I drove through south central Vermont towards the Hudson River Valley on roads still-ravaged by Hurricane Irene, a year ago, and along riverbeds of displaced rocks. Not all was perfect and picturesque in the Green Mountain State; there has obviously been a lot of suffering. There were poignant messages spray-painted on boarded-up houses: why, Irene?
I checked in at my brother’s house in Rhinebeck, New York and we planned our itinerary for the next day: first up, one of the most famous of the grand Hudson River Valley ruined mansions: Wyndcliffe, built in an imposing Romanesque Revival style in 1853 by Edith Wharton’s paternal aunt, Edith Schermerhorn Jones (1810-1876). Wyndcliffe has been in a state of decline for 50 years or so, and is now nearly ready to come down. We approached it on a road marked private (in very small letters), and a very nice Kevin Kline-esque man reproached us, more for our own safety than any territorial inclination: the “structure” does look like it could collapse at any moment and he said people had been going into it at night. We quickly took a few photographs and left, with additional protective neighbors watching us like guardians.
There are several stories swirling around Wyndecliffe. It was the first of the really ostentatious, over-the-top mansions in the region: 24 rooms, terraced gardens on 80 acres, Norman-esque tower, elaborate brickwork. It is said (again and again, although I could not find a contemporary source) that the house represented such a flagrant display of wealth that it inspired the phrase keeping up with the Joneses. Better documented are Edith Jones Wharton’s visits to the house, which she did not particularly care for, but nonetheless used as a setting for at least one of her books, Hudson River Bracketed. After her aunt’s death, the house became known as “Linden Grove” and “Linden Hall” with the tenure of industrial brewer Andrew Finck, whose descendants owned the property until 1927. After that, a serious of owners (including a group of Hungarian nudists!) oversaw its slow but steady decline.
The house in its heyday, and in a series of exterior and interior photographs taken in 1975 by Jack E. Boucher, photographer for the Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress:
And some pictures from yesterday, most of which were taken by my brother as I had forgotten to charge my camera battery! The house is definitely beginning to cave in on itself (although the pictures above illustrate that this has been happening for some time) but maintains that strong sense of dignity and presence often apparent at the very end.
August 21st, 2012 at 8:52 am
Wonder if it’s fix uppable?
August 21st, 2012 at 2:46 pm
No, it’s too far gone, Mark. Unfortunately.
August 21st, 2012 at 9:13 am
Fascinating! How I would love to creep around inside..in a scared sort of way..
August 21st, 2012 at 2:47 pm
It does provoke that kind of reaction, but it’s really too dangerous now.
August 21st, 2012 at 10:54 am
What a gorgeous structure this must have been in its day! It still is. Houses can seem like living beings sometimes.
August 21st, 2012 at 2:47 pm
They do, Susan–I agree!
August 21st, 2012 at 7:49 pm
I hope there is a part three!
August 24th, 2012 at 1:44 pm
I have loved this ruin forever and have prayed someone could save it. Someone did buy it, but now it seems too late. Oh the gorgeous chimneys it used to have! Did you know that at one point a beer manufacturer lived there and had beer faucets around the house. In the sixties, a nudist colony lived there as well. I’ve often thought I’d like to write a novel about this house.
August 24th, 2012 at 4:27 pm
HUNGARIAN nudists–can’t beat that! You should take on Wyndcliffe, it can be saved in literature.
August 24th, 2012 at 2:04 pm
BTW, this is just for you, but actually the woman who had the house built was Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones, not Edith. (I figured since you have to approve comments, you could just delete this.) Lovely post, though!
August 24th, 2012 at 4:25 pm
Jennie, I’m keeping it in because it’s important to be and stand corrected! And BTW for you–I’m reading your book right now! I picked it up in Lenox and have now carried it back to Salem, and I’m enjoying it thoroughly. Congratulations!
August 24th, 2012 at 5:50 pm
Thanks so much. I’m honored you’re reading it!
September 4th, 2012 at 7:18 am
Reblogged this on More than just the bones… and commented:
I found this on Freshly pressed…and am enjoying this blog
November 15th, 2016 at 2:20 pm
Being one of the last surviving Finck family members, it was a pleasure to view the ruins several years ago, The brewer/owner Andrew Finck), referenced in the article was my Grandfather’s (Roscoe Conklin Finck) Great-Uncle (I think). Some close relatives have considerable amounts of information regarding the tenure of the Finck proprietorship of the ‘castle’.,if that be of any value to you. My age is 93.
November 15th, 2016 at 4:08 pm
Thank you for your comments, Mr. Brannick. I wish I could have seen the castle in its youth.
January 5th, 2018 at 9:14 am
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