Historic Hudson Valley Castles, Mansions, Ruins, Estates, and Sites 2011
Some of the Hudson Valley’s forgotten cultural treasures lie in disrepair. Two native sons have made it their mission to catalogue the history of these important sites
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Rob Yasinsac traces his love of history to fourth grade, when his teacher led the class on walks to historic sites. “We’d go down to the old Croton Aqueduct and see all the famous mansions there,” says Yasinsac, who grew up in Tarrytown and is currently a museum site manager at Historic Hudson Valley. But his fascination with decrepit buildings began in high school when a photography teacher started taking him to Bannerman Island in the Hudson River, where a grand castle-style structure lay in ruins.
Fast-forward 15 years or so, and Yasinsac is still trekking out to the island near Beacon several times a year. But now he is leading tours and giving lectures for the Bannerman Castle Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving the castle and all the other structures on the island. And rightfully so, as Yasinsac has emerged as an expert on ruins in the region. In 2006, he coauthored Hudson Valley Ruins: Forgotten Landmarks of an American Landscape (University Press of New England) with Thomas Rinaldi. The pair “met” online while both were in college (Yasinsac at SUNY Oswego, Rinaldi at Georgetown) in the late ’90s; they were each admiring the other’s photos of — what else? — Hudson Valley ruins. In 2001, they launched hudsonvalleyruins.org, which features dozens of their photos and accompanying information. “We realized we had similar interests,” says Yasinsac. “But I was in Tarrytown, he was up near Poughkeepsie, and together we could cover the Hudson Valley more thoroughly than either of us could do on our own.”
Yasinsac says that five years later the book — which showcases more than 80 ruins, from great river estates to churches to civic buildings — is still in print and still selling. And although the friends are both involved in other projects (Rinaldi recently completed a master’s degree in historic preservation from Columbia University and works for an architect), they continue to update the Web site on a regular basis with new photos and information including demolition reports. “People share info with us and we go out and photograph things that we’ve gotten tips on,” he says. He also now maintains a blog, and recently posted photos of restoration work at Bannerman Castle. “They’ve started work on stabilizing some of the ruins. One building now has a roof on it, and a second floor staircase. It still needs a full restoration effort, but they’re making some progress.”
As for the appeal of the ruins? In the book’s introduction, the authors write: “Though abandoned buildings today are commonly dismissed as eyesores, the Hudson Valley’s writers and artists in the 19th century — including figures such as Thomas Cole, Washington Irving and Andrew Jackson Downing — promoted a popular understanding of ruins as romantic embodiments of a historical past. Looked at from this perspective, ruins are elevated from simple objects of blight to take on a new kind of beauty.”
Yasinsac likes to think that his work may, occasionally, play some small part in preserving a little piece of Americana. And even if he can’t stop the wrecking ball, at least he can document a little piece of history for future generations. “Every building tells a story,” he says.
“Whether it is a mansion or the little fishing shack that Henry Gourdine worked out of in Ossining, which was torn down a couple of years ago. All these places were a part of people’s lives and they tied into life in the Hudson Valley. So many of these places are disappearing so fast. Whether it is by neglect or on purpose, we’re letting them slip away.”
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» Hutton Company Brick Works, Kingston, NY