Rhinebeck in Dutchess County, New York has been on my list of places to visit since reading about it in AAA's Car and Travel Magazine earlier this year. Just under two hours from us via the Taconic State Parkway - one of my favorite roads to drive - it seemed like a perfect place for a day trip.
Founded by the Dutch in 1686, the area became a popular place for the wealthy to build their riverfront homes, so much so that today there is a nearby historic district of thirty estates established between the eighteenth and early twentieth century, some of which are now open to the public. Our first stop was at one of these, the Wilderstein Historic Site, which is just over two miles south of the town center.
The house was built in the 19th century for Thomas Suckley, with grounds designed by landscape architect Calvert Vaux (co-designer of Central Park in New York). The original house was relatively small, having only two stories, but when Thomas' son inherited it he added a third floor, a five story tower, a huge veranda around three sides of the house (including a glassed in section so that it could be used in all weather) and a port cochere.
Trails wind around the forty-acre grounds past formal gardens, across meadows and through wooded parkland. We followed one trail to this sitting area which provided a pleasant if slightly overgrown view of the Hudson River.
The train tracks, part of the line from New York to Albany used by Amtrak and CSX, run through the estate along the east bank of the Hudson river.
Nearer the house there is a gazebo which the family liked to use for reading on a summer's day and, beside the back entrance, two cute dog houses.
Behind the house there is a huge carriage house. It was in such a bad condition that half a million dollars had to be raised to reinforce the external structure to save it from being demolished. Now that the structure is deemed safe, once the interior work has been finished the plan is to use it for for educational activities, exhibitions and weddings.
The grounds are open to the public most days while the house can only be visited on a tour. We were a little disappointed to discover that the tour only covered the ground floor of the house as the remaining floors were still undergoing restoration. We saw pictures taken before restoration began which showed just how bad a condition the house was in. The outside had not been painted for over seventy years! They also gave us an idea of why we were not yet able to see the other floors of the house. Most had not been used for decades.
Until her death in 1991 Thomas's granddaughter Margaret Suckley lived in the house. Known as Daisy, she was a distant cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt and became a close friend and confidante to the President. She spent time at the White House, often traveled with him around the country, and was with him when he died.
In her later years (she was almost one hundred when she died) she used only the ground floor rooms. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like living somewhere so big and dilapidated alone, but I guess when it's been the family home for generations, it is hard to give up. In the 1980's when the property was finally put into a trust it was with the proviso that she would be able to live there for the rest of her life.
After the tour it was time to head into the town center for a late lunch. Rhinebeck has an attractive main street, Market Street, lined with one-of-a-kind shops and a wide variety of restaurants and cafes.
An alleyway off E. Market St leads to The Courtyard, a small square of eateries with outdoor seating and live music.
Being history buffs we couldn't resist a visit to the Beekman Arms which claims to be America's oldest continuously operating inn. The inn offers several dining options but we settled for the old world atmosphere of the Tavern with its wood beams and low ceilings. The food was excellent, the menu offering variations on classics such as Crab Cake Benedict, my choice, which was delicious, and Vegetable Quiche with seafood Hollandaise which looked equally delectable.
After lunch it was time for some exercise in the form of walking up Burger Hill, a 550 foot peak, in Drayton Grant Park. It is a well-maintained, smooth slope to the top (reputed to provide excellent sledding in winter) and well worth a visit for the views of the Catskill Mountains and Hudson River. You really can see for miles and miles.
After all that exertion it was time to relax in the shade and have one more drink before heading back home. We chose Gigi, an Italian trattoria with a very pleasant outdoor area and an enticing range of desserts. Their Tiramisu portion was so large it probably undid all the good of that walk up the hill!
Verdict: Well worth a visit and would make a great base for a weekend getaway.