Wednesday, August 21, 1996


Notes on Clermont, the Livingston's mansion

The Hudson River Valley is a whole world of American pre- and post-revolutionary American history. Towards Albany, it is made up of the original Dutch grants to Killiam van Rensellaer, encompassing 500,000 acres of the present Rensellaer and Columbia Counties, an some 160,000 acres granted to Lord Livingston by Queen Anne in 17xx, in Columbia and Dutchess Counties.

The Livingstons, seven generations of them (1728-1962) have the Clermont historic site in Germantown to attest to their presence. The 13,000 acres were inherited by Robert R. Livingston (1688-1755) from the founder Robert (1654-1728), the first Lord of the Manor, who had 10 children and property beyond the original grant from the dowry in marrying a Rensellaer, xxx. The founder orifinally aquired the grant by buying two 100acre properties from the Indians, then asked the Crown for a grant for the above, plus the lands "connecting them." His son, the Judge of the Admiralty and Supreme courts of the Province, Robert R. Livingston (1718-1775) married Margaret Beekman and added her heritage, immense acreage in Dutchess and Ulster Counties, to the estate. their son the famous Chancellor (highest legal officer of the state) R.R.Livingston (1746-1813), was one of the five drafters of the Declaration of Independence, the first US Minister of Foreigh Affairs (Secretary of State), swore in President Washington in 1889, and was President Jefferson's Minister to France (1801-1804), where he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of this country.

The British burned down the original Georgian family home, Clermont ("clear mountain"), built and enlarged between 1730 and 1750. His mother Margaret Beekman Livingston, lived through the British arson of the familt home, rebuilt it in 1779-1782 and created the gardens,

Chancellor Livingston built a nwe elaborate mansion, which burnt down in 1909, and developed Clermont as an agricultural showplace, experimenting in breeding sheep and increasing crop yields. He was Robert Fulton's partner in developing the steamboat Clermont, which revolutionized navigation.

The Chancellor willed Clermont estae to his elder daughter. Her son????
Edward P. Livingston (1779-1843) expanded the gardens,in the 1820s.The wife of the last heir John Henry Livingston (1848-1927) who remodeled the old house as a Colonial revival, Alice Delafield Clarkson L. (died 1964), added four formal gardens, the South Spring Garden in 1909 (now ground cover and flowering shrubs), the Italianate Walled Garden, influenced by the family's Florentine gardens (1923-26), has spruce and mixed borders of perennials, dotted with statuary and wrought iron gates. The English Wilderness Garden intersected by a stream, has a pond. Her Cutting (Upper) garden on the site of the estate's old vegetable garden, with irises, peonies and rosebushes, is adjoined by a playhouse, a greenhouse and a potting shed, now in need of restoration.

In 1962 the state acquired by deed most of Clermont from Alice Livingston and restoration of the gardens on the 485 acre historic site began. Daughter Honoria Livingston McVitty gave 71 acres more in 1991. Clermont was declaed a US National Historic Landmark in 1973.

Stuart's Washington, the dashing Jax by Sully(what?)

Tuesday, August 13, 1996


A Perfect Sunday in Amagansett

LOOKING AHEAD by Wally Dobelis

The perfect Amagansett Sunday starts with the sunshine waking me up, to sit outside on the deck in the morning coolness. The pool below looks inviting, but I am waiting for our host Paul and his three-year old daughter, Sara, both light sleepers, to drive down to the Farmers Market for the household's morning supply of bagels and buns. The Market is a long low white shed, selling breakfasts, fresh and prepared food, flowers and mountains of the Sunday Times. We get in line with the crowd of early risers, most dressed in white tennis clothes, who wait without fidgeting while the smiling Polish muffin server patiently listens to every child's morning desires. Nobody fusses, all the A types bond in patience, making funny comments about the other server, a stern-spoken blonde who is slowly setting up her side of the counter.

When she is good and ready, she orders the line to split. We get our reward for shopping, coffee and huge chocolate muffins, and amble down the lawn on right side of the market, toward the spreading cornfields and the big flower patches, where you can cut your own bouquet (these wonderful fields of flowers are a major industry in the Hamptons). The wicker chairs on top of the slope with the panoramic rural views are taken, and we settle on the wooden benches near patches of Cosmos and giant blackeyed Susans, and have a leisurely conversation about kids. Last year there was a tractor on the meadow for the children to climb aboard and manipulate the gears; this year a child-size toolshed house with a mansard roof and mullioned windows has taken its place, and a little girl has claimed possession, against the wishes of her younger brother and Mom, who wants both kids to come along.

