Poets’ Walk is one of those places in the Hudson Valley that remind us that the Romantic view of nature took root early in our region, perhaps before it did anywhere else in America. If the Catskills were, as some have called them, “America’s First Wilderness,” it must be remembered that in the 19th century they were most often admired from the banks of the Hudson River. The great estates that were built along the Hudson at that time were designed to afford their owners a view of both the great river and the mountains beyond it to the west.
Even a casual walker at Poets’ Walk senses that the landscape he is moving through was carefully planned to provide an experience of nature unspoiled by human concepts of order and grace. The “picturesque” school of landscape gardening, popularized in this country by Andrew Jackson Downing of Poughkeepsie and others in the mid-19th century, saw rugged irregularity and wildness as desirable qualities to be emphasized in a landscape, as in a Hudson River School painting, not subdued or erased to create a formal garden. In other words, landscape gardeners like Hans Jacob Ehlers, working at the Rhinebeck estate owned by Franklin H. Delano and Laura Astor, strove to design without appearing to design at all. Ehler’s “landscape gardens” at that estate were given the name “Steen Valetje” (“Little Stony Falls”) in honor of the area’s Dutch heritage. Scenic Hudson, after taking over the property and opening it up to the public in 1993, renamed it “Poets’ Walk,” in tribute to the writers Washington Irving and Fitz-Greene Halleck, who were said to have enjoyed strolling there.