These 12 Original Valley Sites Make Us Proud to Be in the Hudson Valley
From the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world to the oldest state museum in the country, these superlative sites give us even more reason to be proud of the Hudson Valley.
Spanning the width of the river, the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park in Poughkeepsie features the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge.
Walkway Over the Hudson
What was formerly the longest bridge in the world — and a technological wonder — carried circus trains, milk trains, trains with hogs and cattle, and of course, regular passenger trains, beginning in 1889. It played a key role in transportation of troops during WWII but was severely damaged in a fire in 1974. In 2009, a glorious renovation turned it into the world’s longest elevated park — can we say it has the world’s best views? — and it maintains the record for longest elevated pedestrian bridge: 1.28 miles long. The Walkway Over the Hudson also holds the world record for the most people dancing in a line, with one of America’s finest: the Hokey Pokey. (We ripped it right from the hands of 2,350 Estonians doing their famous “toe dance.”) Don’t tell us more than 2,500 people doing that song and dance on a bridge is no great shakes.
80 Washington Street, Poughkeepsie; 845.834.2867; www.walkway.org
USMA Cadet Chapel Organ
What is now the largest church organ in the world was considerably more modest when it was built in 1911. Over time, the United States Military Academy has continuously expanded this four-keyboard organ, a traditionally Greek apparatus which achieves lovely tones by pushing wind through pipes. It is a magnificent instrument in a magnificent setting: The Cadet Chapel is a towering example of Gothic architecture rendered in granite with more than 23,000 pipes throughout the building. “Bewildering in both its scale and its unique character” (according to Theaterorgans.com), this remarkable, historical organ is the focal point of about 300 different events each year, including everything from weddings and class reunions to recitals and a weekly service.
722 Derussy Rd, West Point; 845.938.2308; www.usma.edu/chaplain
The ‘76 House is rumored to be the first place the states were recognized as a sovereign nation.
The ’76 House
Talk about a Hudson Valley original: This national landmark is New York’s oldest tavern. It is reputed to have been used as a prison, and to be swimming with ghosts. Some say it’s the oldest bar in the United States. Still others claim it was the first place the states were recognized as a sovereign nation — as it’s where George Washington was when he received news of the British retreat. It was the site of the signing of the Orangetown Resolutions (which said, in summary, “Enough is enough, King George III.”) Suffice to say it’s a cool, history-bedecked place, and further, it’s the only place we’re aware of that you can get yourself an alligator empanada for dinner. (Don’t worry, there’s also Famous Onion Soup Lafayette.)
110 Main St, Tappan; 845.359.5476; www.76house.com
Ever wonder where the word Bronx came from? (Not to mention “Coxsackie,” but that’s a story for another day.) A family of Dutch and Swedish settlers named the Broncks is the answer, and along with an eponymous borough and river, the oldest home in the Hudson Valley sports their name as well. The Bronck Museum was the seat of the family farm until 1939. A 1663 dwelling was later connected to another house from 1738. A visit to what is now the seat of the Greene County Historical Society’s headquarters is an economical architectural tour through the past, through a series of styles including simple Northern European settler dwellings, Hudson Valley Dutch architecture, and some with a Federalist influence.
90 County Rt 42, Coxsackie; 518.731.6490; www.gchistory.org/bronckmuseum
|The Chuang Yen Monastery houses an awe-inducing 37-foot-tall Buddha Vairocana in a serene, out-of-the-way location prime for contemplative thought and meditation.|
Chuang Yen Monastery
Even if you set out to despise material goods, you may experience a wee bit of jealous suffering when you see the design sense of this place. Notable is the absolutely excellent sea of little white Buddhas (10,000 of them) flanking a 37-foot-tall breathtaking Buddha Vairocana, the largest indoor sitting Buddha in the Western Hemisphere. “Majestic Adornment” is the translation for the phrase Chuang Yen, but the words are meant to modify Buddhist philosophy rather than the splendor of the 225-acre site dedicated to religious services and contemplative thought. Walk the Bodhi Path and attain enlightenment (literally, figuratively, up to you), and eat a hearty and healthy vegetarian lunch for $6 before exploring other statues, a lake, library, gardens, gift shop, and architecture from the Tang Dynasty. Take home literature about meditation in English or Chinese. It’s a wonderful place to learn, or just to take some quiet time to reflect upon both the beauty of the land and how it has been adorned.
2020 NY 301, Carmel; 845.225.1819; www.baus.org
New York State Museum
Not only is this the oldest and the largest (and perhaps the free-est) state museum in the country, it’s no slouch in terms of collections and exhibits, either. New York State has a glorious history in terms of dinosaurs, geology, and archeology, and this is the place to get your feet wet (and perhaps leave a fossilized footprint). A noteworthy exhibit, on view until the end of 2017, is the photography display Hudson Valley Ruins. Based on the work of Robert Yasinac and Thomas Rinaldi, it profiles sites selected for historic or architectural significance, or themes in our region’s history. Public educational programs, crafts, camps, and a full-sized carousel round out this rich and committed collection of more than 16 million scientific specimens and one million cultural objects focusing on New York State, including the study and documentation of native peoples, and the ice age of New York. These guys are in it for the long haul. (And, where else are you going to learn what malacology means?)
