Staycation: Olana

Photo by Netniks

Editor’s note: An updated version of this post can be viewed here.

For many of us, staycations are this year’s vacations. Instead of the cottages and castles of the Continent, visit one of New York’s fascinating house museums. Each week, for the entire summer, we’ll alternate between a site in New York City, or one in greater New York State. Many of these houses are in danger of closing if we don’t patronize them. Check them out, and go visit! If you’ve been, please leave comments and suggestions, including dining or any other amenities.

Name: Olana
Location: Hudson, NY, approximately two hour drive from NYC, or Amtrak to Hudson, then taxi.
Address: 570 State Route 9G, Hudson, NY 12543
Hours: Tues Sun. 10-5. April – Oct. Entry to house only through guided tours. Last tour leaves at 4pm. Reservations recommended..
Admission: $9 adults, $8 seniors and students w/ ID. $5 car fee on wkends, can be credited toward ticket price.
Children: Under 12, free.

Details: Olana is painter Frederic Edwin Church’s dream home overlooking the Hudson River. Church was one of the masters of the Hudson River School, and this house is as much of a personal masterpiece as his magnificent landscape paintings. Church had commissioned architect Richard Morris Hunt, now famous for his Newport, RI cottages, to design a home he called Cosy Cottage, where the Church’s lived with their two children. Sadly both children died of diphtheria, and the Church’s embarked on a long journey to the Europe and the Middle East. The ideas for Olana were realized in Persia and the Middle East, and when Church and his wife Isabel returned, they began to plan out a house incorporating the themes and elements of Islamic architecture, adapted to the West. They called it Olana, after an ancient Persian treasure fortress. Church considered Hunt for the new house, but ended up working with Calvert Vaux, best known for his collaboration with Frederick Olmsted in the creation of Prospect and Central Parks. Olana was to be Frederic Church’s project for life, as he added new additions to the house, and changed things constantly, always with the purpose of wedding the Persian East to the American/Victorian West. Church designed the stencil patterns, the color palette, the decor and he and his wife chose the myriad objects from all over the world to showcase the civilizations and cultures of the world.

Frederic Church died in 1900, leaving the house to his son, Louis. He and his wife Sally lived in the house until his death in 1942, Sally went on to live in the house until her own death at 91, in 1964. She insisted that the house remain as Frederic Church had designed, untouched by progress. When Sally died, the house went to a nephew who immediately arranged with Sotheby’s to auction off the furnishings and artworks. A committee was hastily formed, and the nephew allowed some time for the sale of the house and furnishings to the Olana Preservation. Sotheby’s was literally tagging the furniture when the funds were acquired, with the help of NY State, and the house and furnishings were purchased in 1966. Today, the grounds, including the original Cosy Cottage, and the house are open again looking just as Frederic and Isabel had left it. The magnificent vistas that inspired Church’s paintings can be seen from the windows and porches, and the house that became as much an artwork as the landscapes can be admired. This is one of NY State’s most beloved historic houses. Nearby Hudson is also a popular destination for dining, antiquing and shopping, with plenty of choices for all. The Olana website has links with guides for activities, lodging and shopping. If you see me, don’t say anything, as I’ll be hiding from the docents, toothbrush in hand. I love this place.

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