Saratoga County

Yaddo tours draw fascinated crowd (with photo gallery)

Forget Disney World. Kate Dudley-Perry of Round Lake would rather have visited Yaddo when she was fo

Forget Disney World. Kate Dudley-Perry of Round Lake would rather have visited Yaddo when she was four.

Family legend was that her great-grandparents met while working at the artists community off Union Avenue.

“I just thought it was like a magical place,” she said. “It’s just as I thought when I was a little girl.”

Dudley-Perry was one of 1,400 people to get a glimpse of that place Sunday during a rare public tour of the community that has welcomed about 6,000 artists — including “The Godfather” author Mario Puzo and American composer Aaron Copland — since opening in 1900.

Organizers hoped to raise about $60,000 from the sold-out event, according to Lesley Leduc, public affairs coordinator. While the gardens are open to the public, the last time outsiders visited the houses was in 2003.

“It’s kind of fun to walk in the same places that some of the artists have worked,” Leduc said.

Half of the proceeds will go toward the artist-in-residence program and half toward the gardens. It costs about $2 million to maintain the property and run the operations, according to Leduc.

The property was originally owned by Jacobus Barhyte, who fought in the Revolutionary War. Barhyte build a tavern and sawmill on the grounds.

Spencer Trask bought the land in 1881. His father had made his money selling shoes to the Union Army during the Civil War.

Trask used his wealth to become the venture capitalist of his day — backing such projects as Thomas Edison’s development of the electric light bulb and phonograph, according to according to guide Carol Obloy. The success of these ventures made Trask a multimillionaire.

Trask served on the board of directors of General Electric; organized the National Arts Club, which was one of the few to admit women; founded Teachers College, which is now part of Columbia University; and worked with the Red Cross, Obloy said. He was also one of the first people in New York state to own a car.

“They called it the Red Devil because it used to go very fast — 10 miles an hour,” she said.

The Trask family experienced a series of tragedies. The current mansion was built in 1893, replacing one that had burned down about two years earlier. Two of their children died from diphtheria less than 10 days apart and another child died of meningitis.

Because they were left with no heirs, Trask’s wife, Katrina Trask, came up with the idea for the artists community.

Trask was also active in a crusade against gambling and was on a trip to advocate on this issue in 1909 when he was killed in a train accident.

The ornately decorated mansion was filled with work spaces, plus it had gathering areas for artists such as the sitting room.

“There were lots of wonderful conversations, great intellectual vigor that took place in this room,” said guide Mary Caroline Powers.

Every inch of the mansion has sculptures and paintings. There are stained-glass Tiffany lamps and windows. The layout of the house itself was made with a purpose. The main staircase, master bedroom and children’s bedrooms faced north.

“The Trasks felt that inspiration came from the north,” said guide Gay Gamage.

Over the main staircase is a stained-glass window of a woman overlooking a field. “She’s got her arms looking up to the sky, for hope or inspiration or prayer,” Gamage said.

Despite not being religious, Katrina Trask was fond of statues of the Virgin Mary and child, and several of them adorn the house.

Looking like she could have been a resident of the house during its early years was Sue McLane of Johnstown, who dressed in a period costume with cotton dress complete with lace and a three-tiered hat to take the tour.

“You don’t find clothing like this anymore,” said McLane who runs an antique clothing store as “The Victorian Lady.” She said she wouldn’t miss the tour. “The first time they had it open in 1993, I waited four hours to get in for the tour. I never waited four hours for anything,” she said.

McLane said she admired how much the Trasks did to advocate for the education of women. Katrina Trask leased her Lake George property to Mary Fuller to create the women’s education and recreational camp named Wiawaka in 1903.

Corinna Blumenreiter, of Queensbury, said she and her husband like visiting castles and mansions — so they just had to check out Yaddo.

“It’s gorgeous. I think it’s great for artists to come and do their work and be inspired,” she said.

It was a lot to take in for Ruth Parent of Milton — everything from the Tiffany and ornate glasswork to the woodwork and flooring.

“It’s eye candy,” she said.

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