222 Madison Ave, Albany; 518.474.5877; www.nysm.nysed.gov
|The New Croton Dam was built to replace the first large masonry dam in the US.|
The New Croton Dam
When the last brick was placed on the New Croton Dam in January 1906, it was hailed as the “second largest hand-hewn masonry,” according to the Croton Historical Society. Apparently, they didn’t mean “in the world” because, well, there is the Great Wall of China and the Great Pyramid of Giza. We will grant that it is enormous, moving, and beautiful, and upon completion was the tallest dam in the world. It is also extremely important, not just to people in the Hudson Valley but to the vast metropolis about 40 miles south of it, whose multibillion-gallon water supply has historically been shuttled from reservoirs in the Croton Watershed. The dam (which replaced the Old Croton Dam, which was the first large masonry dam in the United States, and is now submerged), is 266 feet broad and 297 feet high. The function of the New Croton Dam is complemented by its form: the Dam is a wonderful place for a walk, either across the top, where you can view the remarkable reservoir, or in Croton Gorge Park at the base, where you can see (and feel, if it’s a windy day) the splendid waterfall over the spillway. From either location you can connect to the Old Croton Aqueduct State Park Trail.
New Croton Dam, Croton-On-Hudson; www.parks.westchestergov.com/croton-gorge-park
Eleanor Roosevelt may have had a mother-in-law problem, but Val-Kill solved it: In New York, young Franklin and his wife shared a building with Sara Delano Roosevelt, which SDR gave them without mentioning that she would live there, too. SDR also presided over the Hyde Park estate. At one point Eleanor lamented to her husband that she wouldn’t be able to go to the Hyde Park house after SDR had closed it in winter. Franklin suggested she and her friends from the Democratic National Committee take some space in Hyde Park for themselves. They built a stone cottage, and added a furniture factory called Val-Kill for agricultural workers to work at trades during colder months. Later, Eleanor took over the factory as a personal retreat. It became her permanent home after she was widowed. The style was somewhat cobbled together because the building had been built for different purposes and was added to over time, but it is the place where this remarkable person relaxed, thought, gathered her steely will to enact social justice, entertained, and even hosted foreign heads of state. The founder of UNICEF, chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, and the first US Ambassador to the United Nations was also the only first lady with a historic site dedicated to her. (Thanks, Jimmy Carter!)
54 Valkill Park Rd, Hyde Park; 845.229.9422; www.nps.gov
Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome
Red Hook, NY
If these adventurers can’t get their hands on something and fix it until it will fly, they just build a replica with an original engine. The recent completion and first flight of a replica of Charles Lindbergh’s “The Spirit of St. Louis” is only one of the Aerodrome’s robust collection of planes demonstrating the evolution of the airplane from the birth of flight until World War II. Saturday airshows showcase barnstorming planes, pioneer aircraft, and a World War I dogfight demonstration. Show up Sundays if you also want to learn about aviation during WWII. If you’re interested in putting some goggles and a helmet on yourself, arrange a ride in an open-cockpit biplane with a seasoned pilot. (And the word is, you get to tell them how adventuresome you want the ride to be!)
9 Norton Rd, Red Hook; 845.752.3200; www.oldrhinebeck.org
FASNY Museum of Fire Fighting
Fires have always taken lives and always terrified people. But the way we combat them has evolved, and the FASNY (Firemen’s Association of the State of New York) Museum of Fire Fighting educates on this topic while showcasing truly fascinating artifacts from fire-fighting history across the state. One of the most important is the original fire truck, which is also the oldest documented in New York. The Newsham Pumper employed ancient Greek (forgotten about, then rediscovered) technology which allowed it to pump water from buckets in a strong and steady stream. Imported from London in 1731 and kept in service for 154 years for its comparatively extreme effectiveness, the heavy pumper is just one compelling piece of the 50,000-square-foot museum. FASNY is also home to a well-conserved oil portrait of one of the true action heroes of the 1800s — Harry Howard, a herculean fire engineer who conceptualized the practice of “bunking,” sleeping at the station, which has also saved countless lives worldwide.
117 Harry Howard Ave, Hudson; 518.822.1875; www.fasnyfiremuseum.com
Stroll through the one of the oldest and largest man-made wine cellars in America, dug between 1835 and 1839 by a Scotsman who was fermenting his first vintage. (Rather than being named Jaques, after the fermenter, it was deemed Brotherhood, after an upstate “spiritualist” community — this is a place with a funny and interesting history.) Stop to sip flights, some local, some of wines around the world, provided by a sister winery in Chile. If the colonists were around today, they would equate the hot holiday spiced wine with something they used to drink 150 years ago. You see, this is the oldest continuously operating winery in the country. How did it operate during Prohibition, you ask? They only sold sacramental wine to priests during that time — lots, and lots, and lots of clergy, wink wink. Brotherhood, a true Hudson Valley original, has private events, tours, tastings, a café, a pretty setting (especially for weddings), and history to recommend it.
100 Brotherhood Plaza Dr, Washingtonville; 845.496.3661; www.brotherhood-winery.com
The First Church in Albany
If superlatives are your thing, you’ll be delighted to know that the The First Church in Albany (also known as First Reformed Church) is not only the oldest pulpit in the United States (it was imported in 1656 from the Netherlands), it’s the oldest church in Albany and all of upstate, and the second oldest in New York State. It has some serious history behind it, too. It was used for a memorial service for everyone’s favorite founding father Alexander Hamilton, and Governor Theodore Roosevelt attended services there. Aside from providing worship services, hosting community meetings, and helping with hunger in the vicinity, the church supports the Kibera Bone Jewelry Project, which helps women in Kenyan slums gain independence and education through the production and sale of jewelry from bones cast off by butchers. Just . . . wow!
110 N Pearl St, Albany; 518.463.4449; www.firstchurchinalbany.org