This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Whoever has not seen the country seats on the upper side of the Hudson, knows nothing of the finest specimens of rural residences in America. There are in the neighborhood of Boston, many beautiful villas and cottages, designed in admirable taste and kept in the highest order, that are indeed admirable in every respect; but they, like more solitary specimens of the same kind, in the environs of many of our cities, are only suburban residences of a few acres. There are, in various parts of the country, many gentlemen's large seats, well laid out, with lawns, pleasure grounds and gardens, in a simple and unpretending manner, highly creditable to the possessors. But nowhere in America, are there to be found country residences, where nature has done so much to assist man in his attempts to create a beautiful home, as in what may be called the upper terrace of the Hudson. This includes a hill of land on the eastern shore, extending from Hyde Park to Hudson city, a distance of about 50 miles.
Messina, a Country Beat on the Hndson.
The peculiar advantages of this part of the river are these: First, the finest mountain and river views in the country - the river being the Hudson, in its loveliest portion-sometimes two or three miles wide - indented in outline, and varied by numerous islands; the mountains being the Catskills - their highest summit 3,000 feet high - near enough to give a character of grandeur to the scene, and distant enough to possess that blue haze of atmospheric distance, which makes a mountain a bit of poetry, instead of a bare reality of rocks and trees in the landscape. Second, they have the advantage of having been held as country seats since the first settlement of the river - with much of the fine natural beauties of wood and water preserved and heightened by the fostering spirit of taste, rather than despoiled by the avaricious spirit of the mere tiller of the soil.
For Almost the entire distance of this fifty miles, the east bank of the Hudson is one line of country seats - varying in extent from fifty to 500 or 600 acres. Instead of haying the same general features of interest and beauty, nothing is more striking to the picturesque tourist, than the highly varied character of these places. Every mile seems to pre-sent new groupings of headland and foreground, some new combinations of wood, water, and mountain - so that no one who has seen one or two places, can imagine with certainty what will be the aspect and picturesque character of the next residence. The enchanting beauty of the Hudson itself is varied and heightened too by its peculiar life and animation. Snowy sails, sometimes singly in calms, and sometimes floating along in the light breezes like troops of white swans; swift steamers freighted with throngs of busy and curious people; huge clusters of freight barges, loaded down with the produce of whole counties; and finally, stealing along under the high wooded banks, the river railway, whose trains fly along between the commercial and political capitals of the state at the rate of 30 to 50 miles an hour - all of these gives to these finest seats on the Hudson a completeness of interest which, the traveller looks in vain for anywhere else in America.
Among the finest of these residences, Montgomery Place, Blithe wood, Ellerslie, Hyde Park and others, have been already described, and some of them illustrated in various other works of ours. Persons wishing to see the finest specimens of landscape gardening in the country, naturally go to these places, to study them as the best examples of the art, and there are few places, out of England, where the lover of embellished home scenery, can find so much gratification and instruction.
About the center of this upper terrace, lies Messina, the seat of the late John R. Livingston, Esq., a sketch of which we present in our frontispiece this month. This house is one of the noblest in its proportions on the whole river, and is worth an examination as a specimen of a first class mansion in the country. It was built by Mr. Livingston, after his return from France, some years ago. He was so much pleased while there, with the residence of Beaumarchais, near Paris, that he determined to model his own home upon it. This accounts for the air of a French Chateau, which we discover in some of its features. The design was, however, really drawn by an English architect, Brunei, the celebrated architect of the Thames tunnel - who came out to this country and erected two or three residences for different members of the Livingston family. The plan of the interior is spacious and elegant - the rooms large and finely proportioned, uniting some of the best features of both the English and French residences.
Finely varied and extensive grounds surround the mansion at Messina. There is an abundance of foliage and fine old trees, the scenery is beautiful and the neighborhood most picturesque and interesting. Though not at present in the high condition of some of the places we have just mentioned, (owing to the want of personal interest, consequent upon the declining health of the late proprietor,) it could readily, in the hands of a person of taste and fortune, be restored to its former high keeping. As it is but rarely one of these first class residences are to be obtained, we believe we shall render a service to some of our numerous readers who are annually settling in the country, by drawing their attention to a site that has long been considered one of the best in the Union.
I never passed up or down the Hudson on a pleasant day, and gazed on the magnificence of its scenery, and the grand old homesteads of its ancient land-holders, but I found myself mentally breaking into the soul-stirring lyric of Lord Btron,ui Don Juan:
"The mountains look on Marathon - And Marathon look* ou the tea;" with the transposition of a word or two, so graphically does the description apply to these noble houses. Nor can Childe Harold's glowing Rhapsody to the Rhine, exceed in truth what may as well be said of the scenery along the Hudson:
" The castled crag of Drachenfols
Frowns o'er the wide and winding Rhine, Whose breast of waters broadly swells
Between the banks that bear the Tine, And bills all rich with blossomed trees,
And fields which promise corn and wine, A lid scattered cities crowning these,
Whose for white walls along them shine.
The river nobly foams and flows,
The charm of this enchanted ground, And all its thoumud tarns disclose
Some fresher beauty varying round".
In fifty years from this, what river in the universe will equal the Hudson, in its features of mountain, wood, and park, and lawn, and house and water, every where scattered along its borders, and each enjoying its own peculiar point of sight and beauty? And yet, most of the foreign tourists, who come here to make books about us and our country, cannot discover anything remarkable in the scenery of the Hudson !
Messina is a grand house, - dignified, rich, and spacious; worth a score'of the modern Gothic and castellated gimcracks now getting to be so common, and built at a cost of double the money. I wish yon had inserted the ground plan and in-door accommodation as well, and then we could get a full idea of its character.