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Historic Hudson Valley Castles, Mansions, Ruins, Estates, and Sites 2011

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Rob Yasinsac traces his love of history to fourth grade, when his teacher led the class on walks to historic sites. “We’d go down to the old Croton Aqueduct and see all the famous mansions there,” says Yasinsac, who grew up in Tarrytown and is currently a museum site manager at Historic Hudson Valley. But his fascination with decrepit buildings began in high school when a photography teacher started taking him to Bannerman Island in the Hudson River, where a grand castle-style structure lay in ruins.

Fast-forward 15 years or so, and Yasinsac is still trekking out to the island near Beacon several times a year. But now he is leading tours and giving lectures for the Bannerman Castle Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving the castle and all the other structures on the island. And rightfully so, as Yasinsac has emerged as an expert on ruins in the region. In 2006, he coauthored Hudson Valley Ruins: Forgotten Landmarks of an American Landscape (University Press of New England) with Thomas Rinaldi. The pair “met” online while both were in college (Yasinsac at SUNY Oswego, Rinaldi at Georgetown) in the late ’90s; they were each admiring the other’s photos of — what else? — Hudson Valley ruins. In 2001, they launched hudsonvalleyruins.org, which features dozens of their photos and accompanying information. “We realized we had similar interests,” says Yasinsac. “But I was in Tarrytown, he was up near Poughkeepsie, and together we could cover the Hudson Valley more thoroughly than either of us could do on our own.”

Yasinsac says that five years later the book — which showcases more than 80 ruins, from great river estates to churches to civic buildings — is still in print and still selling. And although the friends are both involved in other projects (Rinaldi recently completed a master’s degree in historic preservation from Columbia University and works for an architect), they continue to update the Web site on a regular basis with new photos and information including demolition reports. “People share info with us and we go out and photograph things that we’ve gotten tips on,” he says. He also now maintains a blog, and recently posted photos of restoration work at Bannerman Castle. “They’ve started work on stabilizing some of the ruins. One building now has a roof on it, and a second floor staircase. It still needs a full restoration effort, but they’re making some progress.”

As for the appeal of the ruins? In the book’s introduction, the authors write: “Though abandoned buildings today  are commonly dismissed as eyesores, the Hudson Valley’s writers and artists in the 19th century — including figures such as Thomas Cole, Washington Irving and Andrew Jackson Downing — promoted a popular understanding of ruins as romantic embodiments of a historical past. Looked at from this perspective, ruins are elevated from simple objects of blight to take on a new kind of beauty.”

Yasinsac likes to think that his work may, occasionally, play some small part in preserving a little piece of Americana. And even if he can’t stop the wrecking ball, at least he can document a little piece of history for future generations. “Every building tells a story,” he says.

“Whether it is a mansion or the little fishing shack that Henry Gourdine worked out of in Ossining, which was torn down a couple of years ago. All these places were a part of people’s lives and they tied into life in the Hudson Valley. So many of these places are disappearing so fast. Whether it is by neglect or on purpose, we’re letting them slip away.”

» Next: Wyndclyffe, Rhinebeck, NY

Jump to the ruins:
» Wyndclyffe in Rhinebeck, NY
» Middlehope Drive-in Theater, Newburgh, NY
» Fresh Air Home, Tomkins Cove, NY (near Stony Point)
» Northgate, the Edward J. Cornish Estate, Cold Spring, NY
» Hutton Company Brick Works, Kingston, NY

 

 

 

wyndclyffe in rhinebeck

Wyndclyffe, Rhinebeck

The great mansions of the Hudson River Valley are remnants from the time of the great merchants and bankers of the 19th century. Then, as now, social status was important; and having a larger, grander residence than your neighbors was paramount. This house was built in 1853 for Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones, a relative by marriage to the wealthy Astor family; it is believed that this is where the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” actually originated.

A later owner was New York City beer baron Andrew Finck. Wyndclyffe, then known as Linden Hall or Finck Castle, supposedly had an underground tap line from the mansion to the tennis courts. The house was a private residence until 1936, and was finally abandoned for good sometime after 1950. Wyndclyffe remained remarkably intact through the 1980s, but the eastern turret collapsed in 1998, and other sections have fallen since. Yet Wyndclyffe is still an imposing sight — from the river, it’s not even readily apparent that it is a ruin. “Unfortunately, it is probably just going to fall down on its own,” says Yasinsac.

