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The Short Version: Historic Hudson Valley is a nonprofit that brings important New York sites to life to teach visitors about the past in unique, interactive, and entertaining ways. Whether you want to learn about the lives of Washington Irving and the Rockefeller family, get a glimpse of the slave trade in New York, or see a performance of “A Christmas Carol” in a famous church, Historic Hudson Valley has events practically anyone can enjoy. The organization offers plenty of opportunities to marvel at the beauty of the region while sharing good times and good stories with others.
Taking a walk through a garden that was once roamed by the Rockefellers can be an awe-inspiring experience. So can seeing “A Christmas Carol” performed in a church that is 146 years older than the Dickens classic itself. Breathing life into these experiences is the mission of Historic Hudson Valley, who organizes these events — and many more — to inspire interest in preservation and create connections between admirers of the region’s beauty.
Historic Hudson Valley is dedicated to restoring and preserving historical sites as well as creating factually accurate and detailed education programs that celebrate the area and provide a perspective about New York that no textbook can. By showcasing the significance of the location and the families who have called it home, Historic Hudson Valley can preserve that history for future generations.
Although the organization takes its mission seriously, that doesn’t mean the 250,000 annual visitors do not have fun at its historic sites and special events. From mansion tours to classic plays to a world of illuminated pumpkins, Historic Hudson Valley brings history to life in enjoyable and inspiring ways.
Maybe you’re a long-time lover of the past who majored in history, or perhaps you want just to learn something new about a landmark. Either way, Historic Hudson Valley offers activities you can enjoy as you connect with others who want to know more about New York culture, architecture, and art.
New York is known for its uniqueness and beauty, so it’s not surprising that Historic Hudson Valley showcases both in dazzling events that aren’t found elsewhere and allow visitors to appreciate these important landmarks.
Every spring, Historic Hudson Valley’s Van Cortlandt Manor becomes a city of lights during the LIGHTSCAPES display. This event, which lasts for 26 nights, is where vistors can walk through an illuminated world filled with brilliant pieces of art while listening to a funky soundtrack created by musicians Steve Pollak and Charlie de Saint Phalle.
The attractions that can be found at LIGHTSCAPES are truly a feast for the eyes and conversation pieces that you can talk about long after the lights have dimmed. Among the bright sights, you can gaze at a 40-foot-long centipede, 15-feet tall Luna Moths with wings made from fiber-optic strands, and a 40-foot-long Bubble Tunnel portal with LED lights that change color.
LIGHTSCAPES is designed to be enjoyed by people of all ages. Kathryn Walsh, of Westchester Magazine, described her experience: “As soon as I started walking toward the gate, I was hooked. Even my teenage son let out an involuntary, ‘Wow!’ The sculptures are both beautiful and dazzling, and the music and special effects — nothing too scary — really make you feel like you have been transported to Alice’s Wonderland.”
For some, carving jack o’lanterns is one of the most enjoyable parts of Halloween, as it allows them to have fun with others while creating a small work of art. Each year, Historic Hudson Valley’s Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze event takes this creativity to a level that would impress the Great Pumpkin himself.
Held at Van Cortlandt Manor, the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze is made up of 7,000 hand-crafted and illuminated jack o’lanterns that are configured into a myriad of creative displays.
In the Jurassic Park section, you can experience the prehistoric pumpkin past by viewing the illuminated flying pterodactyl, brontosaurus, and T-Rex. Then you can take a stroll along the Pumpkin Zee Bridge to admire the giant Sea Serpent. Other displays to explore include the Circus Train, the Headless Horseman, and the Pumpkin Planetarium.
Every year, Historic Hudson Valley puts on a production of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, which is hosted by master storyteller Jonathan Kruk and held at the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns. Just as the Dickens tale is a classic, the venue itself is also steeped in a rich history. Founded in 1697 as the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, the church is immortalized in Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
But the night of classic storytelling doesn’t end there. If you also enjoy live music, Historic Hudson Valley’s version of “A Christmas Carol” delivers. Accompanying the production is the eclectic music of Jim Keyes, who plays a fiddle, traditional church organ, and Celtic harp during the show. Keyes works closely with Kruk, like a Lennon and McCartney of the theater, to ensure the story and music complement each other and the production runs like a well-oiled machine — which Keyes admits, can be challenging.
“Jonathan, being a consummate performer, always adapts what he’s doing to suit the feedback he’s getting from the audience,’’ Keyes explained on Historic Hudson Valley’s website. “Therefore, he never really does the same show twice. That means I have to be on my toes to make sure he gets the right cue at the right time while not holding him back from the performance he’s creating.’’
Historic Hudson Valley offers educational tours of several New York landmarks that are sure to make any history buff happy — and stimulate interesting conversations, whether you’re on a date or making a new connection with another visitor.
Who hasn’t dreamt about what it would be like to be rich, powerful, and famous from time to time? If you visit the landmark Rockefeller Estate Kykuit, where four generations of Rockefellers resided, you don’t have to dream — you’ll get a first-hand glimpse of how the other half lived.
As you work your way through the rooms of this hilltop six-story stone mansion, which was first owned by oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, guides will tell you numerous stories about the home — as well as the family’s formidable legacy in business, government, charitable giving, and conservation.
Also, you’ll view lavish gardens and an enviable collection of classic cars. Art lovers can especially appreciate Kykuit, as the home has its own gallery that boasts original pieces from Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Alexander Calder.
If you’re a fan of classic fiction, or you know someone who is, Washington Irving’s Sunnyside is the perfect place for literary and romantic inspiration. Irving, who became the first internationally-known American writer thanks to short stories like “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” made his home an homage to history, nature, and art. As a result, the house is a roadmap through the author’s personality — from the décor to the way he arranged the exotic plants in the garden.
Adding to the authenticity, guides wear formal 19th-century outfits as they tell stories that immerse you into Irving’s personal and professional life.
You may have had a history teacher who gave the ominous warning that you won’t be able to understand the present if you don’t understand the past. Visiting Philipsburg Manor’s Trading Post and Gristmill is an excellent way to gain more knowledge about some of America’s most painful memories — which can give you a new perspective on race relations in the country today.
Originally, the Philipsburg Manor tour focused on how the Dutch owners of the property lived. But in the 1990s, Historic Hudson Valley decided the site needed a paradigm shift, so the organization changed the focus to the slaves who worked on the property — giving the spotlight to the 11,000 people who were enslaved in New York during the 18th century.
As you listen to stories about what life was like for Philipsburg Manor’s slaves in 1750, you’ll see where they lived and worked and will be able to walk in their shoes by participating in hands-on activities like working the gristmill. Also, there are touchable reproductions of artifacts that represent the slaves’ daily lives.
Taking in the breathtaking beauty of the Hudson Valley can be an incredible experience by itself. But when classic plays, eye-popping light displays, and tours of prestigious grounds are added, it can become an unforgettable memory.
Since its inception, Historic Hudson Valley has been dedicated to educating visitors about some of New York’s most famous landmarks while creating a fun atmosphere that encourages contemplation and discussion. Through preservation and perseverance, they hope to continue that mission for generations to come.
The group offers a variety of unique experiences that can give you a perspective on New York that you may have never seen before. And, in addition to becoming more educated, you have the opportunity to connect with like-minded people who also want to expand their knowledge of the region or perhaps just appreciate its inherent beauty.