How Central Park’s Calvert Vaux Influenced The Hudson Valley
A vintage photo of The Point.
The Point today
Architect Calvert Vaux may not be a household name. But one Dutchess County organization thinks the man who co-designed Manhattan’s Central Park and built Prospect Park in Brooklyn, the Hoyt House in Staatsburg, Olana, and scores of striking mansions up and down the Hudson Valley, deserves his due.
The Calvert Vaux Preservation Alliance has recently reorganized and recommitted to preserving the regional legacy of the 19th-century architect. On Friday, Nov. 9 at the Morton Memorial Library in Rhinecliff, New York, the CVPA will hold an opening reception for its inaugural “Built in the Hudson Valley” photography exhibit from 6-8 p.m. The exhibit is dedicated to the historic architecture of the Hudson Valley by notable photographers throughout the region.
“We were looking for a way to let people know about us and what we have planned," said CVPA Board Treasurer Kitty McCullough, who credits board member Tina Reichenbach with the idea for the exhibition. “And everyone loves the Morton Library. There’s a group of people who have wanted to start something for decades. We’re ready to do it.”
The CVPA’s primary mission is to save the historic Hoyt House, also known as “The Point,” in Staatsburg. The landmark has been deteriorating for decades and the Alliance sees its stabilization and restoration as vital to the Valley’s historic character. While the photos in the exhibition are not of The Point, the event moves Vaux back into the conversation.
“In his biography,” McCullough continued, “it’s evident that The Point is where he laid out his idea for Central Park. There is no place where Vaux is interpreted. The Point can be the place where people come together to do that.”
The Point was designed in 1855 for Lydig Monson Hoyt and his wife, Geraldine Livingston Hoyt. In his plan, the Alliance writes, “Vaux succeeded brilliantly in merging the asymmetrical design of the house with its wooded landscape overlooking the Hudson.”
Hoyt descendants owned and occupied the house through 1963. The house and grounds were then acquired by the New York State Parks Department, which intended to incorporate the house into a larger parks plan. But aside from occasional stabilization grants, 50 years of bureaucracy left Hoyt House to the ravages of time. While Alliance officers and board members might be biased, they see again and again that throughout Vaux’s life he was overshadowed by more well known and publicly outgoing partners, from Frederick Law Olmsted at Central Park, to the painting rock star Frederic Church at Olana. Reichenbach said it’s clear from records that while Olmsted was the face of the Central Park project, it was initially Vaux’s idea and he did the lion's share of the actual pen-to-paper design work.
“Vaux had the plan (for Central Park) before Olmsted got involved,” McCullough said. “Olmsted got himself known. Vaux was a more sensitive artist. He was very small, 5’3’’, and just not a loud person. If you’re an Olmsted follower there are places to go. I don’t think Vaux historians know we are here. We think we can make a home for them and save The Point.”
McCullough said Vaux was one of the first architects to see the landscape as a part of his design and was in many ways the first “landscape architect.” In reestablishing the landscape design at The Point, there is much to do. The site is owned by the state and the parks department has fenced off access and denied entry to the house for events due to safety concerns. The Alliance’s new endeavors may well be the last chance to save the mansion.
"It’s a big task and it will take a lot of funding,” said Reichenbach. “The photo exhibit is a baby step toward new interest.”
The CVPA hopes the photo exhibit, which will hang at the library through Dec. 7, will get people thinking once more about Vaux and his place in the pantheon of New York’s greatest architects.
"Built in the Hudson Valley" Photo Exhibit, through Dec. 7.
Morton Library, 82 Kelly St., Rhinecliff, NY
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