Discovering the Historic and Culinary Treasures of Dutchess County, New York, USA
Written by Debra C. Argen   

Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, New YorkDutchess County conveniently located 90 minutes north of New York City, and 90 minutes south of Albany, the state capitol of New York, offers visitors a wide range of culinary and historic attractions including The Culinary Institute of America, the former homes of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, and examples of Gilded Age splendor in the Vanderbilt Mansion, Mills Mansion, and Locust Grove. Combined with year-round activities, Dutchess County is waiting for you to discover all it has to offer.

In November 2009, Edward and I set out to discover Dutchess County the birthplace of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and home of The Culinary Institute of America one of the most renowned culinary schools in the world.

With our passion for all things culinary, when we heard about the two-day intensive Holiday Boot Camp at The Culinary Institute of America we eagerly registered to attend this prestigious school whose many illustrious alumni include Rocco DiSpirito, Todd English, Sara Moulton, and Enrique Olvera Figueras to name but a few.

The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York
The Culinary Institute of America Campus

Michael Skibitcky, C.E.C, C.H.E., Assistant Professor in Culinary Arts put us through our culinary paces as we learned to create new recipes and learned many techniques including poultry "boning out," butterflying, quartering; stuffing and rolling a turkey roulade, making a terrine, and frenching a lamb rack.

The Boot Camp not only helps students to develop new skills and confidence levels, it also fosters a sense of camaraderie among fellow classmates, as lunch is what you create in class, and after two days of intense instruction, we came away with lasting skills, new friends, and did not even need to wash the dishes!

Edward Nesta, Chef Michael Skibitcky, Debra Argen at the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York
Edward, Chef Michael, Debra

As part of our Boot Camp tuition we also had two excellent dinners in their award-winning restaurants that are also open to the public, American Bounty, which features regional American cuisine, and Escoffier Restaurant, which features French cuisine, where students prepare and serve the food as part of their degree requirements under the watchful eyes of their instructors.

Two of the highlights of our dinner at American Bounty included Slowly Simmered Beef Short Ribs with Soft Polenta, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Mascarpone; and Maine Lobster "Burgoo" with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Autumn Vegetables, and Carrot Froth.

American Bounty Restaurant, The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York - Beef Short Ribs
Beef Short Ribs

Two of the highlights of our dinner at Escoffier Restaurant included Côtelette de Marcassin, Champignons des Bois, Gratin Dauphinois (Wild Boar Center Cut Chop, Seasonal Mushrooms, and Au Gratin Potatoes); and Homard Thermidor (Gratine of Lobster in its Shell).

Escoffier Restaurant, The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York - Wild Boar
Wild Boar

In addition to their professional career culinary curriculum, The Culinary Institute of America offers a diverse curriculum of Two-Day, Three-Day, Four-Day, and Five-Day Boot Camps, as well as Weekends at the CIA: 1-day cooking classes held on Saturday or Sunday. In addition to the Hyde Park, New York location, The Culinary Institute of America also has locations in St. Helena, California, and San Antonio, Texas.

For additional information and program schedules, or to make a reservation at one of their award-winning restaurants, please visit The Culinary Institute of America website at or call them at 1-800-888-7850.

Read about The Culinary Institute of America in the Gastronomy, Restaurants, and Chefs' Recipes sections.

The Culinary Institute of AmericaThe Culinary Institute of America
1946 Campus Drive
Hyde Park, NY 12538
United States
Telephone:                 +1-845-452-2230
Toll Free Telephone:  +1-800-888-7850
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As The Culinary Institute of America does not have accommodations for Boot Camp students, we stayed at the 200-room Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel, which was conveniently located to explore the area's many attractions and only a 7-minute drive from the school.

The Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel Reception Desk
Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel Reception Desk

Our spacious guestroom featured a four-poster king bed attractively dressed that was flanked by nightstands, there was a large desk and chair, a round table with comfortable chair, a large television graced a long chest of drawers, and discretely hidden inside an armoire there was a microwave and mini-refrigerator.

