Mountains to Mansions

Seeing New York from the mountains to the history.

We have gotten to see some wonderful things on our adventure like National Parks and magnificent capitol buildings. Each place has its own history and natural features, none of these places are the best.  Each one is just different from the other.

The first place we visited in the state was New York City and it was impressive to say the least. The rest of our New York experience was great though and we enjoyed seeing some of the rural areas.

After leaving New Jersey we decided to head into the forest and visit Catskill Mountain, where we thought we could camp for free. Well we towed up into the mountains and down a dead end, where we had to do some tricky maneuvering to get out! So the camp wasn’t free and apparently only backpackers can camp for free. The North/South Lake Campground was lovely and we enjoyed hiking around and visiting the lakes.

This was the first time ever that we didn’t even unhook the car from the trailer.

It was almost perfectly level and after raising the front of the trailer a bit it was at the perfect height to just leave it ready to tow. Good thing too because the campsite was long and narrow making it difficult to back into and I was worried about getting out later. We didn’t have anywhere we were planning on driving; all we wanted was to spend sometime in nature.

Some fellow campers told us of a neat feature at this camp which was only a short hike past the swimming area, alligator rock and dinosaur rock, this was where people had placed small pointed rocks into some larger cracked stones. Apparently this was done quite a long time ago and we all enjoyed the effect.

The capitol in Albany is beautiful and full of history.

Each capitol city has it’s own beauty and challenges that people new to the area have to experience. Albany has a great parking lot underneath it’s main plaza. It is tricky to get into, but centrally located. It allows you to walk through an underground mall area to get to the capitol, which is a nice feature if it is raining when you visit.

The capitol building in Albany was unique from the others we have visited.  It was stone on stone construction without a steel substructure. This sandstone was then hand-carved by masters of their craft and the effect is beautiful. There are faces, grotesques that are supposed to scare off bad spirits, flowers, animals and lots of mosaic designs. The carvers were allowed to have some artistic freedom too and each hallway has different designs.

I don’t know how many pictures we took of the carvings alone, but the ones we put up here are just a sampling of them. You really have to visit the capitol building and see them for yourself.  They are magnificent works of art.

All the historic places we visit are becoming connected for us.  At this capitol they had a picture of Washington that we have seen at multiple other places, but this time we got to see the original copy! The tour ended in the Hall of Governors.  Here hung portraits of every New York Governor, artifacts, displays and a timeline of major events that have happened since the state was founded. We spent about an hour just reading the displays and all learned some interesting history.

We always try to make the best of things.

After touring the capitol, we strolled across the plaza to the state museum because we love museums plus it was free. Unfortunately, the museum was kept at the same temperature as a walk in refrigerator and we had to leave after only a short time in the building. I am pretty much always hot and have to worry about heat stroke in the sun and even I was freezing in the museum!

We did visit the upper floor where one of the oldest American made carousels is located. The kids got go for a ride which was also free!. This carousel had horses from the 1890s and a few donkeys that are even older! Because this carousel has been in operation since the early 1900s, they only run it a few times an hour and for only a single song, but the kids had fun taking a ride on this historic carousel.

This adventure has allowed us to learn so much.

After visiting the Martin Luther King  Jr. National Historic site we have made an effort to visit more than just the well known National Parks. While staying near Albany we were within driving distance of so many National Historic Sites and State Historic Sites that we just couldn’t see everything. So we started with President Martin Van Buren’s house that he named Lindenwald. Now I am a history buff and have been studying history since I was about nineteen, but I honestly didn’t know much about our eighth president.

With so many presidents it is hard to remember each one when you are just reading about them in a book.  After visiting his house I think I will always remember him now. He was the first American born US president and English was his second language (yes all the previous presidents were born in the British colony of America).

Van Buren was ahead of his time.

His house was one of the very first in America to have indoor plumbing. The sink even had warm water that was piped through the fireplace chimney before it reached the sink. A neat facts we learned on the tour was about the presidential bust.  It was displayed both in Van Buren’s house and at the White House. The tour guide mentioned the bust also appears in the Red Room of the White House.  This makes Van Buren the only president with two busts in the entire house.