After a leisurely return to the house and another cup of coffee with the families we pack up the Sunday Times and drive down to the ocean shore in Paul's car which has the proper stickers. The beach is wide and the white sand is clean. It is a good walking beach, you can go for miles, having intimate conversations, with terns and sandpipers as neighbors. It is as good as the beach at Jekyll Island in Georgia, where wings of pelicans flying in formation pass you time and again, almost touching the crests of the wawes; or Jensen Beach on Hutchinson Island, Port St. Lucie, Florida, or Kaanapali Beach on Maui, leading halfway to the old whaling town of Lahaina. The best of all walking beaches was on Fire Island, where we had a group house on Kismet decades ago. A few of us would get up early of a May morning, bundled up except for bare feet, and walk the beach, past Dunewood, Lonelyville, Robin's Nest and the houses destroyed by the ocean. On the way back we would cross inland to Saltaire and buy a whole large fish brought in by a local fisherman, to be wrapped in aluminum foil and broiled on the charcoal potbelly grill that night (no gas then). We were young and a six-mile morning hike was easy.

The Atlantic at Amagansett is pleasant and swimmable, once you wade past the shoreside breakers. I do the water exercises learned at the New York Health and Racquet Club, slightly apprehensive of any relics from the TWA 800 flight that Paul had warned us about. Lunch is chicken and ices from the Beach Shack, and we get back to the house in time for a nap, drinks while resting on solid wooden poolside lounges carved by a French sculptor, and a leisurely early dinner, after which we drive up Abraham's Lane, to the bayside beach, Louse Bay, to observe sunset with the other local traditionalists, all gathered in small clutches. There is an osprey nest on top of a dry tree, with a lone bird sitting above it, bay plums holding down the dunes, and Gardiner's Island is visible in the far distance. We wade and skip stones with Sammy, who is six, while Sara is entertained by an old fisherman in rolled white trousers, who continues to surfcast into the dusk as we leave the shore. We are going back to the city Monday morning, and the evening is still ours.

Our pilgrimage to Paul and Peggy's house is a pleasant relief from the city bustle, and from the chores associated with gardening and lawn care at our upstate getaway. We time it before the tomatoes start coming in and the blueberries and peaches are canned. Amagansett is relaxed, and the natives hold the bustle of East Hampton's Georgica Pond in contempt. There are still lots of woods and huge properties and privacy. Three big estates, called Kitchen, Pantry and Larder, are rumored to be old Rockefeller holdings. Peter Mayles, the Riviera and cooking expert (Toujours Provence, A Year in Provence, Acquired Tastes), has sold his French property and bought a house in Amagansett, and we may begin to hear more about the area from this perceptive observer.
The area was discovered by Adriaen Block in 1614, sailing the 14-ton Onrust (Restless), stated to be the first decked vessel built in North America. Verrazano may have sighted the land in 1524. Lt. Lion Gardiner, who had built a fort for the Lords Say and Brook in Connecticut, across the Long Island Sound, obtained a grant of 3,500 acres in 1635, confirmed by Sachem Wyandanch of the Montauks, whom Gardiner aided in fighting the Pequot raiders.The family became Lords of the Manor (1639-1788). Gov. Winthrop sent some settlers over from Lynn in 1640, and started Southampton, with Water Mill to mill grain for the settlers in 1644. Capt. William Kidd of New York, a privateer turned rogue, commissioned by King William III in 1696 to harass the Madagascar pirates and other enemies, may have buried his treasures on the third Lord of the Manor John Lyon Gardiner's island before surrendering to the authorities - he was hung by the neck in 1701 in London, for murder, some say unjustly. Pirate treasure hunters have been tracking the fortune for three centuries.

Nearby Sag Harbor was a rousing whaling town in the 1600s, and in 1789 President G. Washington signed an act declaring two ports of entry for the US - New York and Sag Harbor. That's where Melville's Queequeg came to learn Christian ways and became disenchanted with the practitioners. J.F.Cooper bought and outfitted a whaling ship in Sag Harbor in 1818, described in his Sea Lions (New York, 1849).
East Hampton was rural. In the 1870s Stanford White and Augustus St. Gaudens of the Tile Club moved in, as did Jackson Pollock (Springs area), Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning in the mid-1940s.
Amagansett was cattle country, and Montauk further East was undeveloped, except for the Montauk Lighthouse President Washington authorized in 1790. The farmers drowe their cows towards Montauk in the Spring and collected them later. The cattle and sheep herders lived in common houses, which explains the Second House Road one passes while heading for the lighthouse on Route 27. In the 1920s Carl G. Fisher, the developer of Miami Beach, built Montauk Manor, now a condo colony, as New York's vacation retreat. Now Montauk is rich in second-homes and vacation facilities, and Gosman's Dock, at the West end of the island, has popular restaurants and shops to rival any small resort.

