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Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Clermont, Hudson Valley, NY
Clermont's main entrance faces the Hudson River.
Visitors arrived by boat and came up to the grand home.
 If New York City based Justin Ferate has not been your tour guide, you’ve missed out!   I’ve just taken my fifth tour with Justin, and it was Rob’s second.  The encyclopedic knowledge of the man who wrote the NYC Tour Guide Licensing Exam should be sufficient reference, but that is only part of my recommendation.  His mesmerizing and enthusiastic presentation makes even the most basic fact part of a spectacular whole, and I always come away from his tours entertained, educated, enthralled by the subject, and thoroughly determined to take another tour with Justin.

Our bus left Garnerville, New York at 7:15 AM on a tour to explore the “Livingston Lifestyle.”  While the title might appear mundane, by the time we retuned to Garnerville at approximately 7:00 PM, the Livingston family had become old friends.  I do mean OLD.  We’d learned their history from the 1600s when Robert Livingston arrived from Scotland until the mid 1900s when the second of the two homes we visited was no longer inhabited by descendents of the family. 

Clermont, Hudson Valley, NY
Can you imagine owning both sides of the Hudson River
farther than the eye can see?
 The Livingstons were preeminent residents in the Hudson Valley.  Frankly, through grants and rewards the family basically owned a good part of the Valley if you can imagine controlling more than half a million acres on both sides of the Hudson River.  The amount of holdings is difficult for me to imagine.

The two homes we visited, Clermont, a State of New York Historic Site, and Montgomery Place, managed by Historic Hudson Valley sit in quiet grandeur overlooking the Hudson River.  The views are spectacular.  At one time the views must have been even more open as the trees are ancient with tall, thick trunks.  Black locusts that stand in stately order in front of Montgomery Place sometimes block the view, and our local house guide ruefully admitted that it is just too expensive to keep the view entirely open to recreate what the inhabitants might have enjoyed seeing.  Visitors do not have to stretch their imaginations to any degree to see the beauty of the Hudson.

Clermont, Hudson Valley, NY
In a separate building on the grounds is a
museum and gift shop
(and lavatories)
The Clermont Estate was established by Robert Livingston, Jr. who inherited it from his father.  The first Robert Livingston was Lord of Livingston Manor.  He was the second largest landholder of colonial America.  He graduated from what is now Columbia University, was politically active concerning the Stamp Tax Act, probably was involved in the Sons of Liberty, was a delegate to the Continental Congress, was appointed Chancellor of New York and in that position swore in George Washington as our first President at Federal Hall in New York City.  President Jefferson appointed him to the Court of Napoleon, and he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase.  Not enough?  He was a sponsor and mentor for Robert Fulton who invented the steamboat.

Because of Livingston’s activities, his home, Clermont, was burned during the Revolution but Clermont was rebuilt.  Seven generations of Livingstons lived in the house until the 1920s.  Clermont was named a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

We visited the house and toured most of it and three of the gardens.  Impressive.  Most impressive.  I cannot begin to write everything I learned about the man and his family.  Justin just filled us up. 
Clermont, Hudson Valley, NY
The Walled Garden

Clermont, Hudson Valley, NY
In the South Spring Garden

Clermont, Hudson Valley, NY
Toward the Children's Playhouse and Garden
This is the cut flower garden so there would always be
flowers in the house.

While the flowers were not in full bloom yet, the beautiful and peaceful solitude of these gardens is already evident.

When our bus pulled into the Clermont parking lot, a couple was unloading their horse van.  The grounds, riding and hiking trails are open to the public.  The riders were just back from their ride several hours later when we were about to leave.  Sweet.

Montgomery Place, Hudson Valley, NY
Montgomery Place was occupied well into the 20th century.
Unfortunately they were doing some tree pruning while we were there.
Notice the "porch" on the side.
The second home we visited was built by Livingston’s daughter, Janet Livingston Montgomery in 1804.  She was the widow of Richard Montgomery who was killed in the Battle of Quebec, one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War.  She named the home Chateau de Montgomery.  As she had no direct heirs, the house passed from relative to relative.  It was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1975 and given by the Delafield family, the last of the descendants to live in the house, to what is now Historic Hudson Valley in 1986.  The home was opened to the public in 1988.

Why did the Delafields give up on the house?  It was too rough despite the indoor plumbing, telephone, etc.  Getting water to the house was a challenge.  The house simply could not be truly brought up to the times. 

There is what I’ll call a porch, though that’s an understatement.  It's beautiful and a work of art in itself.  This type of outdoor seating area was unique in its day, and it is thought  that it might be America's first outdoor area designed specifically for seating.   The woodwork is magnificent. 
Montgomery Place, Hudson Valley, NY

Montgomery Place, Hudson Valley, NY

Both Clermont and Montgomery place have portraits of President Andrew Jackson hanging on the walls, gifts in commemoration of the work the Livingston family did for his administration.

The views of the river and the Catskills are breathtaking.  The gardens were not in full bloom yet, but there were flowers.  This is where I also met the cicadas and heard their beating wings filling the air with their thrum.
Montgomery Place, Hudson Valley, NY
From the back of Montgomery Place toward the Hudson

Montgomery Place, Hudson Valley, NY
This is the rest of that view!

Montgomery Place, Hudson Valley, NY
One garden at Montgomery House

Montgomery Place, Hudson Valley, NY
Imagine this walkway when all is in bloom.

Whether you visit to tour the homes or the gardens or to walk the trails and take in the views, you will thoroughly enjoy your visit to Clermont and Montgomery Place.  Historic Hudson is attempting to revive Montgomery Place as a working farm, and in the fall, produce and apples are available for sale.  Trust me in this.  These are two places worth visiting.  Come here on your own.

Photography is not allowed inside the homes, but you will be awed by the interesting painting and antiques as well as the knowledgeable guides who take you through the family's quarters.

This tour was sponsored by the Haverstraw King’s Daughters Public Library in Garnerville, New York.  Karen Romaner who arranges programs is a dynamo, and each tour I’ve taken through that library has been excellent. 

Trust me also.  Get on Justin’s email list and try to take a tour with him.  You will be richer for it.

Every Friday Justin presents a free tour of Grand Central Station sponsored by the Grand Central Partnership.   Meet in the sculpture court at 120 Park Avenue (south east corner of East 42nd Street) across the street from Grand Central at 12:30 on Friday afternoon. For more information call 212-697-1245.

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