Adventures in the Villa


2017 The Odyssey Part 1 – Eastbound

2017-07-04 Hudson Valley, NY; Roosevelt’s many houses in Hyde Park, and the Great Estates of the Vanderbilts

On 4th of July  we once again took to the train; this time going north, to Poughkeepsie.  At the train station we were shuttled to FDR’s Hyde Park estate, Springwood.  It has a nice driveway approach:

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The house has a great presence as you approach:

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However, it is really a simple (yet large) farm house. Those columns you see aren’t marble, or even stone; they are wood, fashioned to imitate stone.  Inside, the rooms are quite plain, except for the Living Room; it is quite lovely:

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The Sitting Room:

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The Dining Room:

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FDR was born in this house and lived here his entire life; for all but the last four years his mother lived here as well.  There are no permanent accommodations for the fact that he spent most of his waking hours in a wheelchair.  There is a ramp from the main level down to the Living Room, but when visitors were expected, he would transfer from the wheelchair to his desk chair in the Living Room, the ramp was removed and stored, and the wheelchair was hidden.  To access the upper level, he transferred himself into the dumbwaiter, and he hoisted himself up by using the ropes and pulleys.

As I said, FDR’s mother, Sara, lived here with FDR and his wife Eleanor.  FDR was a bit of a “Mama’s Boy” and Eleanor and Sara never got along well. Both Eleanor and FDR built separate, private houses for themselves on the estate, although FDR never slept in his…

Also on the grounds of the estate is the FDR Library; it was the first presidential library built, and it is the only presidential library that was actually used by a sitting president. It was built in about 1941, and expanded after his death.  There is a moving art installation in the garden: given by Winston Churchill’s grand-daughter, it is a sculpture made from pieces taken from the Berlin Wall.  It is entitled “Freedom of Speech”.  The western side is covered in graffiti; the east side is blank…

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In addition to being born here, and living here all his life, FDR is also buried here:

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Next we visited the Vanderbilt Estate, also in the city of Hyde Park.  Is is just one of many Vanderbilt mansions in America…

From the late 1870s to the 1920s, the Vanderbilt family employed some of the United States’s best Beaux-Arts architects and decorators to build an un-equalled string of New York townhouses and East Coast palaces.

The list of architects employed by the Vanderbilts is a “who’s who” of the New York-based firms that embodied the “eclectic” styles of the American Renaissance: Richard Morris HuntGeorge B. PostMcKim, Mead, and WhiteCharles B. AtwoodCarrère and HastingsWarren and WetmoreHorace TrumbauerJohn Russell Pope and Addison Mizner were all employed by the eight grandchildren of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, who built only very modest houses for himself.

Commodore’s grandchildren inheritted about $200,000 from their father, and they treated it as play money to indulge their home-building passions;  I count 24 houses…

