Saratoga County

Yaddo to offer rare retreat tours

Ann Marie and Chuck Reuter only recently discovered Yaddo but they’re already planning a trip back.

Ann Marie and Chuck Reuter only recently discovered Yaddo but they’re already planning a trip back.

The Connecticut couple were touring the estate’s public gardens Sunday when they learned the exclusive artists’ retreat will be open for tours in September. The tours will offer an extremely rare glimpse into the living and working quarters that are used by renowned artists annually, representing only the fifth time the general public has been allowed into the mansion since the retreat was established by the Trask family in 1926.

“I’d love to see it,” beamed Ann Marie Reuter. “How could you not do it?”


The public tours will serve to raise money to support the artists and fund repairs to structures throughout the garden. They will be the first public tours since Yaddo opened the 55-room mansion and accompanying studios in 2003.

The 400-acre estate was dedicated as an artists’ community following the death of its founders, financier Spencer Trask and his poet wife, Katrina. Each year, Yaddo awards fellowships to 200 painters, writers, composers, dancers, photographers and choreographers who stay at the mansion for up to two months.

Maintaining the estate’s 17 historic buildings and its unique artists program is no easy task. The Yaddo Corporation’s Board of Directors allocates roughly $750,000 annually just to mow the lawn, repair pipes and paint the rooms.

A group of dedicated volunteers helps to maintain the estate’s scenic 10 acres of gardens so they appear much in the way the Trask family designed them more than a century ago. Volunteers typically spend more than 4,300 hours working on the gardens and restoring additional areas that became unkempt after the whole area fell into decline during the late 1980s.

The gardens are now a gem of the property and lend to the idyllic ambiance of the rolling estate off Union Avenue. But the historic Trask mansion looming on the hill overlooking the gardens has a powerful allure that draws thousands whenever its doors are open to the public.

Gay Gamage, a longtime docent who has led tours of the property for nearly two decades, still recalls when the mansion was first opened to the public in 1993 to commemorate its 100th anniversary.

She said people started showing up at the estate more than three hours before the tours were to begin and they never stopped coming.

“It was so popular that couldn’t get everybody in on the tour,” she recalled.

tragic history

The grounds were originally owned by Jacobus Barhyte, a Revolutionary war veteran who fought in the Battle of Saratoga. Originally, the property featured a farm, grist mill and tavern.

Spencer Trask purchased the land in 1881, but the main residence burned to the ground 10 years later.

It was among the first in a series of tragedies that followed the Trasks throughout their lives, including the death of all four of their children.

The existing Victorian mansion was completed in 1893. But with no heirs for their beloved estate, the Trasks feared for its fate after they died. Then during a walk with her husband, Katrina Trask envisioned the artists’ community.

In 1900, the Trasks officially incorporated Yaddo. Spencer Trask planted the garden as a romantic gift to Katrina, who pledged it would forever remain open as a public space.

The first guests arrived 17 years after Spencer Trask perished in a train wreck and four years after Katrina died. Since that time, it has hosted renowned artists such as Milton Avery, Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, Leonard Bernstein and Flannery O’Connor.

“The grounds are private because they’re for the artists,” Gamage said during a tour of the rose garden on Sunday. “But Katrina always wanted the gardens open for the public.”

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