The bathroom featured a combination tub and shower, and the ample vanity held a selection of amenities as well as a coffeemaker and a hairdryer. The large closet held extra pillows, robes, and an iron and ironing board.

The Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel Lobby
Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel Welcoming Lobby

The Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel has thoughtful guest amenities that include complimentary guest parking in the covered parking garage, complimentary breakfast buffet with a large selection of hot and cold items, as well as an omelet station where a chef creates made to order omelets, complimentary wireless Internet, and a Business Center that was perfect for quickly checking our email after a long day of school at The Culinary Institute of America.

Read about the Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel in the Hotels and Resorts section.

Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel, Hyde Park, New YorkPoughkeepsie Grand Hotel
40 Civic Center Plaza
Poughkeepsie, New York 12601
United States
Telephone:         +1-845-485-5300
Toll-Free:           +1-800-216-1034
Fax:                   +1-845-485-4720
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We continued our discovery in the historic town of Hyde Park, population 20, 851, settled in 1742, the birthplace of Franklin D. Roosevelt the 32nd President of the United States, and the only President to serve 4 terms.

Welcome to Hyde Park, New York
Welcome to Hyde Park

Mrs. Pat Rolff Conducting Tour at FDR Home, Hyde Park, New YorkWe visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, where our docent, Mrs. Pat Rolff who celebrated her 10th anniversary at the museum, brought history to life as we toured President Roosevelt's home, Springwood. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, known as FDR, was born at Springwood in 1882 to James Roosevelt, Sr. (died in 1900) and Sara Ann Delano Roosevelt (died in 1941), and married his 5th cousin, (Anna) Eleanor Roosevelt (born in 1884) in 1905. Throughout his lifetime he lived at Springwood with his mother Sara, his wife Eleanor, and the couple's 5 children. When FDR died in 1945, he was buried at Springwood, as was Eleanor, who died in 1962. When asked what he thought was his greatest accomplishment during his presidency, he replied, the creation of Social Security.

The home has grand proportions including the impressive Library, Dresden Room, which Sara called her "Music Room," Dining Room, and Birth Room where FDR was born. The house also reveals FDR's sense of humor with its framed political cartoons poking fun at the British. Although his mother Sara had requested FDR to remove the cartoons before the King and Queen of England's visit, the cartoons remained, and when the King saw the cartoons on the wall, it is said that he remarked, ... you have a fine collection Franklin, but not as extensive as mine.

Springwood, Hyde Park, New York
Springwood, Hyde Park, New York

The Museum is open November through March from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm, April through October from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm, and is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. The New Deal Museum Store, located in the Henry A. Wallace Visitor and Education Center, is open daily and closes thirty minutes after the Museum. Visit their website or call them re: special events. The FDR Home, Museum, and Visitor Center are wheelchair accessible. Admission is charged. The Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt Guided Tour also includes admission to the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. Adults: $14.00 - Ticket valid for 2 days, Children 15 years and under: free. The extensive grounds and Rose Garden and Burial Site are free and open from dawn to dusk.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Musuem, Hyde Park, New York

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
4079 Albany Post Road, Rt. 9
Hyde Park, New York 12538
United States
Telephone:       +1-800-FDR-VISIT
Telephone:       +1-845-486-7777

We also visited the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, Val-Kill, the Roosevelt's weekend retreat. Eleanor Roosevelt, called the "First Lady to the World" was a "journalist, diplomat, activist, and a force in the Democratic Party." When she entered the White House in 1933, it was during the Great Depression and she was determined to make a difference in the lives of Americans.

In 1946 after President Roosevelt's death, President Woodrow Wilson enlisted Eleanor as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. She thrived in this role, and later went on as a "good will ambassador" traveling the world. Her story is inspiring and the tour highlights her life and provides insight into this intriguing woman.

