Recently we visited Manitoga, a National Historic Landmark that is the studio and home of industrial designer Russel Wright. A prime advocate of what has been called “Livable Modernism,” Wright, with the aid of his wife, Mary, became one of the most influential and well-known designers of the 1930s to 1950s. His pottery, tableware, and furniture brought Modernism to the American masses (quite literally: his most popular line of pottery and one of his furniture lines were both named American Modern).
Together, they wrote the 1950 manifesto Guide to Easier Living which promoted radical ideas like “buffet suppers, one-pot meals, portable seating and lots of double-duty storage…They may be the inventors of modern grad student storage: wooden shelves on cinder blocks hidden behind a curtain” (Alexandra Lange, “Easier Living, By Design”, The New York Times July 23, 2010).
Manitoga came later in his career. He and Mary purchased the land in the Hudson Highlands north of New York City around 1942 and spent many years modifying the landscape, including turning an abandoned quarry pit into a swimming pond complete with a waterfall.
They lived in a cottage (still standing, but not part of the Landmark) next to the quarry. It was not until several years after Mary’s death in 1952 that Russel began building the house and studio (designed with architect David Leavitt). It was completed in 1960 and Russel lived there with his daughter Annie and her governess/housekeeper until his death in 1976.
Dragon Rock is a rare instance of Mr. Wright contradicting his theory of “easier living,” — his daughter, Anne, recalls arduous hours spent vacuuming the rocks and keeping all 11 levels in some semblance of order.
Richard Horn, “Collecting Russel Wright” The New York Times August 23, 1979.
If this 54 room home looks a little bit small for something with both “Vanderbilt” and “Mansion” in its name, maybe it’s because Hyde Park was just one of several houses Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt owned. They also had a New York City townhouse, of course, and at various times, a Newport, Rhode Island mansion (Rough Point, later owned by Doris Duke), an Adirondack camp (Pine Tree Point), and a Bar Harbor, Maine mansion (Sogonee, later owned by radio tycoon A. Atwater Kent).
Construction began in 1895, the same year that Frederick’s kid brother, George Washington Vanderbilt II, completed his modest 250-room summer house, the Biltmore Estate.
Here’s a brief history of the New York brickmaking industry from the New York Times. New York did not have a monopoly on bricks; excellent clay deposits run through New Jersey and into Pennsylvania as well. The Sayre & Fisher Brick Company, in the town now known as Sayreville, New Jersey, was for a time the largest brickmaker in the world and in 1903, Pennsylvania was the largest brick producer in the nation.
But the Hudson Valley was also lined with dozens of brickyards, and since it’s the Hudson Valley, it should be no surprise that now one of them, the Hutton Brickyards, has been turned into a boutique hotel that preserves some of its history. Their “Genuine Experiences” do sound genuinely fun:
Our sprawling campus features whimsical invitations to fun: an archery range, croquet lawn, firepits and bicycles. Experience hikes, guided kayak experiences, paddle-boarding, running, outdoor yoga, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, bee-keeping and more!
Featured image: Hutton Brickworks in 2016, by Corey Seamer via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0.
Pictures from a visit last autumn to Franny Reese State Park in New York. The sun-dappled ruins are the former estate of wealthy dentist Charles H. Roberts. A graduate of Albany Medical College, Roberts’ dental innovations made him rich and allowed him to branch out into other lucrative business ventures. In the 1860s, he began building his home, Cedar Glen, on the west bank of the Hudson River overlooking Poughkeepsie. After Roberts died in 1909, protracted squabbling over his will by his children resulted in the decline of Cedar Glen. Read more of the story at About Town.
A colonial farmhouse in the Hudson Valley that, realtors say, was once owned by Bing Crosby is for sale for just under $1.5 million.
The New York house is not far from the Connecticut border, within reasonable commuting distance of NYC, and includes a barn and rentable cottages, so you could recreate the whole Holiday Inn fantasy for real.
The house is described as “a 1700s pre-revolutionary mansion which has undergone several major renovations. Originally built as a Dutch Stone House in 1743 it was made into a brick colonial in 1772. Then it was made into a Gothic Victorian at the turn of the century. Its final major renovation was as the center piece of an outstanding 600 acre beef farm owned by Bing Crosby.”
French Huguenots founded the town of New Paltz in New York state in 1677. Their first houses were made of logs, but by the beginning of the 1700s, they were building more permanent stone houses. Several of those buildings survive today on Huguenot Street, a National Historic Landmark.
The New York State Museum has just released Iron in New York, edited by Martin Pickands, a collection of eight articles on the history, geology, and archaeology of the iron industry in New York, primarily in the Adirondacks and the Hudson Valley. The book is free to download at the NYSM.