GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT…WHERE? HERE! REALLY! By Warren D. Jorgensen
If the shots heard ‘round the world at Lexington and Concord signaled the birth of the baby that would become America, then the Hudson Valley is where it learned to walk, with George Washington holding it’s hand. His legacy is still very much alive, along with that of those who came later, leaving a rich smorgasbord of experiences in its historically rich rolling hills and valleys. So take a tour and sample those delights.
From the south, first stop at Tarrytown’s Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving, America’s first author. Named after the general, Irving would create his most famous works here in the writing room overlooking the river surrounded by the idyllic grounds that fostered his imagination; American icons such as the mythical Sleepy Hollow. En route to the village that did not exist anywhere but in Irving’s imagination until 1995, stop at Patriot’s Park, where three rag-tag privates in the Continental Army stopped Major John Andre, beginning a series of events that would add an everlasting phrase to the American lexicon. He was carrying the plans of West Point, provided to him by the man whom Washington had entrusted its defense: Benedict Arnold. Andre had walked through the little valley just north of town, past what is today Phillipsburg Manor, a still standing farm with its watermills and spacious grounds where you can sample the lifestyle of the landed gentry of the 17th century.
Swing back and cross the Tappan Zee Bridge, where the British fleet dropped anchor. Today however, you will only see pleasure boats, their billowing sails like a hundred white handkerchiefs floating on the breeze, their bows cutting the slate gray bay. Make your way north to Newburgh, then as now the crossroads of the valley, where I-84 and I-95 intersect. But travel instead on the local roads, the myriad two lane blacktops that meander spaghetti-like across the valley, capillaries that connect the main arteries that will whisk you through but not show you little.
You will pass through small villages where cornerstones were laid two hundred or more years ago, where great men—and women—walked and where history was made.
A national landmark, Washington’s Headquarters cannot fail to impress you with the humble beginnings we as a nation had. It was here that the man Who Would Not Be King set up his final headquarters, received the news of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, disbanded his army, and turned to laying the building blocks of the country that was just a half-formed idea. It was here in his ten-by-ten foot room, illuminated by a candle and what light the narrow window offered that he wrote the letter rejecting the crown that had been offered to him; admonishing the senders that “This was not what we fought for”. It is hard not to get goose-bumps.
Roll back down to stroll the grounds of West Point—or visit on Saturday during football season for the weekly parade–and marvel that this oasis of tranquility is dedicated to the art of war. In the museum, 2,000 artifacts are on display, and the names attached read like a virtual pantheon of American and world history: Grant, Lee, Sherman, Custer, Pershing, Eisenhower, Mac Arthur; giants who marched out here to leave their marks on the world and in the history books.
Continue up to Kingston, the first capitol of New York. It is the secret gem of the valley, with its galleried streets, twenty original Dutch stone houses, and Old Dutch Church. The British had it marked on their maps as “the nursery to almost every villain in the country”. It aggravated them so that they burned it to the ground. It went on to become a bustling waterfront town and when the river towns died, the spirit of rebellion lived on. Today, its waterfront is a bustling harbor for boaters and diners.
While King George’s troops were tossing their torches, General George was across the river, sleeping, dining, and making plans with his field leaders at the Beekman Inn in Rhinebeck. The oldest continually operating inn in America has seen the entire history of the Hudson Valley pass before its doors. It was here that he and his Generals planned the Battle of Saratoga, where today the Annual Saratoga Race Meet is held between July 27th and September 5th.
From here, head east to the Rhinebeck Aerodrome and Museum, where thin skinned canvas and wood flying machines carry on their ongoing weekend war, and the museum displays examples of men’s dreams that would someday put footprints on the moon. Here too, you can fly in one of those oldies, and have a bird’s eye view of the majestic valley. From above, those estates you see just to the south are the palatial estates built by the Roosevelts, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts, the American royalty; kings of commerce whose families—for better or worse—would build and guide the country that began here.
Now continue down to Cold Spring, one of the more colorful, indeed beautiful of the Hudson River Towns. Getting its name from a visit by The General, who commented on the fresh spring water available there, it is today an antique lover’s homing beacon. It’s gently sloping Main Street, leading down to the gazebo-graced riverside plaza, is invariably filled with bargain seekers and home decorators wanting to add a touch of history to their lives. And it is here to be had . The Hudson valley is not a trip, it is an experience that cannot and should not be singular. It invites you back simply by being there, sharing its history, character and beauty. There is a lot of that, and more.