Val-Kill Cottage, Eleanor Roosevelt Historic Site, Hyde Park, New York
Val-Kill Cottage

The Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site is open daily May through October from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm. The site is open November through April with a limited number of scheduled tours. The tours at Val-Kill are only given at 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm.  The museum is closed Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Admission is charged for the Guided Tour. Adults: $8, Children 15 and under: Free. The grounds are open daily year-round from sunrise to sunset and there is free access.

Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site
Rt. 9G, Hyde Park, New York 12538
United States
Telephone:       +1-845-229-9115

Hyde Park, with its close proximity to New York City, attracted wealthy industrialists and philanthropists who built summer homes there along the Hudson River, including Frederick William Vanderbilt. The Vanderbilt Mansion, located on 211-acres, was built between 1896 and 1898 by the renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White in the Beaux Arts style for Frederick and his wife, Louise. The impressive Indiana limestone mansion is an opulent display of wealth and style of the Gilded Age.

Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, New York
Vanderbilt Mansion

Although certainly impressive, Frederick's mansion of 54-rooms is modest when compared to the size of other Vanderbilt family mansions including that of his brother George Washington Vanderbilt's 250-room Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, the largest privately owned residence in the United States, Cornelius Vanderbilt's mansion The Breakers which has 70-rooms, and William K. Vanderbilt's Marble House, both located in Newport, Rhode Island.

Frederick's marriage to Louise Anthony Torrance was not initially accepted by the family who deemed her an inappropriate choice as the wife of the grandson of Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt and the son of William Henry Vanderbilt, both the richest men in America in their time, as she was not only divorced from one of his cousins, but she was also 12 years older than him. Although he did not have his family's blessing to marry Louise, Frederick followed his heart and married her anyways, and despite the fact that upon his father's death he inherited the least amount of money of his siblings, he increased his $10 million inheritance to $70 million at the time of his death.

The house was built in 26 months and is splendidly lavish; the Entrance Hall features a commanding fireplace with almost life-size figures on either side, a marble mosaic floor, and sumptuous furnishings; the house has 22 fireplaces, although only 3 of them were ever used, as Frederick and Louise would usually only spend spring and autumn here, and would spend the rest of their time at one of their many homes in New York City, Newport, Bar Harbor, Maine, or travel on their yacht to Europe.

The dining room features an intricate wood ceiling that was purchased from a mansion in Europe, dismantled, shipped to the United States and then reassembled, gold sconces grace the walls, and the room also has an ornately carved fireplace. Architecturally interesting, visiting the Vanderbilt mansion requires that you notice not only the larger details, but the smaller ones as well.

Frederick and Louise lived life on a grand scale, and their bedrooms indicate their royal leanings. Frederick's bedroom is darkly masculine with expensive tapestries stretched to cover the walls, a gold crown embellishes the royal red velvet hanging behind the intricately carved wood bed which features an ornately carved half tester wood canopy, with columns on either side of the bed.

Louise's spacious and feminine bedroom features antiqued sage green walls accessorized with inset paintings in gold frames, a half tester canopy over the bed, and a very unusual birthing rail around the bed as was the custom for European royalty, for which the Vanderbilt's patterned their decor. The birthing railing was to maintain distance between the ladies in waiting and the others in attendance during royal births, although Louise and Frederick did not have children.

Louise died in 1926, and when Frederick died 12 years later in 1938, his will included 57 people, none of which included the Vanderbilt family as the family did not like Louise, and Frederick thought that the family would squander the money. Of those listed in the will, 53 of them were servants whose inheritance was based on the number of years that they were employed by the Vanderbilts, and Louise's niece, Margaret Van Alen, was also listed in the will, and it was she who inherited the estate. She tried to sell the house in 1938 as she already had a home in Newport, however this was during the Depression, and at $350,000 there were no takers. By 1939, the price had dropped to $250,000 for the land and still no one was interested. In 1940 she donated the 211-acre estate to The National Parks, and since 1940, the house has remained open to the public.