  1. Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843–1899), built a townhouse, the “Cornelius Vanderbilt II House” (1883) at 1 West 57th Street, New York by George B. Post. Enlargements by George B. Post and Richard Morris Hunt. This mansion was, and remains, the largest private residence ever built in Manhattan. Demolished.  Also, “The Breakers” in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1892–95, which was also designed by Richard Morris Hunt.  Also, “Oakland Farm” (1893), mansion and stables on 150 acres in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Demolished.
  2. Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt (1845–1924), built a townhouse (1882), part of the Triple Palace, at 2 West 52nd Street, provided to them by her father and shared with her sister Emily Thorn Vanderbilt and their families. Demolished.  Also,  Woodlea (1892–95), designed by McKim, Mead & White, a country estate in Scarborough, New York, now the Sleepy Hollow Country Club.
  3. William Kissam Vanderbilt (1849–1920) had three houses designed by Richard Morris Hunt.
    • Petit Chateau“, the New York City townhouse at 660 Fifth Avenue, built in 1882 with details drawn in part from the late-Gothic Hôtel de Cluny, Paris. Demolished in 1926.
    • “Idle Hour” country estate in Oakdale, Long Island, New York, was built in 1878–79 and destroyed by fire in 1899. A new “Idle Hour”, designed by Hunt’s son Richard Howland Hunt, was built on the same property from 1900–01 of brick and marble in the English Country Style and is now part of the Dowling College Campus.
    • Marble House” summer home in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1888–92.
  4. Emily Thorn Vanderbilt (1852–1946) built a townhouse, 642 Fifth Avenue, part of the Vanderbilt Triple Palace, provided to them by her father. Demolished. Also, “Elm Court” in Lenox, Massachusetts, in 1887. It is the largest shingle-style house in the United States.
  5. Florence Adele Vanderbilt (1854–1952) built a townhouse at 684 Fifth Avenue, New York (1883). Designed by John B. Snook,  Demolished.  Also, Florham” in Convent Station, New Jersey, in 1894–97. Designed by McKim, Mead and White as a summer estate, it is now used for classrooms, faculty offices, and administration at Fairleigh Dickinson University.  Also, “Vinland” in Newport, Rhode Island. Renovated by Ogden Codman, Jr.. Now part of the Salve Regina University.  Also, a townhouse, her second, a 70-room house at 1 East 71st Street, New York. Designed by Whitney Warren. Demolished.
  6. Frederick William Vanderbilt (1856–1938) built “Hyde Park” in Hyde Park, New York. Designed by McKim, Mead and White and built in 1896–99.  Also,  “Rough Point” in Newport, Rhode Island designed by Peabody and Stearns built in 1892. Also, “Pine Tree Point“, Adirondack Great Camp on Upper St. Regis Lake in 1901. Also, “Sonogee” (1903) in Bar Harbor, Maine purchased and renovated in 1915.
  7. Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt (1860–1936) built “Shelburne Farms” in Shelburne, Vermont, built in 1899.  Also, a townhouse (1883) at 680 Fifth Avenue, New York. The house was a wedding gift from William H. Vanderbilt to his daughter. Demolished.  Also, “NaHaSaNe” (1893), the 115,000 acre Great Camp located on Lake Lila in the Adirondacks.
  8. George Washington Vanderbilt II (1862–1914) built a townhouse (1887) at 9 West 53rd Street in New York City. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt. Demolished. Also, “Biltmore” in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1888–95. Designed by Hunt, it is the largest house in the United States.  Also, houses at 645 and 647 Fifth Avenue, New York, called the “Marble Twins”. 1902–05. Number 647 survives, a designated landmark, as the flagship store for Versace.  Also, “Pointe d’Acadie” (1869), the Bar Harbor, Maine cottage purchased and renovated in 1889. Demolished 1952

The Vanderbilts started the craze of building ostentatious mansions to showcase their wealth and to be a backdrop for their lavish parties. You will hear more about these houses in a few days when we visit the “Summer Cottages” in Newport, Rhode Island.

The Frederick Vanderbilt house in Hyde Park is arguably the smallest of the grand houses, a mere 55,000 square feet.  Unfortunately, it is undergoing restoration and thus is covered in scaffolding and slipcovers.

Today’s visitors center was originally built as a cottage for the Vanderbilts to view the ongoing construction:2017-07-04 Vanderbilt Hyde Park 01


The mansion as it looks today:

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We were allowed to take interior photos, but the interiors are in a state of disarray:

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As you can see, this house, like others I will show you in Newport, is simply an ostentatious display of excess;  these people were not patrons of artists who benefited their development; they simply bought castles and palaces in Europe, dismantled them, and reassembled them here in America. Don’t forget, this is one on the smallest, simplest Vanderbilt house; we will see more…

We returned on the train back to the Villa; this being the 4th of July, the Park was packed with thousands of people, crowding the beaches and lawns.  It was quite a madhouse. Luckily the RV park is about 1/2 mile beyond all the partying, so we were not affected by the crowds once we were finally able to drive by them. W spent the evening cleaning and packing. Today marks the final day of Part 1 of this Odyssey; tomorrow we rendezvous with the Nor by Nor’east caravan in Ashaway, Rhode Island.



















