I’ve come to consider New York City trips as including stops in the Hudson Valley. The Hudson Valley is a particularly rich area. Rich in history, and handsome in topography. It seems to have almost as much history as the City, going back to the 1600’s.
Many of the Dutch who originally settled in Nieuw Amsterdam soon enough made their way out of the City. They made homes on both sides of the Hudson River, going up as far as Albany on the west, and Rensselaer County on the east. Among these settlers were the Roosevelts, who established commercial and political connections in Duchess County.
In recent trips to the City, my wife and I have stayed in Tarrytown, near the River in Westchester. We’ve found that New York is mainly a rural state. In the Hudson Valley, as soon as you get as far north as upper Westchester, you are back in the country. So removed from the urban sprawl that has overcome White Plains and Yonkers.
The route we take to Tarrytown starts with Interstate 81 south. Near Binghamton we get onto 17 southeast. There are not many diversions on 17 between Hancock and Monticello, but 17 has become considerably faster since it’s been widened. The traveler no longer needs to do into Pennsylvania and then New Jersey as a faster route to the City.
In Rockland County, where the traffic suddenly builds up, 17 converts into the Thruway. From Rockland, the traveler crosses the new Mario Cuomo Bridge across the Hudson into Westchester.
But on our most recent trip, we took a detour from Goshen, in Orange County, into Newburgh. Newburgh is a very old city, dating from the late 1700’s. It seems more urban than most of the places in the Hudson Valley. Many of its houses are quite old.
We went to Newburgh for the purpose of seeing George Washington’s headquarters there. Washington had many experiences in the Hudson Valley, most of them unpleasant. He was all but chased out of Manhattan, the upper part still wooded, by the British. In Brooklyn he lost the Battle of Long Island. He then had the disastrous Battle of White Plains.
But his stay in Newburgh, from 1782 to 1783, was probably more pleasant. The recent battle at Yorktown had all but ensured the Colonists’ victory, and the General’s work was now to administratively wrap up the war while peace terms were being negotiated in Paris.
Still, the General’s stay in Newburgh wasn’t entirely happy. Considerable unrest and anxiety arise among a number of his officers as to their future after the war, and Washington had to use his best skills as a politician to placate them.
The headquarters, a home rented by the colonial army from local farmers, is like other eighteenth century homes in its stark simplicity. All of which comes as a shock to tourists used to seeing graceful nineteenth century homes. My wife, who, unlike me, had been to Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, said that this house reminded her of Mount Vernon in that respect. While the place was probably comfortable enough for Washington to use with his wife and office staff, it was little more than utilitarian.
A final word should be said on Washington’s headquarters. In the late nineteenth century, a tower was built on the grounds. The tower features impressive statues honoring the military and states of the new nation, and offers the tourist hardy enough to climb its stairs an imposing view of the Hudson.
The following day, after we had spent the first day of our trip in the Hudson Valley, we took the Metro North into the City. From Manhattan we subwayed into the area of Brooklyn near Prospect Park.
Brooklyn was the home base of my mother’s family for a century, from the 1840’s through the 1940’s. The areas I’ve seen of it have always been pleasant. With its brownstones, it’s always seemed more residential than Manhattan, although Manhattan is actually residential and family-orientated, if at a faster pace.
After walking a few blocks, we went to the famous Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. The Botanical Gardens, like the Met Museum and the Natural History Museum, is an immense experience. There is more for a visitor to look and smell through than perhaps can be accomplished in a day. It has several types of flowers and plants featured from all parts of the world.
Of particular interest to me was the Shakespeare Garden. William Shakespeare was an avid gardener, and the plants presented in the garden named for him had quotes from his poems and plays referring to them specifically.
The Botanical Gardens are now involved in a local zoning controversy. A developer named Continuum has petitioned the City of New York for permission to build 39-story residential towers. This building would deprive the Botanical Gardens of needed sunlight, and severely affect the planting there. The rezoning and proposed towers should be blocked as being against the public good.
From Brooklyn, we returned to midtown Manhattan, and saw a show. Before the show we had dinner at Angelo’s Pizza, located in the Ed Sullivan Theatre building on Broadway, near 53rd Street. We can depend on Angelo’s for getting us quickly through dinner in time for the show, and that night we were able even to do a little shopping.
The show we saw was a musical version of Beetlejuice. It was well written and well performed, certainly one of the more comic shows I’ve seen on the Great White Way. But it was not among my favorites.
The following day we went to see the T. Rex exhibit at the Natural History Museum, located by 78th Street on the west side of Central Park. I’ve been to the Natural History Museum a number of times, and usually with my interest concentrated on its dinosaurs.
The exhibit presented bone samples of T. Rex individuals, as well as close relatives. One feature was an interactive video presenting a giant T. Rex and small dinosaurs, probably the behemoth’s children.
This video was a special delight to the human children there. Many of them would chase after the small dinosaurs on the screen. When the protective mother T. Rex would chase after them, the little humans would scurry away laughing.
Paleontology has been revolutionized since I was a small boy interested in dinosaurs, and the T. Rex presentation showed many of the fruits of those developments.
The exhibit posited that a T. Rex was actually small and birdlike in its early years. A young T. Rex would have feathers. But as T. Rex would grow to a gigantic size, the feathers would disappear. The huge creature, like an elephant, would be in danger of being overheated, and nature required that the feathers fell off with its growth spurt.
A T. Rex would reach maximum size at about 20 years of age, and the average life expectancy was in the area of 27 years. This had much to do with (1) the vulnerability of the small T. Rex to predatory attacks from other species and (2) the need for the full-grown giant to have a huge food supply. As the earth changed, and food supplies became less plentiful, the T. Rex disappeared along with other huge dinosaurs. The Jurassic era ended.
One particularly interesting theory advanced at the exhibit was that the skull of a T. Rex only fused around the age of 20 years. This was showed both a huge growth spurt of the individual as well as the considerable complexity in this dinosaur’s development. Far from the crude, slow-moving dinosaur generally imagined in my childhood, the T. Rex was a highly-evolved creature.
After leaving the Natural History Museum, we took a short trip to the Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore located on Lexington Ave. Shakespeare serves as the official bookstore for nearby Hunter College, but it is small and cozy like an independently-owned bookseller.
We went there to see the Book Espresso machine, a mechanism that prints and binds books in minutes upon a customer’s order. But no books were being made while we were there, so I had to simply look at the machine, and leave.
From there we made a trip St. Patrick’s Cathedral, with its refurbished, fresh-scrubbed walls. And finally we went to the Magnolia Bakery in Rockefeller Center. The Magnolia, known mainly for its cupcakes, became famous through the TV show Sex and the City.
Its original shop was in the Village. It has since opened branches in Rockefeller Center and Grand Central Station. The one in Rockefeller Center is the best: that is, the cupcakes there are the freshest. It doesn’t perhaps have the huge lines that the bakery in the Village had a few years ago, but it is always busy.
Finally, with our purchased cupcakes in a box, we headed back to Westchester, knowing that the next day we’d be finding our way upstate.
New York City is many things to many people. To me a trip there has always been a shot of adrenaline.