Calvert Vaux – the English-born co-designer of Manhattan’s Central Park and Prospect Park in Brooklyn – designed Hoyt House in Staatsburg in 1855. The Dutchess County home was, in its original state, a prime example of mid-19th-century American Picturesque Gothic Revival style “in its most mature, informed and sophisticated phase,” according to historic preservation specialist William Krattinger. Originally known as “The Point” for the finger-shaped piece of land that it occupies, but more commonly known by the name of the only family who ever lived there, the Hoyt House is considered Vaux’s most important application of the Picturesque concept in its integration of landscape and architectural design.
But after its acquisition by the state in the early 1960s, the Hoyt House sat for most of the past half-century ignored and left to the ravages of time, vandalism and indifference. That changed in 2008 when the nonprofit Calvert Vaux Preservation Alliance (CVPA) formed with the mission of preserving Vaux’s architectural and landscape design legacy in the Hudson Valley. And while the organization has a number of Vaux-designed structures on its radar – notably the 1851/52 Newburgh City Club (Culbert House) designed by Vaux and A. J. Downing – it’s the Hoyt House, situated on 92 acres between the Mills Mansion and Norrie Point, that is “front and center” of the CVPA’s mission, says Alan Strauber, president of the nonprofit’s board: “Because it’s such an important work in the body of work of Vaux, and it’s been so in need of help for so long.”
The major news regarding the Hoyt House in recent years was the $1 million restoration project completed early in 2015, which included the entire roof, gutters, chimneys and exterior stonework masonry. The 20th-century kitchen addition that had been dangling from the house was removed and replaced by a restoration of the original masonry. “Pretty much the entire envelope of the house was fortified,” says Strauber. “We had water coming in; that’s been remedied.”
Sources of funding for the project included a grant from the state Environmental Protection Fund, a $320,000 Save America’s Treasures grant matched by an equal amount raised by the CVPA and additional funding from New York Works. The Calvert Vaux Preservation Alliance acts as the official “Friends” group for the house, by agreement with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which owns the property. And despite the legacy of earlier neglect by the state, Strauber says that the current state parks organization is very enthusiastic and supportive of the CVPA’s efforts to develop the site.
Of immediate concern now is the condition of the original front entryway porch. “It’s in rough condition. If it’s not restored soon, we could lose it altogether. And it’s one of the most visible parts of the house when you approach it, so it’s really pretty important to save it.” The cost to reconstruct the porch is estimated at between $500,000 and $750,000. The preservation group has applied for a state grant for the project and is still working on fundraising strategies for the remainder.
The veranda for the house, which wrapped around the building originally, was dismantled years ago. Parts of it are in storage. “We’d like to see that as part of an overall restoration of the house at some point,” Strauber adds, “but the front porch is an urgent need.”
Despite the ever-present obstacles of fundraising, he’s optimistic about the future of the site. “Over the last eight years or so, we’ve made steady progress, but I’ll go so far as to say I have the best feeling about the plans we’re formulating for the house now than anything we’ve talked about in the past.”
Those plans specifically include a series of fully accredited university courses that would take place at the site. Classes would be offered in relevant areas of preservation arts, cultural landscape management, woodworking and metal restoration, with any programs involving the students doing restorative work on the main house. And while the property is far from being completely restored, “The interior of the house is fine to hold people now,” Strauber says. “And the stables are in decent shape. There’s also a five-bay garage that has floor space; we can do programs there as well. I’m really hopeful that we’re going to be in a position to hold programs there next summer .”
And complete restoration of the site “is a matter of subjective judgment,” he adds. “There are always going to be things that can be done. There are greenhouses that can be restored, and we could do some sort of sustainable farming on the grounds. We could certainly go a long way toward restoring Vaux’s original landscape. But considering the property’s location – right smack in the center of the Hudson River Valley historic district and the enormous tourism activity here – we’d like to see the Hoyt House brought up to speed to play a major role in all of that. I don’t see any reason why, once we’ve gotten further down the road on work to be done, that it couldn’t become a destination point.”
More information about the restoration project is available at www.calvertvaux.org. Updates will be posted at www.facebook.com/calvert-vaux-preservation-alliance.