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10 Dreamy Ways To Experience History In New York State

October 16, 2014 Destination North America No Comments Email Email

You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy staying at one of New York State’s historic inns or hotels.  Some, built as residences by Gilded Age “Captains of Industry,” reflect the quirky tastes of their owners with hidden passageways to spy on their guests or palatial ballrooms where movie stars and heads of state were lavishly entertained. 

Rembrandt-HotelOthers, gracious inns for centuries, are landmark historic sites that retain many of their finely crafted interior detailing and design.  If you’re so inclined, you might even find a resident ghost.  Whichever your pleasure, visitors can dream big and experience some of New York State’s Path Through History right from their beds.

Here are ten spectacularly historic hotels that are attractions in their own right.

  1. Behind the Castle Walls. Just 25 miles north of Manhattan in the Hudson Valley, the 31-room Castle Hotel & Spa in Tarrytown stands guard over the Hudson River like a medieval castle, complete with turrets and towers, encircled by a stone wall with its 75-foot main tower, the highest point in Westchester.  Inside, much of the original woodwork and furnishings, including paneling transported from France, a Neo-Classical library and an elegant ballroom and Great Hall, remain in place, while its new spa, heated pool, stunning restaurant and indulgent guest room amenities are pure 21st century.
  2. Secret Passageways for Spying. Built as a family retreat in 1905 in the Thousand Islands region by Commodore Frederick Gilbert Bourne, president of Singer Sewing Machine Company, Singer Castle presides over its own island.  Here, hidden passageways and grates allowed Bourne to spy on his guests, who included Cornelius Vanderbilt and Vincent Astor.  Today, the 28-room castle and private island are open to tourists during the day, but come evening, those who reserve the two-bedroom Royal Suite have the entire castle at their disposal, complete with a catered dinner and personal tour of this eccentric hideaway and only each other to spy on.
  3. Play like a Rockefeller. While some Gilded Age magnates were building castles, William Avery Rockefeller took a more natural approach and the fancifully grand log-cabin-style mansions of his former Great Camp epitomize the romantic 19th-century ideal of roughing it in luxury.  Today, his former “camp” is one of the most exclusive and luxurious retreats in the country, The Point Resort, in Saranac Lake.  Here, no guests under 18 are permitted to ensure tranquility and, with a nod to the past, Black Tie is traditional in the evenings.
  4. A Symbol of Success. In 1869, when a business tycoon built the “House of Light” with 184 windows, the high cost of coal heat meant its owner was quite wealthy.  The Buffalo mansion went through its ups and downs, but its striking Second Empire architecture with a mansard roof, porticos and huge windows remained intact.  In 2001, the restored home re-opened as the Mansion on Delaware Avenue with 28 stately guest rooms and butlers who will do everything from drawing your whirlpool bath with special salts to lighting the in-room fireplace and chauffeuring you around the city in one of the hotel’s Range Rovers.
  5. Reliving the Roaring 20s. Charlie Chaplin was among the famous guests who attended the posh parties thrown by financier and philanthropist Otto Hermann Kahn during the Roaring 20s at his French-style chateau in Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island.  His Oheka Castle has found new life as a sumptuous 32-room boutique hotel, where guests feel at home as they admire the Chateau Fontainebleau-inspired grand staircase and Olmstead-designed gardens.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the chateau frequently is used in films and photo shoots, which helps account for the A-list celebs often spotted here.
  6. A Utopian Dream. Many have dreamed of creating a utopian society, but the people who built and lived in the Oneida Community Mansion House from 1848-1880 actually tried to live it.  Here, more than 300 people once lived as a single family, challenging traditional gender roles, monogamy, child-rearing practices and property ownership.  Their former home and 200-acre property is now a National Historic Landmark with a museum to tell the story of their bold social experiment, including samples of the now-renowned Oneida flatware and other goods they communally manufactured.  Overnight bed-and-breakfast guests enjoy comfortable bedrooms with private bath, access to the residents’ library and lounge and a private tour of the museum.
  7. An Artist’s Studio. Home to influential artist and women’s rights activist Alice Morgan Wright from 1888 to 1975, Morgan State House Inn is an artistically restored 19th century townhouse located in downtown Albany.  Many of her pieces can be seen at the Albany Institute of History and Art, a short walk from the inn.  The inn’s most unusual guest room was actually the studio where she worked.  Nine-foot tall double-glass doors and an enormous skylight open the room to natural sunlight, and brick walls, a king-size sleigh bed, gas fireplace and soaking tub for two add to the romance.  The inn also has an English garden and sits across the street from Washington Park, designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted, who also created Manhattan’s Central Park.
  8. Where Spirits Run Free. The two-room Inn at Miles Wine Cellars in Himrod is set in a grand Greek Revival mansion-turned-winery.  Located in the Finger Lakes region on Seneca Lake, the inn is accessible by land and water, thanks to an on-site dock that was a former ferry landing.  While staying at the inn, guests can tour the estate and taste the winery’s latest creation, Ghost, which takes its name from the friendly spirits that have been spotted around the mansion.
  9. Calling all Chocoholics and Artists. Located in the Catskill Mountain town of Greenville, Greenville Arms 1889 Innmakes hand-made gourmet Life by Chocolate confections, cordials, truffles and other sweet treats right on site, with free in-room samples for guests.  Situated on six acres with a large outdoor pool, lawns for croquet and other games and lovely gardens, the inn also offers small-group weekend workshops in quilting, collage, oil painting and other creative arts.
  10. Front Porch Friends.  Chautauqua Institution, a lakeside resort and education center, comes alive every summer with lectures and productions in everything from opera and theater to interfaith and recreational programs.  It’s a heady place where discussions with new friends often spontaneously start on the front porch of a historic guest house such as The Ashland (built around 1901) and The Vera (circa 1880).  Both have the traditional open porches and the friendly ambience the Institution is known for.

This is just a sampling of hotels that embrace their past to enrich and delight their guests. Visit www.iloveny.com/paththroughhistory for more ways to stay with history. For additional ideas and information on travel in the Empire State, visitwww.iloveny.com. Media can find press releases and more at www.iloveny.com/thebeat/.

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