2017-07-03 Hudson Valley, NY; Marchese Chevrolet, FedEx, and a Blow Dryer

The day in Croton Point dawned beautifully again. Today was another utilitarian day. We started by driving to Marchese Chevrolet in Fort Montgomory, NY, about a 1/2 hour drive.

We were finally able to get a photo of the Bear Mountain Bridge:

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We needed a basic 7,500 mile service, and we needed to top off the DEF.  While the happy merry workers went about their duties we walked the neighborhood. Simple and grand houses, in the woods and overlooking the Hudson Bay.  Beautiful.

The truck was done after about one hour, and we set out to drive one hour in the opposite direction, passing by Croton Point on the way. We headed inland, east of Sleepy Hollow, to the local FedEx facility. My brother, Paul, who has taken over our duties in Irvine, had sent a package of important mail to the Croton Point campgrand. Apparently, the driver couldn’t find the office to deliver it, so we simply asked that they hold it at their facility.  We found FedEx easily, but when they asked for an ID with the local New York address on it we were stumped.  They eventually gave us the package, and shortly thereafter I found an email showing our campground reservation with the address on it. Crisis averted; we drove on…

We found a local drug store; Lynda was able to purchase a small, travel-size blow dryer to replace her old one that, well, blew.  Success! We were done for the day. Back at the Villa we walked, wrote, cleaned, and had a relaxing day. Adult beverages were on the menu for the evening.  An enjoyable time was had by all.  Lynda experimented with selfies…

2017-07-02 New York, NY; Frank Lloyd Wright, Vincent Van Gogh, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, The High Line, and John Williams Campbell

Before I start today’s post I would remiss if I didn’t wish you all a belated Happy Canada Day with a photo of my favorite Canadamericans:

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Sunday dawned quite nicely, and we drove the 1.9 miles through the park to the local train station. We bought our tickets for a round trip to New York City; it is about a 55 minute ride.  I find it quite amazing that we are less than 1 hour from NYC, yet we are far out into the country. This is the same timing as the train from Irvine to downtown Los Angeles, yet Irvine is not even close to being “in the country”…

The train trip was uneventful. We did notice a lot of barbed wire fences when passing through the city of Ossining. A quick Google search found this:

“Sing Sing Correctional Facility is a maximum security prison operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in the village of Ossining, in the U.S. state of New York. It is located about 30 miles (50 km) north of New York City on the east bank of the Hudson River…

The prison property is bisected by the Metro-North Railroad’s four-track Hudson Line.”

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After arriving at Grand Central Terminal, and exiting onto the street, we gawked at the beautiful buildings:


Then we walked to Un Deux Trois Cafe for breakfast. It is a big place, not exactly a mom-and-pop operation, but it is very French, the food was good, and it was a fun time.

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As we walked towards MOMA, our main reason for this trip, we passed through Rockefeller Center. I had learned from my reading that it was developed during the Great Depression by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. on land owned by and leased from Columbia University. It was a major effort of “Urban Renewal” in the 1930s; however, Jr. never made any money from the development due to onerous terms imposed by Columbia. Finally, after Jr.’s death in 1960, when the center was falling into disrepair due to lack of capital for improvements, Jr.’s sons were able to renegotiate the deal and gain financial backing for improvements. It is a marvelous complex, the grounds teaming with people on this sunny Sunday morning.  It is no longer owned by the Rockefellers…

Across the street we found St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Being Sunday morning, we stopped in for the 10:15 am services.  In celebration of Independence Day the great organ played “Stars and Stripes Forever”, and our final hymn was “America the Beautiful”…

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Then  we were off to MOMA.  The Museum of Modern Art was a true grassroots effort, started by three ladies on their kitchen table, with nothing except a few hundred million dollars of Rockefeller money.  The main driver was Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, wife of Jr. (Jr. himself hated modern art…)  If fact, when MOMA needed land for a sculpture garden, Abby and Jr. donated their 9 story house next door, which was promptly demolished.

