Historic Hudson Valley was formally chartered by the state of New York as an educational institution in 1951 as Sleepy Hollow Restorations.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a passionate philanthropist, preservationist, and antiquarian, founded SHR. His enthusiasm for American history, architecture, the decorative arts, and historic preservation were stimulated by the restoration and reconstruction of Colonial Williamsburg, which he largely financed. Mr. Rockefeller was keenly interested in the history of the area made famous by Washington Irving as "Sleepy Hollow" because his own home, Kykuit, was located nearby.
In 1951, Sleepy Hollow Restorations included two properties: Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving, and Philipsburg Manor. It was probably not John D. Rockefeller's intent to build a larger collection of historic properties in the "Sleepy Hollow"area, but Van Cortlandt Manor, threatened with destruction, became available for sale, and he added it to Sleepy Hollow Restorations in 1959. JDR, Jr. died the following year, but the family's interest in the organization continued and was led by three of his sons, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, Laurance S. Rockefeller, and David Rockefeller, all of whom served as trustees (Laurance Rockefeller was chairman emeritus at his death in 2004.) Under their leadership, Sleepy Hollow Restorations continued to thrive.
Through arrangements made by Rockefeller family members, the Union Church of Pocantico Hills became part of SHR in 1984. Montgomery Place, a historic riverfront estate located in the Great Estates Region, was added to the SHR network in 1986, a year before the organization changed its name to Historic Hudson Valley.
The acquisition of Montgomery Place and the name change were related; the idea was for SHR to expand its preservation and educational mission beyond the Tarrytown-Croton area. During this expansive period, Historic Hudson Valley created Annandale, Inc. to manage the Montgomery Place orchards, establish off-site gift shops, and operate a motor-coach tour company. In addition, Historic Hudson Valley entered into a partnership with the National Park Service to operate the Federal Hall National Historic Site, located on Wall Street in lower Manhattan. (The building was designed by A. J. Davis, the architect of Montgomery Place, and his partner Ithiel Town, and opened in 1832.) Historic Hudson Valley's intention was to have a presence in the financial district and have space for larger scale exhibitions. However, the unanticipated cost of restoring Montgomery Place, combined with a sudden, unexpected downturn in the stock market in 1987, put a damper on those expansive ambitions.
In 1994, HHV opened Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate, to the public. Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, who died in 1979, had left his share of the estate to the National Trust, naming Historic Hudson Valley in his will as his preference for operating the property as a museum. Kykuit was a fitting addition to the HHV network, because it was built for John D. Rockefeller, the philanthropist and founder of Standard Oil, and was largely the creation of HHV's founder, John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Historic Hudson Valley changed its status in 1992 from a private foundation to a public not-for-profit organization, enabling it to broaden its basis of support. A capital campaign to rebuild the organization's endowment and assure its financial future was highly successful.
In recent years, HHV has not focused on expansion of its network but instead on improving and evolving interpretive programming at the individual sites.
Kykuit's opening significantly improved HHV's visibility as a tourist destination not only in the New York area but across the country as well. Renewed interest in "Sleepy Hollow Country"resulted in the development of boat excursions from New York City in partnership with NY Waterway and excursions by train in partnership with Metro-North.
HHV trustees and staff have been focused on the multi-year, multi-million dollar rehabilitation of Philipsburg Manor after enormous damage caused by Tropical Storm Floyd in 1999; the significant changes in the interpretive program at Philipsburg Manor financed in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities; planning for a re-interpretive undertaking at Montgomery Place; community service initiatives at several sites, including After School Programs at Van Cortlandt Manor and Philipsburg Manor and the successful collaboration with Rocking the Boat at Philipsburg; and on supporting tourism initiatives led by the New York State Greenway and stimulated by the designation of the Hudson River Valley as a National Heritage Area.
