Hideous, isn’t it?
Of course, it’s a Livingston mansion.
Sort of a Livingston mansion: It dates back to the late 1800s, a renaissance period for truly hideous Gothic architecture. It replaced a Livingston mansion called Massena, built in the late 18th century, that was renowned for its classical lines.
Massena was acquired by someone called John Lloyd Aspinwall who had no genealogical connection whatsoever to the Livingstons. Mrs John Lloyd Aspinwall ordered up the replacement. When she saw it for the first time, she hated it so much that she fled to Europe, never again to return to American shores.
I stumbled across the house on my Steely Dan nostalgia tour of Barrytown yesterday.
Barrytown is a deeply weird place.
After hiking for an hour or so around the grounds of Massena – which is now owned by Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church (talk about deeply weird), I drove slowly down Barrytown’s main drag. Past decrepit 18th century houses that would not look out of place in some horror movie about swamp monsters in the bayou except that Bard students were sitting on their crumbling porches.
Then I saw this red brick early 19th century Federal-style house with a big sign – For Sale By Owner – and thought: Valerie! In case the Bennet Road property doesn’t work out. I got out to take pictures of the property:
And I decided to explore.
I walked down along a bend in the road, past the Red Hook marina – small; unprepossessing – and came to a series of tall box hedges with a gate. The gate was open, and through it, I glimpsed a table set with a white linen cloth, bowls of vividly hued dahlias and glittering brass objets d’arte –
How could I resist?
I walked through the gates, and…
This was Edgewater!
Gore Vidal’s old Hudson River Estate!
I’ve been trying to find Edgewater for ages and ages and ages!
Gore Vidal sold the house in 1969 after losing a race for the 29th Congressional District in New York. In public, he shrugged the loss off, but clearly it rankled since it precipitated his flight to Europe. Just like Mrs. John Lloyd Aspinwall before him!
Close friends Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward maintained that it was this move that caused Gore Vidal’s life to fall apart, and I can see it: The magical terroir in these parts is very strong and very… protective.
Some garden party was going on at Edgewater, a lot of men in suits and ties, a sprinkling of women in cocktail dresses.
I, of course, dress like a bag lady on practically all occasions so there was no question of trying to blend in with the crowd and cop free alcohol.
I just stood there and gaped
Nobody noticed me. Or everybody pretended not to notice me.
I felt a little bit like Rip Van Winkle stumbling into the magical dwarves’ bowling party.
After a minute or so, I stumbled out.
Edgewater is another Livingston mansion. Built in the 1860s or so by the original owner of Massena as a wedding gift for his daughter.
Architectural trends in the 1860s were far superior to what they would become 30 years later:
Railroad tracks run almost parallel to the property. While I was standing there, an Amtrak train went by.
And it dawns on me that the real reason why millionaires may have stopped building Big Old Houses in the Hudson Valley and started building them instead on Long Island has much more to do with the construction of that railroad track than any preference for the island. Who wants those types of disruptions at their cocktail parties?