A Breath of Fresh Air

by Mary Alice Franklin, ArtsNews Editor

With many arts organizations still unable to welcome visitors due to COVID-19 safety concerns, a cultural outing nowadays means a breath of fresh air… literally. According to New York State guidelines, outdoor gatherings of less than 50 people are allowed in “Phase 4” of the state’s reopening process.  Guests will be able to take in the picturesque grounds of historic sites and gardens during carefully operated outdoor tours this fall.


Every year, Hudson Valley natives and tourists alike flock to the Rivertowns when talk of pumpkins, fall foliage and the Headless Horseman resurface once again. Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has become a staple American novel; however, Halloween isn’t the only time of the year to visit his former Sunnyside estate. Although Irving’s eclectic cottage remains closed for the season, tours of Sunnyside’s grounds will be available through September 7. Even literary aficionados may not realize that the landscape, right on the banks of the Hudson River, was designed by Irving himself. 

According to Rob Schweitzer, Vice President, Communications and Commerce at Historic Hudson Valley, which operates the Sunnyside estate: “interpreters [dressed in 19th century garb] are available to provide an introduction to [the site’s] history, Guests are also invited to wander the grounds at their own, relaxed pace.”  Schweitzer says that the estate will be operating with “sharply reduced visitor capacity.”  Advance reservations are required for the two-hour visits, which take place on Fridays through Sundays.

John Jay Homestead

John Jay began developing approximately 750 acres into a farm in 1787, and his descendants lived on the property into the 1950s. During a Historic Landscape Tour at John Jay Homestead, visitors will walk the property to see many features developed by the different generations of the Jay family. The 40-minute tour, offered on Wednesdays through Sundays, will include the gardens in addition to the historic barnyard. According to Bethany White, Interpretive Programs Assistant at John Jay Homestead (JJH), “the landscape is a great way to get acquainted with the history of JJH, as it reveals hundreds of years of history.” This time of year, five gardens are in bloom and foliage creates picture-perfect views. Advanced registration required.

Lyndhurst Mansion

Lyndhurst Mansion is one of Westchester’s cultural gems. Even though the mansion is not yet reopened to visitors, its grounds don’t disappoint. A Daily Grounds Pass offers general admission to the property for the day, while several touring options through September 27 allow visitors to experience the full breadth of what the grounds have to offer. 

The Riverfront Landscape & Bowling Alley Tour will bring visitors along the lower western portion of the landscape, taking visitors “from the veranda…down through a series of rockeries, offering views of the Hudson River and concluding at the restored 19th-century bowling alley.”  Meanwhile, the Rose Garden, Greenhouse & Swimming Pool Tour covers the upper Eastern portion of the property, including the rose and fern gardens and the ruins of the swimming pool building.  Finally, the two-hour Ramble Tour offers a complete overview of Lyndhurst’s historic landscape through a two-mile adventure that “reflects on 180 years of grand estate living on the Hudson River.”

Untermyer Gardens

On varying Sundays ending in late October, a variety of public guided tours will focus on the history and gardens of the historic Untermyer estate. A History Tour highlights the history of the estate from its origin in 1862. According to the tour description, it “emphasizes [the estate’s] world-famous heyday in the Untermyer years, its dramatic decline after 1940, and the remarkable restoration efforts.” Meanwhile, the Gardens Tour includes discussion of the architecture, elements of garden design and identifies numerous plants. Sunset Tours give guests a more leisurely view of the gardens, during which they can take in the sunset from the scenic locale. Last, Stephen F. Byrns, founder and President of the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy, leads a monthly tour that discusses in-depth knowledge of the property, especially the architecture, including the Indo-Persian Walled Garden.

A version of this article first appeared in the September issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNewsis distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

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