by Sandra Hutchinson
The Classical American Homes Preservation Trust owns four historically significant 19th century homes — two in South Carolina, one in North Carolina, and one in New York’s Dutchess County. The trust was founded by the late Wall Street investment banker Richard Hampton Jenrette, who had a passion for 18th and 19th century American architecture, and who had purchased all the properties as homes. They are notable not only for their architecture, but for their impressive collections of fine and decorative arts. Three of the homes are open on a limited basis for public tours. This past fall, I secured tickets to Edgewater, near Barrytown, in New York’s Dutchess County, and toured the property.
I have long been fascinated with the homes that were built along the east bank of the Hudson River, often by members of early families like the Livingstons. My interest is rooted, in part, by spending the summer of 1976 doing archaeological excavation and research at Clermont, the 18th century home of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, perched on a hillside overlooking the river. Below is a photo of Clermont’s facade. It is owned by the State of New York and operated as a museum by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Livingston is best known for serving on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, acting as first U.S. Minister of Foreign Affairs, administering the oath of office to George Washington, negotiating the Louisiana Purchase and developing steamboat technology with Robert Fulton (who married his niece). Livingston’s home was burned by the British army in 1777, shortly after General Burgoyne was defeated at the Battles of Saratoga. Our archaeological research was centered on the steep bank that slopes down from the front of the house to the Hudson River, where vast quantities of debris were dumped while Clermont was reconstructed.
In 1824, about eight miles south of Clermont, another home was built by the daughter (Margaret) and son-in-law (Lowndes Brown) of John R. Livingston, the brother of Chancellor Livingston. Named Edgewater, this home is considered to be one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the United States. Its facade, facing the river, features a colonnade of six Doric columns, see top photo. The photo below is the front entry of the home, facing east.
Edgewater was home to several families over the years, and was acquired by the writer Gore Vidal in 1950. In 1969, Mr. Jenrette purchased the home and approximately 2.7 acres from Vidal for $125,000. Edgewater is filled with rare American furnishings and decorative art, much of which was original to the home and later sold, and then sought out and purchased by Mr. Jenrette. The interiors are stunning.
The dining room features a suite of Duncan Phyfe chairs, and a carpet that was commissioned by Mr, Jenrette. At the south end of the dining room is a small windowed alcove where Mr. Jenrette would take his breakfast.
An octagonal library was added to the north end of the home in the 1850s, designed by architect A. J. Davis. It is said that Gore Vidal used the library for writing his books.
Between the dining room and the octagonal library is a sitting room with deeply hued blue/green upholstery.
Long view from the north end of the sitting room, my back to the octagonal library, looking towards the dining room, below.
There are several of these gorgeous gilt mirrors in the home, said to have been made in Albany, NY.
The home contains a full collection of Hudson River Portfolio aquatints printed between 1821 and 1825. These are rare and highly prized by collectors. I am partial to the one, lower right, entitled “Glenn’s Falls,” (now known as Glens Falls), because it is where I live.
The crimson reception room is painted in the original color from the 1850s. The 1832 portrait of one of the owners, Susan Gaston Donaldson, is displayed near the harp that appears in the painting. Furnishings by Duncan Phyfe.
The staircase in the bright yellow entryway is off-limits to the public.
Below are views from the Edgewater property. The Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge can be seen in the distance. (The fox is fake.)
The grounds include a classical guest house which Mr. Jenrette built in 1997, below. The bottom photo shows the facade that faces the river.
There are some beautiful and unusual weeping trees near the main house.
Somewhat disconcerting, the railroad tracks run within yards of the entrance to the home. Passenger trains frequently come through so be alert! The tracks have been there since the mid 19th century.
To learn more about the properties owned by the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, and how to visit, check the trust’s website, here. I’m especially looking forward to the completion of the restoration and eventual opening of the Roper House in Charleston, S.C. It sits in a prominent spot on the Battery. Here’s an exterior photo of it that I took this spring, below.