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Take a trip through time in Hudson River cities and towns

The Jay Gould estate Lyndhurst, built to resemble

The Jay Gould estate Lyndhurst, built to resemble a medieval castle in Tarrytown, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Credit: Getty Images/Kirkikis

As the coronavirus continues to make history, sometimes it’s comforting to retreat to the places of the past, where history has already left its permanent mark. In the midst of an ever-changing and uncertain present, New York's Hudson River has well-established historic towns that continue to offer travelers respite and a hearty slice of yesteryear. Keep in mind, however, that during the pandemic, things are subject to change, so check before heading out.

Kingston, New York

Kingston’s colonial history is particularly vibrant. Formerly a Dutch settlement called Wiltwyck, the English renamed the city Kingston, but the area didn’t remain loyal to King George the Third for long. Kingston became the first capital of New York State in 1777, and by October of that same year, it was burned by the British. The city recovered and now offers such attractions as the only intersection in America (at Crown and John streets) with pre-Revolutionary War buildings on all four corners.

Things to do

Two national historic districts in Kingston highly suitable for open-air tours. The 1658 Stockade National Historic District is the original site of Wiltwyck with an elevated stockade outline still evident. The Rondout National Historic District is on Kingston’s riverfront, one of only three deep-water ports along the Hudson. Both districts have plenty of shops and restaurants among the historic sites. The Friends of Historic Kingston has self-guided tour maps (fohk.org).

This 18th-century Dutch home and meeting place of the first New York State Senate is open for tours. Face masks and social distancing required.

The Old Dutch Church is a National Historic Landmark that offers cemetery tours in October, and by reservation for private groups year-round.

In the Rondout district, the Hudson River Maritime Museum offers exhibits, events and boat tours, along with wooden boat, sailing and rowing schools. Masks and social distancing are required.

Boats aren’t the only form of historic transportation on display in Kingston. The Trolley Museum of New York offers trolley rides and exhibits, and requires masks and social distancing.

The Catskill Mountain Railroad, a heritage railroad with depot near the Stockade district, is up and running using only open-air flat cars. Masks and distancing required.

Where to eat

Hoffman House Restaurant & Tavern is a National Historic Landmark circa 1711 with char marks in the attic from the 1777 British siege. Ample patio seating is available.

Where to stay

Hotel Kinsley is a grouping of four architecturally distinct 17th- to 19th-century buildings with 42 guest rooms, a restaurant and bar in the Stockade district. Masks are required in public areas and temperatures are taken.

INFO: Ulster County Tourism, ulstercountyalive.com

Newburgh, New York

Newburgh’s picturesque bluffs overlooking the Hudson River received a passing note in the journal of Henry Hudson’s first mate as a "pleasant place to build a town." Settled by German Lutherans, the area quickly rose to prominence as the headquarters of George Washington and the Continental Army from 1782 to 1783. With a naturally deep port, 19th-century Newburgh developed into a prosperous shipping and industrial hub. A treasure trove of historic architecture was cataloged by volunteers in the 1970s, becoming the city’s East End National Historic District, with more than 4,000 historically significant buildings.

Things to do

Newburgh has the country’s first publicly-owned historic site, Washington’s Headquarters, designated in 1961. Explore the fieldstone farmhouse known as the Hasbrouck House where Washington had his headquarters, along with the nearby recently-restored Tower of Victory, with stunning views of the Hudson. It was here that Washington refused the crown offered to him, rejecting the idea of an American monarchy. Museum and headquarters tours are by reservation only due to the pandemic: parks.ny.gov

A stroll through 35-acre Downing Park reveals hills, streams and serpentine paths reminiscent of those in New York City’s Central Park for good reason. The park was designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead, the creators of Central Park, in their last collaborative effort.

For a history of motorcycles from 1897 onward, the Motorcyclopedia has more than 85,000 square feet of exhibit space. Face masks and social distancing are required.

Where to eat

Liberty Street Bistro has top-notch cuisine served with a bit of history on a street named in honor of Washington’s refusal of the crown. Outdoor seating available, face masks required.

Where to stay

Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast, just outside the city in Salisbury Mills, has 14 rooms and 19th-century charm with modern amenities. Masks required in common areas; breakfast baskets and contactless check-in/check-out provided.

