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


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payne boathouseFree sailing: The Payne boathouse is a rare survivor of its type on the river

A little north of the former gardener’s cottage and greenhouse appear other outbuildings grouped around a rectangular court. Colonel Payne’s stable, carriage house, and garage were located here, as well as housing for employees. Some of the structures were built to serve the earlier Pratt estate, notably the house at the southeast corner of the court, which was the home of Mrs. Pratt’s superintendent. The residence of Anna Pratt, widow of historian and Civil War hero Colonel George W. Pratt, stands just to the east of these outbuildings. The Pratt house — with porte cochère and lower story of stone, and upper story of shingles curving out over the first story — is characteristic of the late 19th-century Queen Anne style. In 1913 it became the residence of Payne’s superintendent, John Burroughs’s son Julian and his family. Julian had grown up at Riverby and in 1902 had built his own house there, a little south of the colonel’s place. Julian and his family were accustomed to Spartan quarters at Riverby (daughter Elizabeth recalled its outhouse and hand pump in the kitchen). On moving into the Pratt house, Julian wrote his father that they were “enjoying the advantages of electricity, bath rooms & toilets on every floor, three on the second floor alone, oceans of room & all that.”

Julian Burroughs, without professional architectural training, was able to convince his employer to allow him to function as architect and contractor for several building projects including a poultry plant with manager’s cottage built of native stone, and an elegant boathouse. Payne was an ardent yachtsman; the staterooms of his steam-powered ocean-going yacht, the Aphrodite, were designed by renowned architect Stanford White, and in 1913 Carrere & Hastings designed a boathouse and garden pavilion for the colonel. 

It was Julian Burroughs, however, who actually designed and oversaw construction of the stone boathouse (1914-1915) for the Aphrodite’s launch. Her master, Captain Charles W. Scott, made a sketch of the proposed dock and boathouse as a basis for Julian’s design. Julian wrote his parents excitedly in 1914 about his grand plans for the boathouse: “I think about the boat house a good deal and if they let me build it my way it will be some boat house, I will make a steel and concrete roof covered with imperial red Spanish tile, the doors and windows and cornice will be of bronze, there will be a balcony on south end and east side with a bronze railing which I will design, inside I will have a faience wainscot with motifs of the Hudson done in colors by the Rookwood Pottery Company, the floors will be stone, there will be an inside balcony with a hand wrought iron railing, etc, etc. The concrete ceiling I will panel in oak. I am not estimating the cost but the picture wainscot of tile will alone cost $2000. My old head buzzes like a bee — I can shut my eyes any time and see patterns for railings, ceilings, designs for doors, etc., etc.” 

wallkill state prisonWallkill State Prison: “The prison at Wallkill was meant to resemble multigabled Gothic college dormitories, and the wooden doors to the cells, each occupied by just one inmate, were unlocked,” writes Rhoads about the Norman-style building on Route 208, which was erected in the early 1930s. “Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt took an active interest in shepherding the construction of the prison through the state bureaucracy, and he attended its opening in 1932. When president in 1934, he and Eleanor Roosevelt went by auto from Hyde Park to inspect the completed institution whose slogan, ‘rehabilitation through education,’ would have appealed to both Roosevelts”

Burroughs became accustomed to spending freely on the colonel’s projects, and on most design issues he also had a free hand. Payne’s trusted assistant, Emma Larson, wrote Burroughs about the boathouse: “do... as you think best. We can not help you because we do not know anything about architecture.” However, there were limits to the client’s tolerance for useless expense, and he did veto balconies on the east side and on the interior.

The boathouse, a rare survivor of its type on the river, is neither Italian Renaissance nor rustic, but somewhere between the two. A four-column classical portico with ornamental frieze graces the south façade, and the red tile roof also ties the building to earlier Carrere & Hastings buildings on the estate. But the textured stone walls and broadly projecting roof supported by brackets connect to the qualities of craftsmanship and solidity associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. Inside, tile wainscoting was interrupted by a fireplace of dubious practical value. Tiles painted with a seascape and historic sailing vessels, perhaps by the renowned Arts and Crafts tile maker, Rookwood Pottery, face the wall over the fireplace. An iron grill with a delicately worked peacock standing on a post functioned as a gate at the boat entrance; the peacock is repeated on a smaller scale in the railing over the south portico. Near the boathouse is an octagonal stone summerhouse with red tile roof, also built under Julian’s supervision in 1915. 

Colonel Payne’s nephew, Harry Payne Bingham, inherited the estate in 1917. During the Depression, in 1933, he gave the deteriorating 484-acre property to the New York Protestant Episcopal City Mission Society for a “convalescent and work-training centre for men and boys.” The center, named Wiltwyck, was transformed from “the glorification of past elegance and vast expenditure upon luxury” to “an equally vast service to unemployed men and boys and convalescent boys.” The mansion’s “great salon” became the institution’s chapel. In 1937 the mission formed a school for neglected and delinquent black Protestant boys. In 1942 the school became more inclusive and was incorporated as the Wiltwyck School for Boys; its leaders included Eleanor Roosevelt, and its alumni included boxing champion Floyd Patterson. In 1942 Marist Brothers purchased the part of the estate between Rte. 9W and the Hudson for a preparatory school and later a retreat center. They carried out a number of alterations and additions, some designed by John Allan Ahlers about 1950.

William Rhoads speaks about his book at the following locations:

July 8, 4 p.m. The Beacon Institute for Rivers & Estuaries, Beacon
July 13, 7:30 p.m. Mountain Top Historical Society (in the train station), Haines Falls
July 18, 7 p.m. Hudson River Maritime Museum, Kingston 
July 29, 3 p.m. Maple Grove Historic Estate, Poughkeepsie

» See the sights of Ulster County’s towns


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