The building looks rundown, with an incomplete addition on the right-hand side, but a sense of its former splendor can still be perceived; especially after a crew of more than a half-dozen volunteers spent much of Saturday, July 20 clearing brush and trash from the site, exposing the paved courtyard in front of the building.
The building was built in 1882 by Saugerties industrialist William Sheffield. He called the estate Clovelea and a group that wants to save it from the bulldozer takes its name from that original name, rather than Dragon Inn, which is what most people call it now.
Mark Smith, the Saugerties Chamber of Commerce chair, started Friends of Clovelea and was more or less in charge of the cleanup effort, which he said was authorized by the property owner, Ching Ya Wu, who OK’d the outside cleanup but no work inside the building.
With the property cleaned up, the possibility of finding a potential buyer willing to restore and use the building becomes more likely, Smith said. His organization has applied for not-for-profit status, which would allow for fundraising and possible grants, he said.
“If we could just find someone with deep pockets,” he mused.
Clovelea could become part of the historical and charming character that makes tourism a major industry in Saugerties, Smith said. He compared it to the Lighthouse and the Kiersted House, which were saved through public pressure and fundraising.
The village Historical Review Board approved a historic designation for Clovelea in May, but this does not guarantee that the building will be saved, Smith said. The owner can appeal the board’s decision, first to that board and then, the Village Board of Trustees.
Built as a home for businessman William R. Sheffield, Clovelea was sold to another businessman about 12 years after it was built. In the 1950s, the building became the Stonewall Hotel. It became Anton’s Restaurant in the 1960s, according to historian Michael Sullivan Smith’s website. It later became the popular Dragon Inn Chinese Restaurant, and it flourished until a fire damaged the building in the early 1990s. It has since deteriorated significantly.
The original carriage house and gatehouse have since been subdivided from the mansion proper, and a neighbor now lives in the former carriage house.
Much of the interior is intact, Smith said. He believes the building can be renovated at a reasonable cost. It would have to be used for a commercial enterprise, such as a restaurant, if the restoration is to be viable.
The mansion was built at a time when families looked forward to their use by future generations, resident Penelope Milford said. Her own home in the village was built that way, and “I’m grateful to the family that built my home. If you care about your house, it’s not just about preserving an old building; there’s a sense of continuity.”
As the group cleaned up, debris was placed in a truck provided by the village. The village driver brought the truck, and would pick it up at the conclusion of the work, Milford said.
The Friends of Clovelea describes itself as “a group of Saugerties concerned citizens who are trying to preserve and restore the Clovelea Estate as a tourist destination for all future generations to see and enjoy.”
The group’s mission is “to explore options to preserve and restore the Cloverlea Estate as a vital part of the rich history of Saugerties,” according to a statement on the website.
Michael Sullivan Smith’s essay on Clovelea’s history is on his Saugerties history website at saugerties-on-hudson.blogspot.com.