As we were leaving the Vanderbilt Mansion we experienced a glorious sunset over the Hudson River with the surrounding hills dramatically silhouetted against the bright pink and orange streaked sky, which was a perfect ending to our visit.

Sunset from the Vanderbilt Mansion
Sunset Over the Hudson River

The Vanderbilt Mansion is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm by Guided Tour only. The last tour of the day is at 4:00 pm. From November through March tours of the Vanderbilt Mansion are limited, call ahead to confirm times. The Mansion is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Admission is charged for the Vanderbilt Mansion Guided Tour. Adults: $8, Children 15 and under: Free. The grounds open daily year-round from sunrise to sunset and there is free access.

Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site
Route 9
Hyde Park, New York 12538
United States
Telephone:       +1-845-229-7770

North of Hyde Park is the tiny hamlet of Staatsburgh, population 911, where we visited the Staatsburg State Historic Site and the Mills Mansion, which was the former Fall home of Ogden Mills and his wife Ruth Livingstone Mills. Built in 1895, the 79-room Beaux Arts style mansion was designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White.

Mills Mansion, Staasburg, New York
Mills Mansion

We were very fortunate to have a tour of the Gilded Age mansion by docent Marilyn Holst who has worked at the museum since it opened 25 years ago, and she provided us with a fascinating tour that not only included the facts of the house, but also included interesting details about the Mills family that gave us an insider's view into their lives. During our visit the impressive mansion was being decorated for the Christmas season, and the house looked stunning.

The history of the Mills family and the mansion is definitely interesting; Ogden Mills was the son of the wealthy financier Darius Ogden Mills, and Ruth Livingstone Mills was a member of the prominent Livingstone family who were Hudson Valley landowners since the 17th century. Ruth married Ogden Mills in 1882, and 9 years later inherited the 25-room Greek revival home, and in 1895, Ogden and Ruth commissioned the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White to remodel and enlarge the Greek revival house into a Beaux Arts mansion consisting of 65 rooms and 14 bathrooms. Note that this was their home for use primarily in the autumn, as the rest of the year the Mills family would occupy one of their many homes in New York City, Paris, Newport, or Millbrae, California. Ruth Livingstone Mills died in 1920, passing the property on to her husband Ogden who died in 1929. The couple's son, Ogden Livingstone Mills owned the property until his death in 1937, and when his sister Gladys Mills Phipps inherited the property she gifted the property to the state to be opened as a museum.

Mills Mansion, Staasburg, New York - Christmas Tree
Christmas at Mills Mansion

The lifestyle of the Mills family was one of extravagance notable of the Gilded Age, and they had 25 servants working inside the mansions, (19 of which would travel with them), and 120 personnel who maintained the grounds, greenhouse, and the farm. An interesting note is that it is rumored that the setting of Edith Wharton's 1905 novel, The House of Mirth, is the Mills mansion, although it was never proven.

The house is richly decorated with 17th to the 20th century European furnishings, the proportions are magnificent, The Library measures 30 feet x 15 feet x 18 feet and is exquisite with wood walls and a specially built 85 key Steinway piano.

Mills Mansion, Staasburg, New York - 85 key Steinway Piano
85 Key Steinway Piano

The dining room also measures 30 feet x 15 feet x 18 feet and has an ornate oval ceiling embellished with gilt, Belgian tapestries grace the walls, furnishings include a large dining table and marble topped ornate gold side tables.

Ruth Livingstone Mills' bedroom measures 28 feet x 30 feet x 18 feet and is invitingly feminine with its sparkling crystal chandelier, ornate white plasterwork ceiling, raspberry pink fabric walls, half tester canopy over the bed accessorized with a velvet dress, matching fabric settee placed in one corner of the room, a chaise on the opposite side of the room, a tall white and gold mirror hangs over the white marble fireplace, and an ornate gilded mirror hangs over the matching fabric vanity accessorized with gloves, jewelry, and hairpins, that look as if Ruth might waltz in at any moment. By contrast, Ogden Mills' bedroom is not only smaller, it has much simpler décor, and the white walls with picture frame molding are hung with gilt frame paintings over the red marble fireplace where an ivory bust and tall candelabra grace the mantelpiece.

