Architecture Around the World

Lydig Munson Hoyt House - "The Point"
Staatsburgh, NY, on the Hudson River

By Francis R. Kowsky (Web site)


Calvert Vaux



1998 owner:

State of New York
There are no plans to restore the house

See also:

Calvert Vaux, Lydig Munson Hoyt House

Click on illustrations for larger size

Calvert Vaux (rhymes with "talks"), Architect

Hoyt House

Hoyt House

Hoyt House floor plan

Hoyt House floor plan


Front (south) elevation

Front (south) elevation

Front (south) elevation

Front (south) main entrance porch

Front (south) main entrance porch

Front (south) main entrance porch.
Brown stone, laid on a natural bed

Front (south) main entrance porch
Brown stone

Front (south) main entrance porch.
Blue stone with dark red pointing mortar

Left side (west) elevation

Left side (west).
The principal floor is stilted up some distance from the surface to allow natural light in the basement, including the bsement kitchen

Left side (west).
Patterned, colored slate roof

Rear (north) elevation

Rear (north) elevation. Note quoins

Rear (north) elevation
Vergeboards on roof gable

Rear (north) elevation
Vergeboards on dormer

Detail: Vergeboard

Right side (east) elevation

Right side (east)

The following text is excerpted from "Country, Park, and City: The Architecture and Life of Calvert Vaux,"
Francis R. Kowsky. Oxford Universtiy Press, 1998

Perhaps as early as 1853,Vaux undertook another important project on the Hudson, the house and grounds for Lydig Munson Hoyt and his wife, Blanche Geraldine Livingston, at Staatsburg, New York. Although the plans for this Gothic stone dwelling are dated 1855, Vaux must have consulted with Hoyt about charting the 92-acre farm and pleasure grounds somewhat earlier. The delay in determining the plans may have been related to the time it took the Hoyts to acquire their land.

In August 1852, Lydig Hoyt, the heir of a wealthy New York City merchant, had purchased 62 acres, but it was another two years before his wife, a descendent of Governor Morgan Lewis, received a portion of the adjacent Lewis-Livingston property from her mother. Furthermore, Vaux himself testified that it took a while for him and the owners to agree on the best location for the house. Featured as Design 26 in "Villas and Cottages," the building was finished by the time the book appeared in February 1857.

The Hoyts had acquired a wooded promontory jutting
into a broad bend in the Hudson a few mile, south of Montgomery Place. It aptly bore the name its owners gave it: the Point. To the west and north, the property enjoyed expansive river views. It was also far enough removed from the tracks of the Hudson River Railroad that the noise of passing trains, which marred the solitude of Washington Irving at Sunnyside and many other riparian homeowners on the east side of the valley, did not reach the Point.

The Hoyts' gently undulating land supported many fine trees and offered numerous opportunities for Vaux to try out the landscape design skills he must have sharpened under Downing's tutelage. With his guiding principle in mind that the "great charm in the forms of natural landscape lies in its well-balanced irregularity," Vaux proceeded to lay out roads and to site the house and other buildings with the aim of preserving and enhancing the rich treasure of scenery that nature had stored up at the Point.

Continuing an existing farm road that entered the property from the Albany Post Road, Vaux conducted the visitor to the house along a winding course that offered many charming vignettes of country life. Rounding an upland marsh, the drive hugged the base of a forested ridge while offering the traveler bucolic glimpses of cattle grazing in open meadowland across the way. Where the road rose to the top of a small ridge, Vaux located a brick stable (replaced in the early twentieth century by a larger structure). Here the road forked, one branch turning northward to a farm cottage and vegetable garden and the other veering south, through a shallow ravine and up again to the site of the house. (A third road led from the stable to a deepwater dock, the ownership of which the Livingston family retained).

Following this three-quarter-mile approach road today, one can still appreciate the care with which Vaux adapted its twistings and turnings to the singularity of the ground Along this shady lane, we can almost hear Vaux reciting the words that he wrote on planning rural drives " A single existing tree," he said, "ought often to be all-sufficient reason of slightly diverting the line of a road, so as to take advantage of its shade, instead of cutting it down and grubbing up its roots. The accumulated influences of study, travel, sketching, and life with Downing that had formed Vaux's attitude toward landscape design had reached maturity by the time he laid out the drives and otherwise arranged the Hoyt property. And although the landscape stands in need of restoration, it is still poignantly evocative of its past beauty.

The most difficult problem Vaux encountered was that of finding the right location for the house. After much deliberation, he fixed upon the spot that commanded the best views of the river. This elevated area, however, was uneven and had many handsome trees that merited preservation, factors that came to play a role in the design of the house itself. Rather than fill in the land around the site to make level lawns, like those that stretched behind the Parish villa,Vaux chose to keep "a varied outline and picturesque effect in the immediate vicinity of the house" by retaining the naturally shaping land on all sides of the dwelling. On this god-given pedestal, Vaux erected a grand building using bluestone quarried on the property. This granite-hard rock, once it weathered, assumed a soft gray tonality that in this particular situation Vaux thought was far more beautiful "than any brownstone, marble or brick."

He set it off with brownstone trim and dark red mortar joints. From the road, one's first view of this profoundly site-specific house is the animated east facade, above which a large overhanging dormer holds genial vigil over the approach. As one rounds the bend, the more sedate main facade on the south, with its powerfully projected twin gables, comes into view.

The centerpiece of this symmetrical facade is the boldly protruding brownstone porch. Manifesting and sheltering the front door, this arched and buttressed gateway to the interior bestows a certain drama on the action of entry. Indeed, the porch, maintained Vaux, was the part of the house that first "appeals to the attention of the visitor," and he used the Hoyt house example in "Villas and Cottages" to demonstrate how this feature could be treated on the most liberal scale. In the warmer months, the emphatic architectural statement of welcome was to be enhanced by abundant plants. For as Vaux remarked about a similar porch on the Alexander Wright house (c. 1853) in Goshen, New York, the balcony served the women of the family as a place to cultivate potted flowers. The porch also gave access to the wooden verandas on either side of it, joining them together. On the occasion of summer parties, Vaux suggested hanging calico curtains behind the veranda posts, over which vines should be trained to grow. The enchanting effect of such a "leafy gallery," he reflected, was especially "cool and elegant" when set off by lamplight at night. Used in this way, the porch and verandas became festive outdoor rooms.

After the site was fixed, said Vaux, "it then became a question how to suit the design of the house to the formation of the ground." To meet the challenge, Vaux planned a compact, square building and avoided wasting pretty views on a service wing (a usual feature on a house of this size) by putting the kitchen in the basement. The rooms of the principal floor were spacious and thoughtfully adapted to the special outlook the house enjoyed. From the entrance hall, one had access on the west to a 24' x 18' drawing room and an equally large billiard room, a feature that marked this as the home of a man of leisure (Lydig Hoyt, whom George Templeton Strong remembered as a man fond of poetic expression, also took pride in his library, for which Vaux designed the bookcases, an oak fireplace, and an ornamental plaster ceiling.

The dining room of neatly the same dimensions on the north expanded into a large bay window that called one's attention to the beautiful water and mountain scenery upriver. These three living rooms opened onto a large terrace that allowed guests to view the river in the open air beneath the cover of a large hood. This novel canopy was sustained by overhead chains rather than by supporting posts, which would have obstructed the views from inside the house.

This magnificent dwelling now stands boarded up and silently communing with the river in a setting uncommonly lovely and remote. Fortunately, the State of New York (the present owner) is committed to restoring this masterpiece of High Victorian discourse between architecture and nature.

Text © 1998 Francis R. Kowsky
Photos and their arrangement © 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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