I have spent many years working to preserve dozens of historic buildings across the United States.
One of my projects was 'The Point,’ the Hoyt family mansion in Norrie State Park, in Staatsburg, New York. The architect was the English émigré Calvert Vaux. He had come to America as a partner of the landscape architect and design pioneer Andrew Jackson Downing. On Downing’s tragic death, Vaux inherited the firm and its prestigious clients.
In 1855, Calvert Vaux designed ‘The Point,’ for Lydig Monson Hoyt and his wife, Geraldine Livingston Hoyt. Mrs. Hoyt’s family had given the southern edge of their Staatsburg estate to the couple to build their home. Vaux designed the new house and landscape to complement one another in ways he would further develop when he designed Central Park in New York with his junior partner, Frederick Law Olmsted.
For example, with permission from his in-laws, he looped the mansion’s approach drive onto their estate, to give the impression that the estate was actually larger than it was, and provide romantic views across the land toward the equally romantic Gothic Revival Style house.
The house was a major commission, and in my opinion, many of the details discussed and illustrated in his book ‘Villas and Cottages,’ published in 1857, were drawn from the Hoyt mansion commission.
When I first saw the house, it sat open, unsecured, the early twentieth century interiors had been extensively vandalized, and it was an attractive target for arson. However, water infiltration posed a far more serious threat to the home’s survival. It had caused the basement stonework of the kitchen wall to sag, and stones had slipped. This endangered the stability of the entire rear wall. Working hard in partnership with a friend, we successfully pushed the state to stabilize the rear wall’s stonework, secure the house against further vandalism and clear brush from the historic landscape.
Through the tireless work of dedicated volunteers, the house and its landscape are now under restoration. However, I am certain it would not have survived if it had not been for our timely efforts.
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