Ruth Livingstone Mills bedroom - Mills Mansion, Staasburg, New York Ogden Mills bedroom - Mills Mansion, Staasburg, New York
Ruth Livingstone Mills Bedroom and Ogden Mills Bedroom

The Drawing Room features light green walls embellished with picture frame molding, a collection of Chinese, Japanese, and Greek vessels, and interestingly has two fireplaces, one was original to the house, and the second was added when the house was enlarged in 1895.

A visit to the Mills Mansion is like taking a luxurious step back in time to the Gilded Age, when life was decadently excessive before the days of income tax. There are special events held throughout the year; please visit their website or call for details.

Mills Mansion, Staasburg, New York - Children's Christmas Tree
Children's Christmas Tree at Mills Mansion

The Mills Mansion, Staatsburg State Historic Site is open April 1 until October 31 from Tuesday until Saturday from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm, and Sunday from 12:00 pm until 5:00 pm. There are special hours during the month of December. Check their website or call for details. From January 1 until March 31, the mansion is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 am until 4:00 pm. It is advisable to check their website or call before visiting, as hours and opening days may change. Tours of the mansion are partially accessible to those with limited mobility. Admission is charged. Adults: $5.00, Senior Citizens, Students and Groups: $4.00, Children 12 and under: Free.

State Historic Site
Old Post Road
P.O. Box 308
Staatsburg, New York 12580
United States
Telephone:       +1-845-889-8851

South of Hyde Park is the city of Poughkeepsie, settled in 1659, population 29,871, where we visited the 180-acre Gilded Age Italianate villa Locust Grove completed in 1852 for artist and inventor Samuel F.B. Morse "the inventor of the century", and later purchased in 1901 by a prominent Poughkeepsie man, William Young for his family, after he had rented the home for 6 years. Mr. Young died in 1909, his wife Martha died in 1946 at the age of 90, his son Innis died in 1953 at the age of 66, and his daughter Annette inherited the property. Neither Innis nor Annette married, and Annette lived in the house until she died in 1975 at the age of 90, and had made provisions to trust the home to become a museum. As such, the household inventory remains intact, and provides incredible insight into the period.

Locust Grove - The Samuel Morse Historic Site, Hyde Park, New York
Locust Grove

The home is gracious with octagonal wings, and entering the foyer there are a pair of Chippendale (1760 - 1780) mahogany chairs along one wall, and a pair of Queen Anne (1740 - 1760) chairs on the opposite wall. Paintings from the Hudson River School grace the walls, as well as other important paintings and two photographs of Morse taken by Civil War Photographer, Brady, who learned the art of photography from Morse himself, and Chinese copper and glazed temple bells hang in the corner of the foyer that the Young butler would use to call guests to dinner.

The Young family modernized the house in 1901 adding gas and steam heat, and in 1906 electrified the house. They added a larger dining room where portraits of William and Martha grace the walls, decorative shelving holds Martha's collection of pewter as well as ceramic transferware, Tiffany silver graces a sideboard, and there is a Federal style fireplace. The elegant dining table is flanked with mahogany chairs with music designs and is graciously set for 10 with Meissen china and silver candelabras.

Each room of the house is enchanting from a decorative and architectural standpoint including the Tuscan tower, as well as the lovely technology details including the Servant Call Boxes which have cards that would fall down with the press of a button to notify which room required service, the intercom, and in the laundry room note the specialized curved iron with ridges that was used to iron ruffles. I also found the Reception room set for Afternoon Tea interesting, as it had a curved silver tea screen, which the butler would place in front of the guest before pouring tea so that tea would not splatter on the guest. Locust Grove has so much to offer visitors and must be experienced to be fully appreciated.

View from Porte Cochere at Locust Grove - The Samuel Morse Historic Site, Hyde Park, New York
Locust Grove Porte Cochere

Locust Grove has special events throughout the year including their Sunset Sensations Wine and Food Sampling Series held on the Second Thursday of the month from May until November from 5:30 pm until 7:30 pm. Call or check their website for special events. House Tours are conducted daily from April 1st through November at 10:15 am, 11:30 am, 12:45 pm, 2:00 pm, and 3:15 pm for individual walk-in tours, group tours are by appointment. Call Locust Grove for their December hours.

The Visitor Center and Mansion is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, and Easter. Admission is charged. Adults: $10, Youths 6-18: $6, and includes Orientation Video, Guided Mansion Tour, and Morse Exhibit. For Orientation Video and Morse Exhibit Only: Adults: $6, Youths 18 Years and Under: Free. Call for Group Tour admission fees. The gardens and grounds are open year-round from 8:00 am until dusk, weather permitting, and there is free access.

Locust Grove - The Samuel Morse Historic Site, Hyde Park, New York

Locust Grove, The Samuel Morse Historic Site
2683 South Road, Route 9
Poughkeepsie, New York 12601
United States
Telephone:       +1-845-454-4500

South of Poughkeepsie is the village of Wappingers Falls, population 4,929, founded in 1659 and incorporated in 1871, and is the home of the 1752 Historic Joseph Horton House owned by John and Cynthia Vergilii, who purchased the historic property in 2007.

The Dutch Colonial Joseph Horton House is interesting for many reasons, the first is that it was built prior to the Revolutionary War by the Horton brothers who were carpenters and who lived in the house until 1795, and second, John and Cynthia bring history to life in a fun and educational manner. On the night that we visited the Joseph Horton House, nicknamed "Old Hundred," we were warmly greeted at the door by the couple wearing reproduction period clothing.

Although there are many interesting antiques in the home, what I found to be very interesting was the story of the clay pipes. When I asked about the different sizes of clay pipes that they had on display, John explained that when a clay pipe would be passed down from one generation to the next, the end of the pipe would be broken off for sanitary reasons and the small piece that was broken off would later be used as hair rollers.

John Vegilii of the Joseph Horton House - Showing Clay Pipes
John Vergilii with Clay Pipe 

After a tour of the charming house, we sat in the cozy dining room at the long wood table where the walls are accessorized with antiques, chatting with John and Cynthia and enjoying a pot of steaming tea in china teacups and Cynthia's warm and delicious scones fresh from the oven made with cranberries and white chocolate accompanied by clotted cream and preserves.

John and Cynthia Vergilii at the Joseph Horton House
John and Cynthia Vergilii

For John, a former opera singer, and Cynthia, a former interior decorator, owning Horton House allows them to use their creativity as they welcome visitors to their home and provide them with a look at Dutch Colonial life complete with song and authentic Dutch cuisine. Since opening their home on a reservation basis, they have entertained all ages from school trips to the Red Hat Society.

Old Hundred - 1752 Joseph Horton House
1752 Historic Joseph Horton House
"Old Hundred"

Horton House has High Tea Luncheons on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 12:00 pm, and has special events throughout the year including cooking classes. Visit their website or call them to check program schedules, and availability.

The Historic Joseph Horton House

1752 Historic Joseph Horton House
John and Cynthia Vergilii
1540 Route 376
Wappingers Falls, New York 12590
United States
Telephone:      +1-845-849-1512
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Dutchess Country Tourism, New YorkDutchess County with its close proximity to New York City and Albany provides visitors with much to discover in any season and is waiting for your visit. Please read other articles on Dutchess County in the Hotels and Resorts, Gastronomy, Restaurants, and Chefs' Recipes sections.

For information on Dutchess County, please visit the website:, or call them at: +1-845-463-4000 or Toll-free in the United States at 1-800-445-3131.

© December 2009. Luxury Experience. All rights reserved.