The Historic Sites: Acquisition and Preservation
Historic Hudson Valley traces its roots to 1940, the year John D. Rockefeller financed the purchase of "Philipse Castle,"then a private home in North Tarrytown (now Sleepy Hollow), by the Historical Society of the Tarrytowns. The property had fallen into receivership three years before and was threatened with subdivision and possible destruction. The Historical Society opened it to the public in 1943 and operated it for about seven years.
In 1950, the Historical Society turned Philipsburg Manor over to Sleepy Hollow Restorations, an organization started by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to manage it and combine it with Washington Irving's Sunnyside, which he had acquired in 1945 through the Sealantic Fund.
In 1959, SHR closed Philipsburg Manor and undertook an extensive ten-year restoration, including archeological investigation, historical research in Europe and America, and a complete refurnishing. Curatorial staff, led by Joseph Butler, Sleepy Hollow Restorations first professional curator, assembled a highly important collection of 17th and 18th-century Dutch, English, and vernacular Hudson Valley furnishings based on an inventory of the property taken in 1750, archeological findings, and other sources. Inappropriate objects and collections were de-accessioned or returned to lenders. A wing added to the manor house in the late 18th century, and a gristmill conjecturally reconstructed in the 1940s, were removed. And finally, Sleepy Hollow Restorations constructed a modern visitor center that is still in use.
It was not until 1969 that Philipsburg reopened, with the buildings looking much as they would have appeared in the early 18th century and very much in the form that it exists today, with one exception: the New World Dutch Barn, moved to the site in the 1960s, fell victim to arson in 1980 and was replaced with another barn of the same period that was moved from its original location to Philipsburg in 1982.
In 1999, Tropical Storm Floyd ravaged Philipsburg Manor. Only by the narrowest margin did the gristmill and manor house escape destruction. By 2004, the extensive repairs to the site and dredging of the millpond were completed.
A major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded in 2000 permitted HHV staff and consultants to begin implementing groundbreaking new programming at Philipsburg Manor, featuring the interpretation of slavery in the North. The inventory from 1750 included the names of twenty-three enslaved people of African descent. The tours of Philipsburg Manor begun in 2003 bring this tragic and important chapter in American history to the forefront of the interpretive program.
At the same time, an innovative furnishings plan for the manor house, which featured reproductions in half of the rooms, made the story more accurate by showing how the structure functioned as a commercial and trading center rather than a home for a wealthy family; it allowed the experience of visitors to be more hands-on and participatory.
In 1945, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., purchased Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving in Tarrytown, from collateral descendants of the author, and opened it to the public in 1947. As among the first mid-19th century structures to be presented as a house museum, the creation of Sunnyside marked a new phase in the development of the American architectural preservation movement. Its association with a famous literary figure and its architectural distinction ensured the survival of this mid-19th century structure.
In the 1950s curators and architectural historians cast a fresh eye upon Sunnyside. In keeping with the dictum practiced and promoted by Colonial Williamsburg, it was decided that the house should reflect the occupancy of its creator and principal owner, Washington Irving, who died there in 1859. A large wing that had been added to the back of the house in 1896, and used for administrative purposes by Sleepy Hollow Restorations, was removed. Reconstruction began on areas destroyed by the wing, including the picture gallery, bathroom, pantries, laundry room, fenced-in kitchen yard, and the distinctive icehouse.
In 2001, land linking Sunnyside and nearby Lyndhurst , a historic site of the National Trust, was purchased by Westchester County for use as public parkland. Shortly thereafter, HHV and the National Trust signed a 99-year agreement with Westchester County to create and manage the park. New York Governor George Pataki came to Sunnyside to announce a generous New York State grant for landscape improvements and restoration at Sunnyside, complementing the park project. Planning work and fundraising is currently underway to bring the park online for the benefit of the public. In addition to providing a place for passive recreation, it offers HHV and the National Trust an important opportunity to link Sunnyside and Lyndhurst , two major architectural landmarks and romantic landscapes.
Van Cortlandt Manor
Two years after forming Sleepy Hollow Restorations, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased Van Cortlandt Manor and five acres of land in Croton-on-Hudson, which had been sold in 1945 by descendants of the original Van Cortlandt family. This acquisition increased the properties of SHR to three.
