For those who hear the siren song of antiquities, the trouble with living in a country that was founded less than three centuries ago is that there just aren’t enough ancient sites to explore. Our “castles” are fake: nostalgic follies built by European expats like Francis Bannerman. We have no Parthenon, no Stonehenge, no Valley of the Kings of our own; not even a Chichén Itzá like our New World neighbors to the south. But check out the ruins that we have got. The Mohonk Preserve has Paleo-Indian hunting camps (though we’re not supposed to say where). Franny Reese State Park in Highland, on the bluffs overlooking the Mid-Hudson Bridge, hides the skeleton of an old manor house that’ll give you a chill. Tromping around high points in the Catskills will lead you to the remains of Victorian-era mountain houses. The romance of past grandeur is there for the finding, if you know where to look.
Need help figuring out where to start? You’re invited, on the afternoon of Saturday, December 2, to join the members of the Century House Historical Society at their annual meeting at the Rosendale Community Center. Century House is the organization that manages the Snyder Estate and the Widow Jane Mine, and home to a lovely small museum preserving artifacts and records of the Rosendale area’s history as the epicenter of the world’s cement-mining industry in the 19th century. In fact, if you’ve never been to the Widow Jane Mine – located just off Route 213 between Rosendale and High Falls, and easily accessible on foot – that might be the perfect jumping-off point for your forays into early Hudson Valley “atmosphere.” It even has an underground lake.
The big draw for the annual meeting, though, is a presentation by Tom Rinaldi and Rob Yasinsac, explorer/author/photographers who together created the book Hudson Valley Ruins: Forgotten Landmarks of an American Landscape. The pair have focused their research on lesser-known historical sites where, “in spite of their significance, these structures have been allowed to decay, and in some cases, to disappear altogether…. In addition to great river estates, the book profiles sites more meaningful to everyday life in the Valley: churches and hotels, commercial and civic buildings, mills and train stations. Included are works by some of the most important names in American architectural history, such as Alexander Jackson Davis and Calvert Vaux.”
A photography exhibit based on Rinaldi and Yasinsac’s book stays up until the end of this year at the New York State Museum in Albany, but you can get your own taste of their work closer to home at 1 p.m. on Saturday, plus an opportunity to ask questions of the authors. They also host a website, www.hudsonvalleyruins.org, with a Demolition Alert page where you can get status updates on neglected historic sites in the Valley. Sadly, each year some of the ruins documented in the book burn down or are razed – though a fortunate few do get renovated, thanks to the efforts of local preservationists.
Admission to the Century House Historical Society annual meeting and “Hudson Valley Ruins” presentation is free, and holiday refreshments will be served. Copies of the book will be available for sale. The Rosendale Community Center is located at 1055 Route 32 in Rosendale.
“Hudson Valley Ruins” presentation, Saturday, December 2, 1 p.m., free, Rosendale Community Center, 1055 Route 32,