We were there for an exhibit of Frank Lloyd Wright drawings and models, in celebration of FLW’s 150th birthday:  Unpacking the Archive

It was a delightful exhibit. FLW used his drawings as working papers, to be scribbled on, torn in half, and reassembled; they were teaching tools, not precious objects d’art. There were models, too: The Price Tower in Bartlesville, OK. (See my blog post onJune 14, 2017), as well as the previously designed skyscraper that FLW designed for NYC, but which was never built.

After the FLW exhibit we took a quick detour upstairs to see Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. Wonderful…

So, with the afternoon still free, we headed downtown on the subway to see the 911 Memorial. It was mobbed with tourists, and it was quite hot.

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We saw one of the beautiful fountains, then headed back north to experience the High Line.  The High line is a linear park located on an abandoned railroad viaduct, about 1 1/2 miles long, on NYC’s west side. It is a delightful walk, and it was crowded with locals and tourists, alike.  We had lunch in its shadow, which was also nice…

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Then we walked back to Grand Central Terminal and had afternoon drinks in the Campbell Apartment.  For 30 years this space was the private office and apartment of John Campbell, one of the Directors of the Grand Central Railway. After Campbell’s death in 1957 the space was underused, and its glory faded. It was reopened as a bar recently and it was a lot of fun. Drinks and food were good, and it was fun being in this “secret” space.

We caught a return train back to Croton Point, had a short drive back to the Villa; this is what camping is all about for us: cities and country, highways, subways, and railways, beaches, waterfalls, houses, museums, and cathedrals; an enjoyable time was had by all.









2017-07-01 Hudson Valley, NY; the Rockefellers and Kykuit, the Union Church, Marc Chagall, and Henri Matisse;

Before our trip I had read a biography by Ron Chernow: “Titan – The Life of John D. Rockefeller.”  Shortly after, about two months ago, I read “Memoirs“, by David Rockefeller, JDR’s youngest grandson.  The first told the story of how JDR made his money (your opinion may vary…) and built his estate here in the Hudson Valley, and the second told of growing up in his grandfather’s house and eventually turning it into a museum and art gallery for all to enjoy.  Both also contained much information about the life of John D. Rockefeller, Jr (whom I refer to here as Jr.), David’s father. (David died in March, 2017 at the age of 101…)

We set out today to visit Kykuit, home to 4 generations of the Rockefeller family.  It is located a few miles from the Hudson River, east of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, about 25 miles north of New York City.

Kykuit sits amid the vast family estate, known as Pocantico or Pocantico Hills; it occupies an area of  over 3,400 acres. During much of the 20th century, the estate featured a resident workforce of security guards, gardeners and laborers, and had its own farming, cattle and food supplies. It has a nine-hole, reversible golf course, and at one time had seventy-five houses and seventy private roads, most designed by JDR and Jr. A longstanding witticism about the estate quips: ‘It’s what God would have built, if only He had the money’.

(In 1946, the family considered donating a portion of the estate as a home for the newly formed United Nations.  Instead, they bought the 17 acre site in New York City and donated it to the UN…)

When JDR originally bought the estate in the late 1890s, he moved the family into an existing farm house.  He had no need for an elaborate mansion, unlike his wealthy contemporaries like the Vanderbilts, the Astors, or J. P. Morgan.  What he did want, and soon built, was a carriage house and stables for his prized horses, and a golf course for his personal use.

After the original house burned down, JDR wanted to move into another existing modest dwelling on the estate.  Instead, Jr. convinced him that he needed a grand house more befitting his status as the wealthiest man in America.  JDR finally agreed.  A new house was promptly built; it was found to be inadequate and faulty in both design and construction, and a new house was rebuilt in its place.  It was completed in 1913. It has four stories and two basements; however…

Unlike the monumental size and the display of vast wealth seen in other museum-like Gilded Age mansions, Kykuit’s cozy rooms are a reflection of the conservative and family-oriented lifestyle of the Rockefeller family.  The devout John D. Rockefeller’s puritan values dictated that there be no ballroom, no card room, no billiard room, and no place for drinking or other activities deemed to be inappropriate.  The house had only 40 rooms – very modest by the gilded age standards of the day… There are 11 family and guest bedrooms.

