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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: Hyde Hall
Location: Cooperstown, NY
Address: 1527 County Hwy 31, Cooperstown, NY 13326
Hours: Mother’s Day through Oct. 31st, 10am to 4pm
Admission: $10.00, seniors and children $8.00
Directions: on website. Cooperstown is a 4.5 to 5 hour drive from Brooklyn
Details: George Clarke began Hyde Hall, named after his family estate in England, in 1817. It was expanded several times and finished in 1833, and remains one of America’s finest Neo-Classical estates. Clarke built on a hill overlooking beautiful Otsego Lake, and his huge estate supported tenant farmers and staff, growing hops and other crops. The house stayed in the Clarke family until 1963, when descendants of George Clarke gave the house and grounds to the state of New York. The state created Glimmerglass Park from the lakefront grounds. Unfortunately, they didn’t know what to do with the house, which hadn’t been lived in since World War II, and it was in danger of being torn down. An organization called Friends of Hyde Hall, now called Hyde Hall, Inc. which included Clarke descendants, rescued the house, and found funding and experts to begin restoration, and preservation.
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For many of us, stay-cations are this year’s vacations. With that in mind, we’re beginning a feature this summer exploring the house museums of New York City and State. You may not be exploring the castles and cottages of the Continent this summer (like Mr. B, who will be telecommuting from Berlin), but New York has some fascinating house museums right here, within easy reach of public transportation, or a day trip by car. Check them out, and explore the fascinating historic houses in our own backyard.
Name: The Alice Austen House
Location: Staten Island
Address: 2 Hylan Boulevard.
Hours: Thursday thru Sunday, 12-5, grounds open until dusk.
Admission: Suggested donation: $2.00
Directions: Public transportation and driving directions on website.
Details: Alice Austen was a Victorian photographer, important for both her work, and her place in history. She lived in this 1690 cottage, called Clear Comfort, from her childhood in the 1860’s, until 1945. The early Dutch cottage was purchased by Alice’s grandfather in 1844, and was restored and transformed into a picturesque Carpenter Gothic cottage, high on a hill with a spectacular view of the harbor and Brooklyn. The house was originally to be a summer home for the Austens, but became the family home after Alice’s father abandoned his wife and family. Mother and daughter lived there with relatives, including an uncle Oswald, a seaman and world traveler who introduced a young Alice to photography. During her lifetime, Alice produced hundreds of images of a high quality, their range and level of expression forming a beautiful visual window on 19th century America, making her one of the very few Victorian women to achieve artistic recognition for her work.
The Alice Austen House museum allows the tour goer to see how life was lived by the Austen’s throughout the 100 years the house was in the family. Although it was originally a colonial-era Dutch cottage, it was added to, and modernized, again and again by Alice’s grandfather, John Haggerty Austen, and features over 10 rooms, containing original and period furniture, and Austen family photographs and memorabilia. The grounds are meticulously maintained, with landscaped gardens, and the view is spectacular. Alice Austen House is not well known, but is a wonderful escape to Victorian life in New York without leaving the city.