Descendants had auctioned off a large portion of the manor house contents in the early 1940s. A decade later, as part of the initial restoration of the property, curatorial sleuths tracked down and acquired many original furnishings. Van Cortlandt descendants have also donated belongings that had not left family hands.
JDR, Jr. hired a team of archeologists, architects, curators, and historians from Colonial Williamsburg to work on the Croton project. They restored the site and constructed two smaller brick buildings, a kitchen house and an office. Van Cortlandt Manor opened to the public in 1959, the year before JDR, Jr. died. The furnishings that Mr. Rockefeller had acquired were reinstalled at Van Cortlandt Manor. The stone manor house features one of the few collections of 18th and early 19th-century furniture and household objects surviving in its original setting.
The Union Church of Pocantico Hills
The Union Church of Pocantico Hills, a small country church built in the gothic style, became a property of Historic Hudson Valley in 1984. What made the Union Church distinctive were the windows by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall that had been given to the church by Rockefeller family members.
The windows were largely the result of efforts by two sons of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Nelson A. Rockefeller spearheaded the Matisse commission; the window was installed in 1956 as a memorial to his mother who had known Matisse and had entertained him in her home.
David Rockefeller orchestrated the Chagall commission for nine windows, which were installed in the late 1960s.
In 1984, the family, concerned about the long-term stability of the church congregation, took steps to transfer the title to the church to Historic Hudson Valley as a way of assuring the preservation of the windows in situ. The property itself was leased back to the congregation for 99 years, with Historic Hudson Valley, as the owner, responsible for the maintenance and preservation of the building and the program of public tours.
Sleepy Hollow Restorations acquired Montgomery Place Historic Estate in 1986 in a combination sale and gift from collateral descendants of Janet Livingston Montgomery, the original builder. That ambitious step was coincident with the organization's change of name to Historic Hudson Valley. The idea that prevailed at the time was that SHR would expand its range of influence to incorporate a longer stretch of the river valley.
Montgomery Place, which had fallen onto hard times and was partially derelict at the time it was acquired by HHV, was meticulously restored to the very highest standard. The house itself, the A.J. Davis-designed coach house, and the Davis-designed farmhouse were brought back to useful condition. Historic Hudson Valley also restored the greenhouse, gardens, landscape, and woodland trails, and constructed a large visitor center.
Because Montgomery Place had been in the hands of the same family since 1802, the interpretive approach taken at Montgomery Place was based on the notion of a "continuum." That is, the house and grounds were preserved just as they were received by the organization, reflecting the ownership of many generations. This approach contrasted with the work done at Sunnyside in the 1950s, when the house was restored to its appearance during the lifetime of Washington Irving.
When HHV acquired Montgomery Place it also acquired most of the buildings in the nearby hamlet of Annandale-on-Hudson. HHV renovated some of the buildings for rental and eventually sold others with restrictive covenants to neighboring Bard College; some buildings are currently being restored and will be adaptively reused.
At the present time, Historic Hudson Valley is undertaking infrastructure work in the hamlet of Annandale, planning a second phase of restoration of the historic buildings on the estate, and developing a new interpretive plan for the estate. Meanwhile, visitors will focus on learning about the gardens and landscape through self-guided and audio tours. As Philipsburg Manor was closed for an extended period in the 1960s for restoration, the house at Montgomery Place temporarily closed in 2005; the gardens, grounds, and woodland walks remain open to visitors.
Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate
The most recent addition to the HHV network occurred in 1994, when Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate, opened to the public. Kykuit had become the property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation through the settlement of the will of Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, who died in 1979. The National Trust elected to lease the property to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the RBF assumed the cost of operating and maintaining Kykuit, opened a conference center on the site to advance its philanthropic mission, and contracted with Historic Hudson Valley to operate the tour program. The three-way partnership among the RBF, the National Trust, and HHV continues to this day.