In fact, JDR and Jr. spent more money on the grounds then they did on the house; the last resident, Nelson, used the estate as a giant art gallery, displaying his huge collection of modern art.  To preserve the view, JDR moved an entire village, including the train station and miles of tracks, a few thousand yards further away. To keep down the noise of constant service deliveries he built tunnels so that all deliveries and service access to the house were underground.  Jr. and his wife built a “Playhouse” to keep their 6 children occupied.  It is larger than the main house, and includes indoor and outdoor tennis courts, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a bowling alley, billiards, a soda fountain, a theater, and assorted other amenities.  About 86 acres were enclosed into the “Park”, which contained the main house, the Playhouse, a reversible 9 hole golf course, plus many other houses for various other family members over the years. All the rest of the land has always been left open for the public to use. It was all donated to the National Trust in the 1980s, and the house and some of the “Park” is now also open to the public.  (Some portions of the estate are still private, because family members still live in some of the houses…) The majority of the original 3,400 acres are now a New York State Park.

At the time of the donation, except for family events, the 11-bedroom house had been unoccupied since Nelson Rockefeller, a grandson of JDR, died in 1979. The National Trust acquired a quarter interest in the 600-acre Rockefeller property in Pocantico Hills in 1979 under his will. In 1983, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the National Trust determined the boundaries of the new 86-acre Pocantico Historic Area, which includes the property and Nelson Rockefeller’s art collections at Kykuit.

Throughout the house, priceless East Asian pottery that the family avidly collected and cherished anchors each room. The main floors and basement (the latter was turned into a vast art gallery) boast modern art by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol and Henry Moore collected by modern art enthusiast Abby A. Rockefeller Jr.’s wife) and Nelson Rockefeller

Again, interior photographs are not allowed on the tour. The house has only two rooms that visitors would ever see – the office and a small parlor. There is no grand staircase, no Ballroom, no Grand Hall. This house was not designed for ostentation and the display of wealth.  Most of the house was reserved for the family.  Life for the family revolved around a “family” room in the center of the house, which contained a massive pipe organ (removed by Nelson). There is a large dining room for family meals, and a quieter sitting room. The terrace to the west boasts a view over the treetops to the Hudson River. No other buildings are visible between the house and the river.

On the second floor are two complete 3 room master suites; one or the other was occupied by JDR and his wife Cetti, then Jr. and his wife Abby, and finally Nelson and his wife Happy. The other Master suite was used for honored guests.  More family bedrooms are on the third floor and servant bedrooms are on the fourth floor.

Our tour started in the town of Sleepy Hollow at the Visitor Center. We took a shuttle up to the Park, where we drove along the original carriage roads, then up to the entrance court of Kykuit.  The front of the house is relatively narrow, but the view to the East is fabulous.


Entrance – East Facade:

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Side facing the lawns and gardens:

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West views towards the Hudson:


The original family swimming pool:

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The Teahouse; Nelson had swimming pools built where the sunken lawns were (and are), and he converted the Teahouse into a soda fountain…

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While there are obviously many differences between Kykuit and other neo-classic great houses of this era, there is one striking thing that we noted:  These houses were all built about the same time as the Martin House, which we saw in Buffalo. (See my June 28 2017 blog post…)  As these piles of excess were being assembled, Frank Lloyd Wright was rethinking the whole idea of what a house is, and what 20th century architecture is.



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As I said above, JDR loved horses and carriage racing. His first act upon buying the estate property was to build a Carriage House.  Today it contains historic carriages and cars owned by the family.  The basement and upper stories have been converted to a conference center for the use of the family’s business and charitable interests.