» Next: Middlehope Drive-in Theater, Newburgh, NY

Jump to the ruins:
» Wyndclyffe in Rhinebeck, NY
» Middlehope Drive-in Theater, Newburgh, NY
» Fresh Air Home, Tomkins Cove, NY (near Stony Point)
» Northgate, the Edward J. Cornish Estate, Cold Spring, NY
» Hutton Company Brick Works, Kingston, NY

 

 
middlehope drive in theater

Middlehope Drive-in Theater, Newburgh

Yasinsac writes that this 450-car site on Route 9W is “one the most intact abandoned drive-in theaters I have come across in the Hudson Valley, with ticket booths, speaker poles (minus working equipment) and a well boarded-up and well-preserved projection building with restrooms and a concession stand. The screen needs reinstallation of a few panels, however.” First opened in 1950, the theater has not operated since October 1987.

» Next: Fresh Air Home, Tomkins Cove, NY

Jump to the ruins:
» Wyndclyffe in Rhinebeck, NY
» Middlehope Drive-in Theater, Newburgh, NY
» Fresh Air Home, Tomkins Cove, NY (near Stony Point)
» Northgate, the Edward J. Cornish Estate, Cold Spring, NY
» Hutton Company Brick Works, Kingston, NY

 

 
fresh air home

Fresh Air Home, Tomkins Cove

This once-grand building, run by the Fresh Air Association of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, apparently provided rural vacations for needy mothers and children from New York City. “It has been sitting abandoned for many years alongside a road in Rockland County,” says Yasinsac. “It’s a pretty impressive site.”

» Next: Northgate, the Edward J. Cornish Estate, Cold Spring, NY

Jump to the ruins:
» Wyndclyffe in Rhinebeck, NY
» Middlehope Drive-in Theater, Newburgh, NY
» Fresh Air Home, Tomkins Cove, NY (near Stony Point)
» Northgate, the Edward J. Cornish Estate, Cold Spring, NY
» Hutton Company Brick Works, Kingston, NY

 

 
northgate edward j. cornish estate

Northgate, the Edward J. Cornish Estate, Cold Spring

In 1917, Edward Joel Cornish, then president of the National Lead Company, and his wife, Selina, acquired 650 acres from a diamond merchant named Sigmund Stern. What is known is that the mansion, garage, swimming pool, gardens, and other outbuildings existed at the time of purchase by Cornish. Who designed them remains a mystery. The couple died within two weeks of each other in 1938 and the estate seems to have lain abandoned more or less since then, although Central Hudson Gas and Electric bought the property in 1963 and toyed with the idea of building a power plant on nearby Breakneck Ridge. But by the end of the 1960s, the ruins of the Cornish estate became part of the newly formed Hudson Highlands State Park and are now a regular stop for hikers.

All that remains of the structures on the estate are their stone walls. According to a local newspaper article, there was a fire in the fall of 1956 that destroyed the interiors of the mansion. Other surviving structures include the swimming pool, the greenhouse, a pump house, and a large stone cattle barn, where Cornish raised prized Jersey cows. 

Yasinsac is thrilled to note that in April 2010, a descendant of Edward Cornish contacted him and sent him photos of the estate in its heyday. “One of the greatest things that has come out this [Hudson Valley Ruins] project is the fact that we hear from people who want to share this information and photos. Northgate was one of the biggest mysteries because nobody had ever seen a picture of what it looked like.” To see the historic photos of Northgate, visit www.hudsonvalleyruins.org.

» Next: Hutton Company Brick Works, Kingston, NY

Jump to the ruins:
» Wyndclyffe in Rhinebeck, NY
» Middlehope Drive-in Theater, Newburgh, NY
» Fresh Air Home, Tomkins Cove, NY (near Stony Point)
» Northgate, the Edward J. Cornish Estate, Cold Spring, NY
» Hutton Company Brick Works, Kingston, NY

 

 
hutton company brick works

Hutton Company Brick Works, Kingston

This is the only surviving intact brickyard with kiln sheds on the Hudson River. A developer wants to demolish the buildings to construct 300 housing units. “It’s right next to Kingston Point Park,” says Yasinsac. “You can also see it really well from the river.”

Jump to the ruins:
» Wyndclyffe in Rhinebeck, NY
» Middlehope Drive-in Theater, Newburgh, NY
» Fresh Air Home, Tomkins Cove, NY (near Stony Point)
» Northgate, the Edward J. Cornish Estate, Cold Spring, NY
» Hutton Company Brick Works, Kingston, NY

 

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