Road Trip, Part Two: Road to Ruin

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.


15 responses to “Road Trip, Part Two: Road to Ruin

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