As for the dreaded Long Island Expressway, it was not bad. You have a choice of exits 69 to 72 tto get to Rt. 27, the only access road to East End, and it turns single lane someplace around Southampton and becomes slow, through Amagansett, then speeds up towards Montauk. You have to have patience to sit in a car if you want to enjoy a Gosman's waterside Fra Diavolo while watching fishing boats and the New London - Block Island ferry pass in and out of Montauk Harbor.

A revelation from Melissa Mungo, the Voice of Hagedorn Communications, after she read my story about the Public Radio stations of Northeast New York. It seems that in 1987 she was a deejay in the network, in Monticello, playing the Top 40 and other music of her choice. She had a truly captive audience, in the nearby correctional institution, and the inmates of the Big House kept sending letters, asking for her picture. She refused, concerned about possible post-jail involvements, and the prison authorities did not permit such correspondence from people not on the "approved list" anyway. She won't give out her picture today either, so don't even try.

Wally thanks Paul and Peggy Roden.

Monday, August 05, 1996


Have Radio, Will Travel - The Catskills

LOOKING AHEAD by Wally Dobelis

First about the travel, which was to visit friends in their new summer home. To go to the Catskills, we crossed the mighty Hudson River at Kingston and followed Route 199 into Route 28, marked as a picturesque drive by the AAA up to Boiceville. This is what I'd call the Middle Road to the Catskills, in Ulster County, a wide easy highway in the valley with mountain views on both sides, leading through the tourist country of the Game Farm, Catskills Railroad and the ubiquitous Esopus River with its rafting attractions. (The Lower Road is the Borscht Circuit Route 17, in Sullivan County, to Liberty, to the former Grossingers, Concord and the famous Roscoe Diner; the Upper is Route 23B over the Greene mountaintops to Oneonta in Otsego County, where in 1986 my 1977 Ford Maverick blew its head gasket and never recovered. Oneonta is a college town with brick sidewalks and geranium pots hanging from streetlights on Main Street, just like Oxford.) Route 28 becomes narrow, crooked and immensely picturesque in the poverty-struck farming country of Delavare County, above Fleischmans, Margaretville and particularly after the exit to New Kingston. Here the views are truly momentous and cows abound on vertical pastures.

Our Brooklyn Heights friends Tom and Julie, both amateur gourmet chefs, had recently acquired a 37 acre property with a cabin and a stream, cornfields and wildflower meadows, with retirement in mind, for the price of a studio apartment in a Manhattan coop. (You too can have equal pleasures if you don't mind up to four hours on on the road each way, much of it twisting.) Their forever winding dirt driveway is kept accessible by a local contractor for $500 a year, and a carpenter last Fall jacked up the house and strengthened the supporting cinderblocks and the basement walls, just in time for the spring floods. The renovation closed the exits for the field mice who seek refuge indoors during the harsh months. Julie fed the rapidly multiplying basement dwellers birdseed every weekend until the spring, when she trapped them in a Have-A-Heart trap, as many as seven at a time, and released them behind the stream. That's a true New Yorker Liberal, a much maligned breed. New Yorkers will feed the needy and the homeless, but we do not condone m

As for the radio part: we too are country folk, on this side of the mighty Hudson, in Columbia County. This is the time of the year when we start looking for the Tanglewood Music Festival schedule in all seriousness. Lenox is only 40 miles away, and the concert season is upon us.

Over the past 16 years we have attended many open rehearsals of the Boston Philharmonic on Saturday mornings, and listened to the live Tanglewood concert broadcasts over WAMC, the Northwest corridor FM Public Radio network. (Their station identification takes a minute and two deep breaths of the announcer's lungs to detail. All of the stations invoke visions; flagship WAMC Albany, originally the Albany Medical College station; Kingston, an ex-IBM town, suffering the layoffs; Middletown - Rt 17 to the Catskills, Roscoe Diner; Canajoharie, near Syracuse - the gorge; Ticonderoga - North Country history, fort, Lake Champlain; Great Barrington, Mass., our ski mountain where the station is located. Now a deep breath - Oneonta, pretty town, 50 c beers; Plattsburgh; Newburgh and Rensellaer-Troy, much sad poverty.)

