW had planned, and the resulting losses almost forced the company into bankruptcy. The fact that Elvis Presley owned one was apparently not enough to save the model. (He later gave his 507 to Ursula Andress.) The 507 had a very strong influence on the subsequent Z8 roadster, and some of its elements can also be seen in the Z3 and Z4 models.

I had just enough time for a short tour of the upstairs exhibits. These included:

  • “Poison Lil,” a 1935 Maserati that raced on the pre-war Grand Prix circuit in Europe, at the 1936-1937 Vanderbilt Cup races in New York, the 1938-1939 Indianapolis 500s (although it failed to qualify), and at the first seven Watkins Glen road races in 1948-1954, leading every one (but winning only two).
  • The Ferrari “Bardahl Special,” driven at Indianapolis by Grand Prix World Champion Nino Farina (but failing to qualify).
  • A 1928 Franklin Airman, manufactured in Syracuse, NY for Charles Lindbergh.
  • A 1910 Maxwell, complete with “non-Skid” tire treads.

Best of all, at least for diehard admirers of John Fitch, there was an original Fitch Corvair Sprint. Long before I met John, I drooled over the Car & Driver articles about these cars. This was the first time that I’d ever seen one.

With that, it was after 4:00 PM and time to jump back into the Z4 and drive the 256 miles to Cape Cod, in hopes of arriving in time for dinner with Nancy and our friends. (I made it for dessert.) It had been a wonderful tour—in fact the very best of my Z4 trips to date.

Rick F.


Written by Rick

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