Houses and Estates in Ulster County New York: The Architectural History and Guide Book
An exhaustive guide to Ulster County architecture turns up a few surprises
Great estate: An early 20th-century photo of the Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne estate overlooking the Hudson River
Photographs courtesy of Black Dome Press
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In the introduction to his 300-plus page tome Ulster County New York: The Architectural History & Guide (Black Dome Press, $24.95), author William B. Rhoads writes, “Some of Ulster’s landmarks, like the early stone houses of Kingston, Hurley, and New Paltz, are relatively well known, but many others — ranging from brick houses in the Federal style to Gothic Revival churches, Arts and Crafts summer colonies, Colonial Revival libraries, and Bauhaus-influenced modern houses — have not received the attention they deserve.” In lively and entertaining prose, Rhoads, a professor of art history at SUNY New Paltz, expertly remedies our lack of knowledge.
Below, we excerpt Rhoads’s description of the little-known Payne Estate on Route 9W in Esopus. Built by the same architects responsible for the New York Public Library, it is Ulster County’s answer to the grand mansions of Long Island and Westchester. But whether it’s the section on the Gothic-style Wallkill State Prison or the school buses transformed into cottages, you’ll want to read more; the quirky charm of Ulster County shines through page after page.
Seekers of Great Estates should travel across the Hudson to Dutchess County or journey to Newport, Rhode Island. Ulster County was not favored by the plutocrats of 1900. Still, Ulster retains one showplace built for a robber baron of the period, Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne (1839-1917), and designed by a leading New York architectural firm, Carrere & Hastings... Colonel Payne, a Civil War veteran and self-described capitalist, made a fortune in iron, oil, and tobacco in Cleveland and New York. He was best known for his association with John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil, but in 1913, late in his life, he was described as enjoying “the seclusion afforded by a carefully sheltered bachelor life.”
Saugerties Library: Built between 1914 and 1916 with funds from Andrew Carnegie, the Saugerties Public Library was constructed in a classical style. “The south wall of what was the Children’s Room is still enhanced by an important work of art, a fireplace faced with tiles illustrating Washington Irving’s tale of Rip Van Winkle, designed by Henry Chapman Mercer and made at his Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown, Pennsylvania,” writes Rhoads
The gatehouse on Rte. 9W alerts the visitor to the refined good taste of Colonel Payne and his architects. The early Italian Renaissance is suggested in the semicircular arches resting on unfluted columns. The red tile roof and classical door and window frames also refer to Italy and its Renaissance of classical antiquity. Passing through the gate, two outbuildings appear that were once joined by a greenhouse, all designed by Carrere & Hastings. (Colonel Payne also had a formal flower garden and rock garden.) The larger of the two buildings was the gardener’s cottage, with living quarters on the upper two floors and white-tiled halls for garden and floral work on the ground floor. While the two structures resemble the gatehouse in their smooth, light-toned limestone walls and tile roofs, they are picturesque, not classical, in their steep roofs, asymmetry (notably of the turret and dormers of the gardener’s cottage), and lack of classical ornament. The cottage is reminiscent of a miniature French chateau of the late Middle Ages. Just beyond the farther and smaller of these two outbuildings are gates and a drive leading to the entrance façade of Colonel Payne’s mansion.
The Payne mansion replaced Waldorf, John Jacob Astor III’s somewhat less grand Renaissance-style residence that was razed in 1910. Colonel Payne’s façade is a stately and restrained interpretation of 16th-century Italian Renaissance palaces. Architectural historian Mark Alan Hewitt relates the Payne mansion to “the most exalted Italian Renaissance masters — Bramante, Vignola, Sansovino, and Palladio.” The low tile roof accords with the gatehouse, but the overall massing is comparable to the firm’s greatest work, the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue (1897–1911), although on a smaller scale. While finely detailed and crafted, Colonel Payne’s residence lacks the grandeur of the earlier F. W. Vanderbilt mansion with its four giant, two-story porticos across the river in Hyde Park. Payne’s richest portico — six single-story Ionic columns set between rugged arched pavilions — faces east and is fronted by a balustraded terrace overlooking the river. Steamboat travelers were presumably impressed by this terrace and portico. They had no glimpse, however, of the enclosed courtyard at the center of the mansion fitted with a fountain and recessed loggias adorned with frescoes. And few would see the opulent interior, or Payne’s collection of fine paintings including works by Rubens, Turner, and Courbet (the colonel’s Venus and Adonis by Rubens is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Raymond A. Rich, an industrialist and business leader, purchased the mansion in 1986; in 2009 it was announced that Rich had bequeathed the mansion and 60 acres to Marist College, which will operate it as the Raymond A. Rich Institute, focusing “on developing the communication, interpersonal and social skills necessary to lead complex organizations in a global setting.”