The homes of two lions of American art that bookend the Rip Van Winkle Bridge soon will be linked by the span for a more visitor-friendly way to navigate between the historic sites in Columbia and Greene counties.
A key part of the so-called Hudson River Skywalk is the bridge’s rebuilt mile-long sidewalk, which has three “bump-out” vantage points from which to see the mountain and river views that inspired the country’s first art movement, the Hudson River School, in the mid-1800s.
The movement’s founder, Thomas Cole, had a home on the Hudson River’s west bank in Greene County, now the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, where he lived and painted some of his best-known landscapes.
The $14.6 million Skywalk, several years in the making, hit a milestone in the spring when construction on the bridge bump-outs was completed. Six interpretive signs were added there in early June.
The project also will have a new access sidewalk from the Cole site to the bridge and a planned Route 23-Route 9G roundabout with pedestrian and bike paths on the Olana side that will link via an old carriage trail up a mountain to the Church home.
Bids for the roundabout, with a 2019 completion date, are scheduled to be let by the state Department of Transportation in late June.
An economic analysis of the project prepared by Elan Planning, Design and Landscape Architecture of Saratoga Springs anticipates new visitors will be attracted to the counties by the Skywalk, bringing with them some $4.5 million in new spending.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has channeled state money to the project, praised its goal of putting on display “a unique part of New York State history and creating a timeless experience for generations.”
In the spring, he announced creation of the Hudson River Skywalk Region, which will use money won in a 2017 round of economic development funding to market the sites through a coordinated advertising campaign and special events.
Elizabeth Jacks, executive director of the Cole site, said the homes, just two miles apart, “have been connected by history for nearly 200 years. … Now it is our goal to establish this connection in the public eye as well, so that the Hudson River Skywalk Region is seen and known as one spectacular, unified destination.”
Cole, who was born in England, came to the U.S. as a teenager and later married into the family that owned the home and land in Catskill known as Cedar Grove. He died there in his late 40s.
Cole’s awe at the Catskill wilderness of the time, combined with the growing industrialization of Europe that he saw on return visits – and fears of what industrialization could do to the U.S. – inspired his work, according to his biography on the historical site’s website. Other artists and writers embraced the same ethos that came to be called the Hudson River School.
Church, 25 years Cole’s junior, was prominent in the school’s so-called second generation. He studied with Cole for two years before moving to New York City to start his own career, but returned to Greenport in 1860.
According to the Olana website, Church bought 120 acres of “hardscrabble farmland” that also included the mountaintop that later would sport the large new Persian-inspired home that came to be called Olana.
A Church family member lived in the home until 1964. After that, the site and its contents – including Church’s art – were to be auctioned off until Olana Preservation Inc. was formed to raise money to purchase property.
While the fundraising effort only got to half its goal, the state Legislature stepped in 1966 to authorize contributing to the purchase. Olana opened as a state historic site a year later.
If you go
The Thomas Cole National Historic Site and the Olana State Historic Site are located about 50 minutes south of downtown Schenectady via the New York State Thruway.
Take Exit 21 in Catskill and follow the signs to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.
Thomas Cole National Historic Site Address:
218 Spring St., Catskill
Hours: Year-round guided tours are offered on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday-Sunday.
Reservations via the website are strongly encouraged, as times can sell out. Self-guided tours also are permitted.
Fees: $14 (general admission; fees change during “peak” fall season and the winter)
What’s there: Home and studios of 19th century landscaper painter and Hudson River School founder Thomas Cole.
Olana State Historic Site
Address: 5720 State Route 9G, Hudson (Greenport)
Hours: Admission to the house is by guided tour only, hourly from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday from mid-June through November.
Reservations via the website are strongly encouraged, as times can sell out.
Self-guided tours of the grounds and special tours also are available. (Olana currently is undergoing some grounds reconstruction, so visitors are advised to check before they go.)
Fees: $12 (general admission, June-November)
What’s there: The richly decorated home of Hudson River School painter Frederic Church.