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This is David Rockefeller’s Continental.  The joke here is that, as any Continental lover knows, this car is NOT a Lincoln; Continental was a separate division of Ford when this car was built…


After the tour we were shuttled back to Sleepy Hollow; we grabbed a quick lunch in a local pub, then drove to The Union Church of Pocantico Hills.  This tiny country church has a stained glass rose window by Henri Matisse, and 9 stained glass windows by Marc Chagall… After all, when some of your parishioners are the Rockefeller family, things get done.

The church was built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1921, as part of his plans to develop the town of Pocantico Hills, which was below his estate Kykuit.   It is a one story neo-Gothic style building with fieldstone foundation and walls and a slate covered, highly pitched gable roof. In 1930-1931, a parish hall was added to the east end of the church.

Upon the death of Jr.’s wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, in 1948, their son Nelson Rockefeller had Henri Matisse design the church’s rose window in honor of her memory shortly before the artist’s own death in 1954.  When Jr. died in 1960, his children, led by their son, David Rockefeller,  had artist Marc Chagall design a Good Samaritan window in his honor.   This commission later expanded to include all eight windows in the nave of the church. They memorialize, among others, Michael Clark Rockefeller, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, Peggy Rockefeller (Mrs. David Rockefeller), and Mary Rockefeller (Mrs. Laurance Rockefeller). Chagall and members of the Rockefeller family carefully selected the subject matter for the windows from Biblical texts.

David Rockefeller, members of the Rockefeller family, and members of the church commissioned organ-builder Sebastian M. Glück to design and build the Laurance Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Pipe Organ in 2006.  It is used for public recitals as well as for church services.

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We returned to the Villa and had a quiet evening in the Villa.  At least we were quiet. The weather was not.  We were treated to a huge thunderstorm that raged for what seemed like hours.  Thunder and lightning and heavy rain, things all so unfamiliar to us…  We were parked under a large tree, and, being unaccustomed to lightning, we were not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing… However, all ended well and we survived…


2017-06-30 Hudson Valley, NY

After our visit to Watkins Glen we checked into Croton Point Park, a county park in Westchester County, adjacent to the town of Croton-on-Hudson, in the lower Hudson Valley, about 30 miles north of New York City.  It is a large park on a penninsula projecting out into the Hudson River. There are beaches, sports fields, picnic areas, forests, open grasslands, plus the RV Park, tenting campgrounds, and vacation rental cabins.

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This first day in the park we settled in, did laundry, shopped for groceries, and refueled the truck. It was a relaxing and productive day.

Since nobody wants to see pictures of us doing laundry and shopping, I thought I would show you the latest pictures of our grandchildren…



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Ian (and his father):

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Roisin (and her friend James):

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Tomorrow we start our house tours here in the Hudson Valley, as we visit the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, and the Vanderbilts…








2017-06-29 Watkins Glen and The Finger Lakes

After one night in Canandaigua, we headed to our final destination of Part 1 of this Odyssey.  But on our way we stopped by Watkins Glen State Park, at the south end of Lake Seneca, one of the Finger Lakes…

We didn’t know quite what to expect, but we were told, and we had read, that it was quite beautiful. The reality is that the park has a gorge with a stream that runs for about 1 1/2 miles, and drops over 400 feet in elevation.   It was opened to the public in 1863 and was privately run as a tourist resort until 1906, when it was purchased by New York State.

For simplicity we drove to the top of the park, away from the city center. We parked the Villa and looked for the trail head. What we found were about 135 steps, paved in stone, leading down into the gorge. Then the fun began…

I really don’t know what to say about walking down this gorge. The creek has carved out a route through this stone, variously soft and hard, over umpteen thousand years. There are quiet ponds on flat flagstone, and roaring waterfalls over vertical drops. Again, these pictures don’t really do it justice… Every turn of the path revealed another spectacular view of stone, water, bridges, and paths.

