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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Susan Bednar

Local Field Trip: Olana State Historic Site in Hudson, NY

Location: Olana State Historic Site 5720 State Route 9G, Hudson, NY 12534

Hours: Grounds: Everyday, 8am to Sunset | Museum/Tours: Friday-Sunday 11am-3:45pm

Public Parking: If the parking lot is full, you may park on the right side only of the main road.

Food: Take-In/Take-Out Rule: Take away everything that you bring in with you, no littering!

Dogs: Allowed on Grounds (on leash)

If you’re driving across the Rip Van Winkle bridge toward Hudson, NY you’ll notice a magnificent castle-like building straight ahead; this is Olana. Known as American Landscape Painter Frederic Church’s masterpiece and home, the estate now stands as a museum open to the public. Lovingly preserved and restored over the years, Olana offers tours of both its grounds and interiors. Access to the 250-acre landscape that once inspired the master painter is free to roam upon and is open from 8am to Sunset. Below we’ve broken down all that Olana has to offer, so you can plan your visit with ease.

Renowned landscape painter and foundational member of the Hudson River School, Frederic Church decided to settle down in upstate New York. In 1860 Church purchased a small farmland to move to with his newlywed, Isabel Mortimer Carnes. The pair began having their family and by 1870 Church set roots into his dream project, Olana. The main house that once served as Church’s family home was designed with a unique mixture of Victorian architectural elements and Persian decorative motifs. Church was always a part of the building's design process, working alongside his main architect, Calvert Vaux (although it did switch hands a few times). Once Frederic had passed away, his son Louis Church and wife Sally Good Church inherited Olana, actively preserving Frederic’s vision for the place. Olana was eventually listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, becoming the Olana State Historic Site in 1966. Today Olana is a museum open to the public and is an official New York State National Historic Landmark within the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area.

Frederic and Isabel Church had a vast appreciation for the arts, collecting a curation of art over their lifetimes that stood the test of time, and are now available for viewing to the public eye. The house today is filled with the various paintings, sculptures, and furnishings that the couple adorned their home with, as if it had never been touched. Visitors have the chance to step back into time, experiencing the home almost exactly as it was in the 1890s. Olana is quoted to be “an outstanding example of an early Aesthetic Movement interior”, setting the tone for change towards artistic materialism out of the industrial age. To stay updates on Olana’s current exhibitions, visit their events page here.

Where else best to start with your tour of Olana than the landscape itself? Frederic Church dreamed up the curation of the landscape, working closely with landscapers to fulfill the naturalistic site it is today. Church went about designing large scale compositions to reference early on, including the farm, meadows, outbuildings, native woodlands, five miles of carriage roads, and even an artificial lake on the property. The grounds are said to be one of Church's finest works of art, and continues to exist today as one of the most in-tact artist-designed landscapes in the United States.

The land at the estate is designated as a public park, free to explore during daylight hours. A self guided audio tour is available here to download and listen to while you roam. Be sure to brush up on the Park’s Use Guidelines for a list of all the rules and regulations. A variety of Guided Tours are available for purchase & reservation (more information below).

The Olana website recommends visitors download the New York State Parks Explorer App on their mobile devices. This app provides a lot of useful information about site seeing destinations, activities, and other adventures within the Empire State’s National State Parks and Historic Sites. Download the New York State Parks Explorer App here.

A variety of tours are available for reservation, from individual to group tickets. If you have plans to visit the area multiple times a year (or already live here), it can benefit you to joining Olana's membership program! There is a wide range of membership prices, starting at $25 annually. Perks of a membership come at different levels, some of which include free tickets to all tours, free/discounted classes, and so much more.

The Olana website recommends reserving half an hour in between tours when booking multiple in one day.

This one hour, one mile walking tour is a fabulous introduction to the 250 acre property designed by Frederic Church himself. The guide will give visitors insights on Church’s work as an artist, landscape designer, and environmental visionary, along with an up-close education on some of the ground’s incorporated wildlife. On this tour visitors will be privy to stellar views of the landscape of the Hudson Valley. Please note: this tour is not ADA accessible, as the tour follows unpaved roads, proceeding rain or shine.

Experience the most comprehensive tour Olana has to offer - riding via electric vehicle! Conveniently observe Olana's vast grounds as you ride down the original carriage roads designed by Church. The tour guide will cover the history behind the masterful landscape as you pass by the grand mountain views, trickling rivers, and pastoral vistas of the Church family’s farm and park. Each tour has a limit of five guests per vehicle.

Enter the Historic House just as one of Church’s guests would have, approaching the front entry while surrounded by sweeping views of the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains. Experience the rooms of the first floor, filled with art, lavish furniture, and other material luxuries from the family's private collection. Enter the artist’s actual paint studio, where guests can dive deep into the history behind the life and work of Frederic Church. While this is a guided tour, visitors can compliment the experience with the audio tour (previously mentioned) that’s available for download. This tour is ADA friendly.

As of May 14th, 2023 Olana will offer a new tour, The Artist’s House: Explore at Your Own Pace’. Take your time and leisurely stroll through all the rooms open to the public in the historic home. Each area will have its own interpreter to interact with, that will guide you through the historical facts and answer any questions (specific to that room). Each ticket has a start time stamped on it, that includes a guided walk to the Main House to be followed by the self-guided portion to explore the home's interior. Last entry for the tour is 3:45pm as the house closes promptly at 4:30pm.

Dive deep into the inner workings of the estate by exploring the private spaces of the historic home. In this 30 minute guided tour, visitors will grow to understand what the operations of the household entailed, entering through the service entrance and following the footsteps of the estate’s staff (think Downton Abbey vibes). This tour is only offered during April, so take advantage if you’r trip is during that time! This tour requires multiple flights of stairs and is not ADA accessible.

The best of both worlds in one tour! Experience Olana in one complete tour package (no scheduling out 30 minute segments in between separate tours). This tour lasts two hours and is comprised of a 60 minute guided walk through one of Church’s designed landscapes, continuing with a complete tour of the Main House’s interiors and viewing of the seasonal summer exhibition, 'Terraforming: Olana’s Historic Photography Collection Unearthed’. This all-inclusive tour covers unpaved roads, uneven surfaces, several flights of stairs, and requires standing/walking ability over a two hour period.

Said to be Church’s muse, The Viewshed played an important role in many of the artist’s compositions. Spanning over 250 acres of the Olana property and outwards into “borrowed” lands, the sites from the Viewshed provide a 360 degree overlook of the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains.

On your way out, make sure you stop by the Olana Museum Store, open Tuesday & Thursday-Sunday from 10am-5pm. Here visitors can pick up a little piece of Olana to take home - from books, vintage, handmade items and more. All purchases in the gift shop aid in the support of the restoration and protection of the Olana Estate. Don't have enough room in your suitcase? Shop on their online store and have it delivered right to your home, hassle free!

We hope you enjoyed this review of the Olana State Historic Site. Want to take a deeper dive into history? Check out our other historical blog posts: A Brief History of Thomas Cole | A Brief History of Frederic Church | Local Field Trip: Thomas Cole National Historic Site.Thank you for reading.

the {verdigreen} hotels team

Looking for somewhere to stay in the Hudson Valley? Check out one of our three upstate properties in Woodstock, Tannersville, and East Chatham.


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