INFO: Orange County Tourism, orangetourism.org/

Hudson, New York

While Kingston was the state’s capitol for a brief turbulent period, the city of Hudson, just 30 miles up the river, came a vote short of becoming the state’s permanent capital in 1797. Founded by a group of seafarers and whalers from Nantucket and New Bedford in the late 18th century, Hudson, set on a promontory above the river, was first a seaport, as well as the center and inspiration of the Hudson River School of landscape painters. It became an industrial powerhouse as it entered the 20th century, and while it languished for some decades starting in the 1970s, it’s now undergone a revival, largely surrounding its authentic historic architecture.

Things to do

Hudson currently has an initiative called "Hudson Shared Streets" on Friday afternoons and weekends. Traffic is slowed to 5 mph and pedestrians are encouraged to remain 6 feet apart. Stroll down Warren Street, with its mile of 19th-century row houses and Victorians, now mostly shops and restaurants. Check out the historic Hudson Opera House, an 1855 city hall and the state’s oldest surviving theater that was reopened after a full renovation in 2017. Shows are on hold, but there is an art gallery and informal tours offered with masks required.

Walking Tours

Hudson, notable for its many church spires, has historic firehouses and other buildings. Take a self-guided walking tour: geotourist.com.

Olana State Historic Site: Painter Frederic Church studied under Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School whose home is across the river in Catskill. Church built his eclectic Persian-inspired mansion on a hilltop above Hudson. The 250-acre estate’s dramatic grounds are free and open to the public. There are guided grounds tours, and self-guided access to the mansion’s first floor can be added same-day based on availability. Masks and distancing are required.

Where to eat

Grazin’ Diner: Delicious farm-to-table eating in a historic diner. Only interior seating, though state and local pandemic requirements apply.

Rivertown Lodge Tavern: Enjoy a tasty brunch or dinner with exterior seating weather permitting at this hotel and restaurant in a former 1920s movie theater.

Where to stay

The Wick Hotel: This boutique hotel has 55 rooms in an 1860s former candle factory. The restaurant is closed, but complimentary grab-and-go breakfast is offered. Masks required in public spaces.

INFO: Columbia County Tourism, columbiacountytourism.org

Tarrytown, New York

The 19th-century writer Washington Irving played a huge role in putting Tarrytown and nearby villages on the map. His Gothic tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with its terrifying Headless Horseman, the wraith of a Hessian soldier whose head was taken off by a cannonball, still fascinates readers to this day, particularly around Halloween. While a number of historic sights in the area are closed this year due to the pandemic, Tarrytown and its environs, which are quaint with the vestiges of their Dutch colonial past, still offer enough to see to make a visit worthwhile — and spine-tingling.

Things to do

The Historical Society, Inc., serving Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, had limited walking tours available at the time of publication. Face masks and social distancing required.

The historic Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, which appears in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is closed to the public, but the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, also on the National Register of Historic Places, is nearby. The famous sculpture of the Headless Horseman sits near the entrance to the cemetery, where the grave of Washington Irving can be found. While seasonal walking tours are sold out, the 90-acre cemetery with its long list of famous interments, can still be visited and maps are available.

Sunnyside, the romantic cottage-like estate of Washington Irving, located nearby in Irvington, is not open for tours, but grounds passes are available.

Lyndhurst Mansion: In Tarrytown, this castle-like Gothic Revival residence with turrets evoking myriad bone-chilling Gothic novels, is closed for tours, but passes to its 67-acre grounds are available. Social distancing is requested.

This historic 843-seat music hall built in 1885 during the time of Tarrytown’s "Millionaire’s Colony" era is not open for shows but is offering virtual ghost tours for a limited time.

For a change of pace, the Union Church of Pocantico Hills has the resplendent stained glass windows of the European masters Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall. Self-guided tours are available, and visitors must pre-purchase timed tour tickets online. Masks and social distancing required.

Where to eat

Horsefeathers: In the tradition of watering holes designed to court literary geniuses, this restaurant and tavern with book-laden shelves and dark paneled walls serves hearty pub fare to complement a flagon of ale. Exterior seating available.

Where to stay

Castle Hotel & Spa: This "castle" built at the turn of the last century in a style reminiscent of Norman fortification in Wales, Scotland and Ireland has 31 guest rooms and suites, a restaurant and spa. State pandemic protocols are observed.

INFO: Westchester County Tourism, visitwestchesterny.com

Getting There

The Hudson River towns mentioned here are anywhere from 30 to 120 miles north of Manhattan, reachable via the New York State Thruway.

By train, travelers can take Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson Line from Grand Central Station (mta.info/mnr) or Amtrak from New York Penn Station (amtrak.com). On-site car rentals are available at select stations.

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