The steps at the top of the gorge…

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The quiet ponds…


One of the many water falls…

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The path and steps carved into the sides of the canyon…

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Many more water falls…



And bridges, walkways, and water falls…


At the bottom of the gorge the stream runs into Lake Seneca at the town of Watkins Glen…

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Once we were at the bottom, we had to walk back to the top, again. Over 400′ in elevation over about 1 1/2 miles each way. The equivalent of climbing to the top of a 40 story apartment building…

Finally we were back at the top and back to the Villa. We headed out to our final campground of our east-bound journey.

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And an enjoyable time was had by all…












2017-06-28 Back in the USA; All the Martin Houses by Frank Lloyd Wright

We left the campground in Niagara early in the morning – we have a long day ahead of us; first we need to cross the border, then get to a 10:00 am house tour in Buffalo, then on to another tour in Rochester, then on to our next campground for the night…

The border was quite busy as we approached; the RV lane was very slow. They eventually opened another lane, and the RVs were cruising through at a fast clip, but we were stuck in our slow lane… Finally we made it to the customs agent. No smiles, no conversation, but easy questions and we were quickly on our way. It had taken almost an hour… But now we were on to Buffalo.

I don’t know what you think about Buffalo, but I didn’t have high expectations. However, the “Parkview” neighborhood we found ourselves in was lovely. There was a huge Olmstead-designed park, and a lovely neighborhood of well-kept houses and tree lined streets. It is about 1 mile from downtown.

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Here is the house Frank Lloyd Wright built for Mr. Martin in this neighborhood:

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Darwin Martin lived in this neighborhood in a Queen Ann style Victorian house. He was a rags-to-riches story, eventually rising to be a top executive with the Larkin Soap Company.  In the early  1900s, the Larkin company needed a new headquarters, and Mr. Martin’s brother lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Oak Park, IL. He suggested Larkin consider retaining FLW for their headquarters. FLW did not have much of a track record doing commercial buildings on his own, and Larkin was cautious. In the mean time, Martin was looking to build a new house for himself, and he had bought a lot in a prestigious neighborhood on the other side of Buffalo.

When FLW visited Martin, he saw a 1 1/2 acre parcel a few blocks from Martin’s house. He convinced Martin to sell his other lot and buy this parcel. FLW set out to design a family compound for Mr. Martin. The first house to be built was for Martin’s sister and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Barton.  This proved to be successful, and as a result, Larkin retained FLW to design the new Larkins Headquarters.  This was FLW’s first substantial commercial commission, and it set the stage for many others. (The Larkin Building was demolished in 1950.)

After the Barton house was complete, the Martin house was built. It is the ultimate FLW “Prairie-style” house, similar to 60 other houses, but one of the first, and one of the largest. These houses are distinguished by horizontal lines: strips of windows, low and wide bricks, broad and low roof eaves, and a sprawling plan – nothing boxy like other houses of the era. (The more famous Robie house in Chicago has many of the same features…)

The Martin House Complex includes the main house, the Barton house, a Conservatory or greenhouse, a Pergola connecting the Conservatory to the main house, a carriage house with servants quarters above (and a steam generating plant below, to heat the complex), and a Gardener’s cottage.  Mr. Martin and FLW became best friends, mainly because Martin referred FLW to other commissions, and helped him financially on many occasions…

The Martins lived in the house from 1905 to the early 1930s. Mr. Martin was pretty much wiped out by the 1929 stock market crash; he only had enough money left to build another FLW-designed summer house on the shores of Lake Erie, about 30 miles away. Mr. Martin died in 1935 and the family abandoned the complex in 1937, with Mrs. Martin moving full time to the summer house. The complex fell into disrepair; in 1946 the City of Buffalo sold the house in a tax foreclosure auction. The Barton house and the Gardener’s cottage were sold off, and eventually the Pergola, the Carriage house, and the Conservatory were demolished and that parcel was sold; apartment buildings were build on the land.  Portions of the main house were turned into office space and several apartments.

In 1992 the restoration and rebuilding were begun. The parcels were re-purchased, the apartments were demolished, and the Pergola, the Carriage house, and the Conservatory were rebuilt to exacting standards. The upper floors of the buildings are still undergoing restoration, so we were not able to see them, and interior photos were not allowed.

