The span between Hyde Park and Rhinebeck is something of a paradise for history lovers. Within the short stretch of land, some of the most iconic estates in the entirety of the Hudson Valley reside neighborly alongside one another. These estates – the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, Mills Mansion at Staatsburgh State Historic Site, and Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site – sprawl elegantly near the Hudson River, hearkening back to the golden era of industry and society in the region.
It’s within this span that The Point resides. Officially known as The Point / Hoyt House, the Staatsburg property is the onetime home of New York merchant Lydig Monson Hoyt and his wife, Blanche Geraldine Livingston Hoyt. While the homeowners themselves are notable within the context of Hudson Valley history – Mrs. Hoyt was a Livingston and both Hoyts were contemporaries with the Vanderbilts – perhaps more significant is the architect and landscape designer behind the abode. His name was Calvert Vaux, and he boasts quite the legacy in New York design history.
Never heard of him? Perhaps you’ve heard of his work instead. His most famous is a little thing called Central Park. You know, the one in New York City?
Before Vaux partnered with Frederick Law Olmsted to design Manhattan’s iconic parkland, he cut his teeth as the designer behind The Point. When the Hoyts commissioned him to develop their family home between 1852 and 1855, they enabled Vaux to marry his architectural style of landscape design with the striking asymmetrical trend that characterizes buildings like the Olana State Historic Site in Hudson, which Vaux helped artist Frederic Church bring into being.
When crafting a blueprint for The Point, which sits adjacent to Staatsburgh State Historic Site (formerly Staatsburgh House, where Mrs. Hoyt’s mother lived), Vaux kept in mind the 91-acre property’s access to Hudson River views. To make the most of the estate’s location, he opted to forgo the addition of a wing and instead create open lawns dominated by low-growing plants so as not to interrupt the landscape.
Over the years, Vaux’s design became not just a striking work of architecture in the Hudson Valley, but a true home for the Hoyt family as well. Until the time they passed the property to New York State in 1963, the Hoyts continued to own and occupy it as a residence. Vaux, meanwhile, memorialized his Dutchess County masterpiece by including it as one of the works featured in his 1857 Villas and Cottages book.
Yet during the period between the 60s and the early 90s, The Point suffered the inevitable wear and tear of time. In 2013, however, the introduction of the Mills Norrie Master Plan opened the conversation to restore the property to its former glory in accordance with Historic Preservation Standards. In an alliance between the Calvert Vaux Preservation Alliance, which became a “Friends Group” for the Point in 2007, and NYS Parks, the groups acquired both a $320,000 Save America’s Treasures and a $320,000 Environmental Protection Fund to stabilize the house. Through these sources and a number of private donations, the groups were able to replace the slate roof, rebuild the chimneys, restore the gutters, and stabilize and repoint the masonry walls.
Now, in the new decade, the Calvert Vaux Preservation Alliance eyes the next surge of renovations for The Point House. Although restoration projects are on hold during the COVID-19 outbreak, the alliance has a plan in place.
“With a nationally significant, Vaux-designed mansion, landscape, viewshed, carriage roads and bridges, as well as a brick, three-barn complex, unoccupied for more than half a century, electrical service and plumbing long gone, setting priorities for restoration and reuse is the first order of business,” explains Kathryn McCullough, a member of the Board of Directors for the Calvert Vaux Preservation Alliance (CVPA). In regard to which priorities will take precedence after New York’s self-isolation period ends, she explains that the endangered portico and entryway are critical fixes, along with the abatement of toxic lead and hazardous materials to enable visitation. On the grounds, the alliance also hopes to eventually welcome visitors during a soft introduction and improve the Mills Norrie Blue Trail that offers views of the mansion. It estimates a timeline of 10-plus years before restorations are complete.
To supplement the funding, such as the $28,000 Organizational Capacity and Effectiveness grant from Parks & Trails NY, the alliance has received, it’s hosting a special photography exhibit to showcase the breadth of historic architecture and landscapes in the Hudson Valley. This year, as a follow-up to the inaugural show in 2018, the CVPA Photography Exhibit and Sale is curated by regional artist Franc Palaia. It opened on March 6 and has been extended until May 31 in hopes that the coronavirus self-isolation regulation lifts.
“The Point is of pivotal national importance to the history of American Picturesque design and to the evolution of American landscape history,” McCullough and the alliance explain. “We envision a campus with CVPA and additional tenants who will draw visitors, create jobs, and generate revenues to help operate and maintain the site.”