The live Tanglewood concerts were announced, for years, by the slowest-speaking thoughtful musicologist with the deepest voice in radioland, and a name that's impossible to get right - Robert Gelertzman? Anyway, we knew him as Deep Throat (upon inquiry, it turns out that he is Robert J. Lurtzema, of WGBH in Boston.) Nowadays, Deep Throat has a 7 to 12 AM Morning Pro Musica program on WAMC, Sat/Sun, and, while traveling to the Catskills, we caught a most delightful program centering on J.S. Bach's transpositions. I'm a sucker for the divine Chaconne, a movement in Bach's Partita No. 2 in A minor, one in a series of six sonatas and partitas, BWV 1001/6 (the acronym is for the Bach's Werke Verzeichnis by Schmiege, like the Kocher Register of Mozart), solo pieces for an unaccompanied violin. We heard a memorable performance of it around 1985, in Carnegie Hall, by Nathan Milstein, who waddled out like a smiling penguin in a tails suit - and then he played, like an angel with a violin. There was never anything nobler in my musical experience. Of our several recordings of the Partita none match Millstein's cool remote passion.

Anyway, Deep Throat teased us along by playing the Chaconne's near relative, the Fugue from the Sonata No.1 in G minor, and its transcriptions for organ, Prelude and Fugue (539 BWV), and for lute (123 BWV), both Bach's own. There was a Nicholas Garousis guitar version too, and we heard it. All this was getting me excited, in anticipation, and Deep Throat worked the audience. Before he played the Chaconne, recorded by violinist Arthur Grumio, Deep Throat teased us with arcana dragged out forever, explaining how a Chaconne is like a Passacaglia, utilizing harmonic variations, except that it uses a continuo and the Passacaglia uses an ostinato. But then he played it, followed by the Firrucio Busone piano transcript from 1887, popular but ordinary, and broke out the Brahms' earlier, 1878 Study for piano, left hand only, played by - you guessed right - Leon Fleischer. Fleischer, the musical director of Tanglewood, lost the use of his right hand twenty years ago. Now we know of it as carpal tunnel syndrome. Glen Gould had it too, but Fleischer pulled out, an in the 1995 Tanglewood season he was the surprise guest, playing the piano with both hands, at the Seiji Ozawa -Itzhak Perlman - Yo-Yo Ma birthday performance. The Brahms was the more sensitive transcription, despite the Busoni's popularity. I have also heard an Andres Segovia guitar version, which did not get mentioned.

Getting back to the Public Radio networks - while within the WAMC area, one finds the true range of Prof. Allen Chartock of SUNY New Paltz, whom New Yorkers remember of from the entertaining weekly dialogue program with then Governor Mario Cuomo. When cornered, Mario gave as much as he got, accusing Allen, a Massachusettsian, of having no business to talk New York politics. It was a good act, and the sensible interviews with Carl McCall and such do not replace the fun. Allen is the WAMC network power, seemingly in charge of the Environment and Govenment programming, a daily political commentary and God knows what else. But even Chartock is not infallible - during the pre- 4th of July period he chortled that the threat of missed vacations (recess is end June to January, except for committee chairs and an occasional recall of legislature by the Gov) would be the only thing that would force the New York lawmakers to complete the budget. But he was wrong - the legislators took the holiday, left the staff memners to dicker on the remaining details, and came back in July to pass the law, 102 days late, well above the prior record of 69 days. This grandstanding really hurt school districts, they had to borrow money for expenses, and my local school board in Columbia County, in sheer frustration, voted to bill the Gov $8,000, the interest they had to pay. These now routine delays also cost us, the taxpayers, in higher interest rates, as bond ratings are affected. Isn't it about time we forced the issue, progressively reducing and suspending the pay of the entire Albany clique as the delays stretch on and on?

Recently heard from John C. Angle, one of the three founding chairman of the 14 Street BID and retired CEO of Guardian Life. He is writing an obituary of Eugene Dorfman, actuary and longtime resident of East 20th Street, and was checking some details. John is hiding out from the Nebraska summer heat in the mountains of Colorado, and sends greetings to his friends and colleagues.

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