Saratoga County

Yaddo estate inspires artists, and tourists

Lesley Leduc has walked through the gardens at Yaddo many times, and not once did she suddenly have
Pictured is the entrance to the gardens at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs.
Pictured is the entrance to the gardens at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs.

Lesley Leduc has walked through the gardens at Yaddo many times, and not once did she suddenly have the idea for a novel pop into her head.

“But that’s just me,” she said with a gentle laugh.

The 400-acre Yaddo estate in Saratoga Springs is famous for the colony of artists who have resided and produced some of their best work there, like Truman Capote, Aaron Copland, Sylvia Plath, Virgil Thomson and more than 6,000 others. These artists have been known to sit and ponder their work in the 10 acres of beautiful rose gardens on site, which also happen to be open to the public from dawn to dusk.

And sure, some of that public may be hoping to run into the next David Foster Wallace or Jay McInerney when they visit the gardens in bloom from mid-June through late August. But others show up for their own creative purposes, hoping to be inspired by the same scenes that have inspired so many others to create great art.

“I know a lot of people like it because it’s quiet and relatively secluded. It’s not right in the center of town like Congress Park,” said Leduc, a spokeswoman for the Corporation of Yaddo. “If they read any of the history of Yaddo, they know it wasn’t necessarily the house that drew the Trasks here, it was something about the property itself that drew Katrina and her house guests here, and I think they hope being here will stir something in them as well.”

Spencer Trask and his wife Katrina, a poet, founded the Yaddo estate in 1900. After Spencer died in 1909, Katrina wrote frequently in and around the gardens. Left with no heirs after their four children died young, the Trasks bequeathed their estate to future generations of writers, composers, painters and artists. The first artists arrived in 1924, two years after Katrina’s death.

What they didn’t know was that their estate would inspire more than just professional artists and residents. Tourists show up each summer and fall for guided tours. Locals show up, armed with a blanket and lunch, and picnic on the vast lawn leading up to the estate’s imposing Victorian mansion. Others bring a book and find a spot in the sun. Aspiring artists show up with cameras and sketchbooks and watercolors.

“A lot of people just use it as a place to meditate or to think,” said Leduc.

It’s no wonder. Everywhere you turn at Yaddo, there is something to marvel at.

Like four marble statues that some believe represent the four Trask children who died of respiratory illnesses, but who some believe drowned in the murky ponds surrounding the property. Or the magnificently tall pines that flank the estate. Or the rows of white and pastel pink flower gardens, modeled after classical European gardens. Or a long terra cotta pergola where roses climb with abandon. Or the deer that wander near the outskirts of the property.

Toward the back of the property is a little rock garden where a geyser feeds a rill that feeds a pond down a small slope. There’s a fountain here with a little pool and wildflowers nearby. Spencer planted pine trees in geometric patterns in this spot more than 100 years ago. Today, the tall pines offer shade and seclusion.

For those who appreciate an informative docent-led tour of so much history and beauty, there are guided tours available at Yaddo for $10 a person every Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday during track season. Large groups are encouraged to reserve a tour.

In the fall, there are ghost tours on the property each Friday and Sunday evening. A docent will walk a group through the estate, sharing stories of the spirits who allegedly haunt the gardens, from the Native Americans who were killed in the nearby ponds to Edgar Allen Poe, who once lived in a small shed before the Trasks ever moved there, to the tragic rumors surrounding the young Trask children.

Private tours can be arranged to suit your own schedule by contacting Yaddo at 584-0746.

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