The main house was quite amazing, considering the kinds of houses wealthy people were building during this era.  The floor plan tells you a lot about how different this house was.  Note the large kitchen on the main floor (not in the basement), and note the “Great Room” – Dining, Living, and Library combined together and open to each other, yet each well defined by the architecture.2017-06-28 Martin Plan

Pictures don’t do the house justice; also, considering that the house has large, low roof overhangs, the facade is almost always in shade.

Horizontal strip windows:

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The Pergola and the rear of the house (note the horizontal lines of the bricks and the eaves):

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More circles within squares…


The Terrace:

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The entrance – note the hidden front door…

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The Barton house…

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The Gardener’s cottage:

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The tour was very well done. We were welcomed at the visitor’s center by Frank himself:

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Our intentions for the rest of the day were immediately changed; we abandoned the idea of going to Rochester to see George Eastman’s house; instead, we headed west towards Lake Erie to see Greycliff, the Martins’ summer house.

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This house is Mrs. Martin’s house. She never liked the main house in Buffalo because her eyesight was poor and the house was dark. This house is very light, with more windows, and with views to the lake. The house has terraces on two sides, overlooking the lake and away from the lake, protected from the lake’s sometimes harsh winds. The upstairs hallways are on the exterior of the house, with strip windows that could be opened on nice days.

The house sits atop a bluff about 65′ above the beach. A stair tower was built to the beach, connected to the bluff by a bridge. The bridge has been removed due to safety concerns, and is being restored. The stair tower is still here, and is structurally sound. They will be reunited soon.

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The “see-thru” house…

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The lake side of the house:

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Frank was here, too:

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Mrs. Martin lived here until her death in 1943; the Martins’ daughter and her family lived here as well. The house was sold to a religious order, who kept up the estate until 1997, when it was purchased by the Conservancy and restoration was started. The house is still in pretty bad shape, but all the additions and changes installed by the religious order have been removed.

Again, we really enjoyed our tour here; but we had a long drive ahead. We set out for Canandaigua, a small town south of Rochester, just on the northern edge of the Finger Lake Region of New York.


An enjoyable time was had by all…





2017-06-27 Niagara Falls

Today we get to see Niagara Falls!  We drove to the city of Niagara Falls, Canada, and checked into Scott’s Tent and RV Campground.  It’s about 4 miles from the falls, so an easy walk for us.  The street, Lundy Lane, is chock full of motels, chain and local fast food places and restaurants, and other various and assorted tourist-oriented businesses.  But it does make for an interesting walk…

Just as we arrived at the riverside park before the falls it started to rain… But it had been a long walk and it was lunchtime, so we stopped into a cafe for lunch…

Our first view of the American falls:

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And the Canadian falls:

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Had to have a selfie:

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And a photo of Lynda:

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The skies were still threatening more rain, but it made for some spectacular views…

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The power of the water up close is amazing…

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As the rain began to fall again we caught a bus back to the campground. An enjoyable time was had by all…










2017-06-26 London and Can-Am Airstream

Finally our day of Airstream service at CanAm RV in London, ON, is here.  We check in with the service department, hand over the keys, and we wait…

CanAm has a nice lounge, and a very large store full of RV necessities and luxuries. The time went by quickly. We chatted with other Airstreamers from Florida, Texas, and Toronto. We went for a walk through the many, many trailers on their site.

Finally, we met with Andy Thompson, the hitch expert. They had determined that we could better handle the weight of my Airstream with a different hitch. The good news is that as he sold me the new hitch he bought back my old one, so the cost was minimal. Unfortunately, the rock guards that they had ordered for us had not yet arrived, so we will be back in August… Other repairs we promptly handled, we took one last test drive with the new hitch in place, the fiberglass AC cover was reinstalled, and all was well with our rig.

We shared Happy Hours with a few other RVers who were spending the night, Andy Thompson came by to check in, and an enjoyable time was had by all…

2017-06-26 CanAm

Tomorrow: Niagara Falls!





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