Olana State Historic Site
Perched high on a hill just south of Hudson is Olana (off Rte. 9G, just south of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, 518/828-0135, www.olana.org, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun. Apr.–Nov., call for off-season hours, adults $8, seniors $6, children 5–12 $2; $5 vehicle user fee Sat.–Sun. Apr.–Oct.), an eccentric, Persian-style castle built in 1870 by landscape artist Frederic Church, with the help of architect Calvert Vaux. Church was then at the height of his career and had just returned from a trip to the Middle East, a land with which he had fallen in love.
A tour of Olana begins in the formal greeting room, which is hung with a dozen paintings, including one by Church’s teacher and the founder of the Hudson River School, Thomas Cole. Here, a guide explains that one of the largest contributions the Hudson River School made to America was its portrayal of the wilderness as something approachable and worth preserving; before, it had been regarded as hostile and dangerous. One of Church’s most famous paintings, of Niagara Falls, was used to spearhead a movement to save the falls from destruction.
Throughout the castle, painted in deep blues, reds, and yellows, are romantic arched doorways, wide-open windows, stenciled Persian lettering, and plush Persian rugs. Every room is filled with unique objects carefully picked out by the artist, who one critic said had the “best taste of his time.”
Each room also houses a number of Church’s majestic, luminous canvases, while the dining room is an amazing picture gallery hung floor to ceiling with hundreds of canvases from the 16th to 18th centuries.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition