The Hudson Valley is a home of artists. For decades, painters, poets, and writers have traversed roads and waterways to glimpse the region’s natural beauty. Hudson River School artist Frederic Edwin Church was among the journeymen who felt the lure of upstate New York. Although he was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and traveled extensively across the globe, he ultimately chose to call Hudson, New York, his homebase.
It was in Hudson that he and his wife, Isabel, constructed Olana, their awe inspiring abode on the hill. Named after a spot in Persia, Olana is not a house, but a landscape. It operates in harmony with its natural surroundings, becoming part of the watercolor horizon that overlooks the Hudson River. Although Church purchased the initial part of his Hudson property in 1860, two months prior to his marriage to Isabel, it was not until 1869 that the couple began to design their eye-catching estate. As a visit to the property reveals, the Churches drew inspiration from their year and a half long trip to Europe and the Middle East. The home’s golden facade and ornate detailing are a marked contrast from the Gilded Age and Victoriana estates that dominate the valley.
Although the development of the house remained a lifelong project for Church, he, Isabel, and their four children were able to move into the second story of Olana in 1872 while awaiting the finishing touches on the first floor. After later additions of a studio wing, guest rooms, and an observation room, the estate achieved its current state of completion in 1891.
For those who have never visited Olana, the site is beautiful year round. In spring, summer, and fall, attractions and tours abound for visitors who want to learn more about Church and explore the vast grounds. In winter, however, Olana becomes a veritable winter wonderland, a fact that Church was happy to share.
“I wish you could run up some day and make us a winter visit. We will make you comfortable or try to. The winter scenery here is marvelous,” Church admitted to art patron William Henry Osborn on January 2, 1870.
Church’s words ring true. As ice creeps onto windows and snow covers the ground, Olana sparkles. The jewel tones of the house pop against the cool hues of the season. The terrain, meanwhile, resembles a frosty paradise. From the top of the hill, visitors can take in the snow covered branches and look down onto the crystalized Hudson River below. Creatives can find inspiration in the serene hillscape, while those looking for a bit of calm can take a moment to pause and reflect amidst the meditative atmosphere.
In terms of activities, Olana offers both indoor and outdoor to-dos.
“People can come and cross-country ski,” notes Melanie Hasbrook, Development and Marketing Communications Manager at Olana. With 250 acres to its name, the estate has plentiful grounds for skiers to cover. Hikers, walkers, and birdwatchers can also appreciate the opportunity to explore Olana during the winter, thanks to the abundance of fresh air and scenic views. On warmer winter days, anyone with an artistic inclination can sketch one of the endless number of breathtaking views on offer.
Inside the house, tours run every Saturday and Sunday during the winter from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. until March 25. Attendees can explore the luxe interior and observe the intricate detailing woven into each and every room. Church’s paintings are also on display throughout the home. Although his naturalistic works differ markedly from the stenciled, vibrant interior of the home, they somehow operate in harmony to create a space that is undeniably one of a kind.
Due to the popularity of the tours, the Olana website encourages people to reserve a spot online early in advance. Tours often sell out and can fill up days prior to the anticipated date, so securing a place before making the drive upstate is well worth the effort.
“Church really encouraged his visitors to make a winter visit,” Hasbrook says. She recommends utilizing the historical walking tour guide, available for download or streaming on the estate’s website, for anyone looking to explore the grounds on their own this season. The website also offers a “F.E. Church’s Letters & 19th Century Ballads” tour, which includes readings of Church’s letters and period songs. It is ideal for listening during a meditative stroll around the landscape.
The Olana estate is open everyday from 8:00 a.m. until sunset. Weekend tours cost $9.00 for the general public and $8.00 for seniors and students. Children under 12 are free of charge. For more information on spring programming and tours, Hasbrook recommends visiting the website, which is updated regularly to reflect up-to-the-minute happenings.
This winter, embrace the beauty of the Hudson Valley at Olana. Whether you need a spot to ski or a relaxing escape, Olana has the answer.
“Olana is for everyone,” Hasbrook enthuses.
It’s just as Frederic Church would have wanted it.
VISIT Olana at 5720 Route 9G, Hudson, NY
HOURS are 8:00 a.m. to sunset daily; tours are 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday
LEARN MORE at Olana.org; or call (518) 828-0135