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A Hudson River House

Updated: Sep 16, 2019

Today in history (1609) Henry Hudson began exploring the Hudson River for the Dutch East India Company, preceding Dutch settlement of New York. This post will be primarily about a Dutch West India Company family, the van Rensselaers, who owned the house on the Hudson River that my husband grew up in and where his parents live today. The Dutch used a peerage system in New York (New Netherland) and thus there were lords and ladies etc. The van Rensselaers were Lords of the Manor or Patroons, specifically Kiliaen van Rensselaer (great-grandfather of the family we will look at), Jeremias van Rensselaer (grandfather of the family), and Hendrick (uncle) whose nephew inherited the estate we are looking at here. They had vast estates which totaled a million acres and included an area about twice the size of Albany today, causing them to remain among America's wealthiest families ever. The area of the van Rensselaer estates was known as the Manor of Rensselaerwyck and functioned like an English estate- reminder the Downton Abbey Movie is out! Edith Wharton (who was actually descended from the van Rensselaers) was said to have based the family in The Age of Innocence off the family (her cousins).

Kiliaen, the great-grandfather, was a founder of the Dutch West India Company, busy in the jewel trade, and did not actually live on his estate but rather managed it for money. However, his son, Jeremias, the grandfather, began to build Fort Crailo and then his son Hendrick completed the Fort Crailo (Yankee Doodle House) on the family estate. Hendrick was the uncle of Rensselaer Nicholl whom our house was built for. Side note: the grandmother was one of the van Cortlands and we will do a post on the van Cortland Manor House soon since we visited in for The Great Pumpkin Blaze recently, such a fun event! The above house is in the town of, aptly named, Rensselaer, about 15 minutes up the Hudson from Selkirk, where my in-laws live. It was built in 1707, shortly before their own house, and is a house museum today. Yankee Doodle was, in fact, written at the house. Surprisingly, I have not been through the museum yet, but will have to go on our next visit.

Another side note: Aunt (of our family) Maria married into the Schuyler family (Colonel Pieter Philipse Schuyler). This was in the 17th century a bit before Hamilton, but their great-grandchildren would be the cousins of the famous Schuyler sisters. Had to include this as I saw Hamilton this past weekend! Also of note, I have been told that Alexander Hamilton himself was a guest at my in-law's house and attended a ball in their center hall where he danced with Eliza. My mother-in-law just recently worked on an exhibit on the Schuyler Sisters at their historic house in which she supplied appropriate 18th century fabric to build display mounts out of via her store Bolt.

Now that all of the side notes are out of the way, here is Bethlehem House, where my husband grew up and we spend a lot of time. It was an estate built after the original Yankee Doodle Manor House for a nephew on many acres. It is located along the Hudson River and so this photo actually shows what is now the back of the early 18th century house. I will post a photo of the original back which now faces the road below. The house sits between the road and the river. It was built for Anna van Rensselaer and her husband Colonel Nicholls an Englishman and is a great example of the blending of the Dutch and English farm manor house styles.

The house has a creek running along the left side where this photo was taken from and on the other side are gardens, a barn, and a cemetery for the family of the house including slaves and many Revolutionary War soldiers. Below are some pictures of those, including my mother-in-law's colonial style gardens.

The house has been featured often in magazines due to her garden- she is a Master Gardener. There are many fruits and vegetables growing too in colonial style!

Below is looking out at the garden from right outside the sun porch.


The next view shows the gardens behind us and the cemetery is behind the pine trees.

This was going on 5 years ago when we just started dating and I first visited his family house for his sister's wedding. The above was taken at the rehearsal dinner which was a colonial style evening.

Right beyond those pine trees in the cemetery are the headstones of generations of the family. They include slaves, like Caesar, who lived past 100 longer than any recorded slave and served many generations of the family. They also include the related Selkirk family headstones who the town was named for, shown above. Nearly every male buried there seems to be a Revolutionary War hero.

Next is the property's remaining outbuilding, the barn, which my mother-in-law uses as a potting shed and my husband uses to store dirt bikes, snowmobiles, etc.

It is seen here from across the circle drive. I couldn't find a closer shot except in our engagement pictures which included super close-ups below!

The picture we chose for our newspaper engagement announcement was taken right by the barn too.

We will save the interiors of the house for another post and look at the architecture more in finishing up this look at a historic marker Dutch House.

The house has later additions, which at one point even included a Victorian porch which my husband liked to play on. However, it did not fit with the style of the house or keep its original integrity. My mother-in-law was the perfect person to restore this house as she is an interior designer. The house has much of the original paint (which would not have included the white coat however I love the look of the fading white). The gabled roof contains a full floor, where slaves would have slept.

The house has a fireplace in almost every room and is mostly still laid out in the fashion it was built, with a center hall and 4 rooms on each side. We will go more in depth on those rooms in the next post.


More information on the house can be found in books and encyclopedias including the above Historic Houses of the Hudson Valley. The following photo from that book shows the Victorian porch which my in-laws removed.


This Rizzoli coffee table book further details the house:


But we will save that for the next post on the interiors...