I had to go back through our photos to see if we had caught it with our phone when touring the White House.  Sure enough there was the painting with the bust in it! Another really cool part of his house was the fancy wall paper.  It is in great condition considering how old it is. The wallpaper depicts scenes of a hunt and only a small section of it was damaged when the National Parks took over the house. Good thing the company that made the wall paper is still in business and continues to make the same wallpaper to this day! The park service was able to replace the damaged section and now you can see the difference between what the original looks like compared with the new. We had a great time visiting this presidential house and even saw a beaver when we were walking the grounds.

Historic places are not all the same.

The next day we struck out to visit both the Vanderbilt mansion and the FDR presidential house and library. Unfortunately the Vanderbilt mansion was under renovations and the outside was covered in scaffolding, plus all the furniture had been moved and covered. It was still great to tour the inside of the building though and we learned about this influential family.

The first generation made a fortune and the second generation doubled it, but the third generation spent it all. The only wealth left in the family was the son that married a girl whom parents didn’t approve of and was cast out for it. He did well and decided to not leave a dime to anyone in the Vanderbilt family! Turns out he was great to his staff and gave them varying amounts of wealth and estates as well as taking care of them while he was alive. The gardens were beautiful and we loved walking around them before we left.

We went from a capitalists house to FDR, the author of the new deals house.  They were different in some ways and similar in others. Both had been turned over to the government to be turned into historic sites and both were large mansions that had an extravagant air about them.

FDR’s house definitely felt more homey.

There were lots of pictures and nick-nacks everywhere. Turns out it was actually his moms house and she ruled the roost. Later the president had another house built and his wife also built her own house. Miles spotted an old Edison Phonograph and had to ask the tour guide if it was a Victrola or an Edison.  He correctly identified it as an Edison.

At the presidential library we learned some more about the internment camps the Japanese-Americans were forced into after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This lesson was first introduced to the kids in Hagerman, OR when we looked at the display about the Menadoka internment camp. All this history seems to fit together and the interconnections are easier to see when you are visiting these places.

We have traveled a long way on this adventure and it is interesting to see the interconnections of history first hand. When you read about things in books it can be hard to see how it all fits together. Getting to visit places first hand makes it easier to understand how things fall into place in history.

This experience is making history come alive.

I have heard that history is not taught as much at public school anymore and that math and reading are the focus. I didn’t think history was important when I was in school, but that is because we had to memorize dates of events. Taking the kids on this educational tour of America has shown me that history can come alive for the next generations.

To see our kids answering questions about Americas history has me asking them, ‘why was that event important’. The answers they give let me know history is a subject that needs to be taught. Otherwise our society might make the same mistakes again.  Plus we have so much fun at all these historic sites that it is a win for everyone.

Here are some more pictures and links for the places we mentioned:

North/South Campground

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New York State Capitol Tours

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New York State Museum


Our article about visiting Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site

Martin Van Buren National Historic Site (Lindenwald)

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Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site

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FDR House and Presidential Library

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14 thoughts on “Mountains to Mansions”

  1. Alligator rock looks so cool! It’s funny how this has developed over a long time by visitors placing small stones there. I have visited New York City, and I honestly thought it was all bright lights, and city architecture but it’s amazing what nature exists right beside this! I love the look of the capitol building in Albany, really impressive structure!

  2. Road trips are always fun and driving across states would be wow! Those rocks look quite fascinating. The carvings in Capitol building looks amazing too. When the trips have both combined nature and heritage; they are super fun.

  3. Yes, there’s so much more to New York than just NYC! I love New York State. I’m from Ontario, so I always pop across the border for a road trip. The Finger Lakes are a beautiful region of New York that are worth exploring!

  4. Driving across New York state sounds like a great road trip. A lot of history and great places to visit in this state. I’ve only been in New York city so far, but your very descriptive post made me really want to explore the entire state now.

  5. That is a lovely combination of nature and heritage. I can see you really had a blast with it. The Capitol building in Albany and FDR’s mansion really interested me a lot. Seems like a perfect place to gather some insights into the history. Did not realize that you can have so much variety within NY

  6. Really love that you are touring state by state with the motor home, and looks like it worked out well for you here. Catskill Mountain looks like a great area of natural beauty, well worth visiting. I’d like to see Albany too, it strikes me as a very gentle capitol city. The Van Buren connection is really interesting, I love learning about madcap inventors who were ahead of their time, think about how he’s influenced the life of billions!!

    • We find out all kinds of interesting facts, which is one of the reasons we write our blog. Too many neat facts to remember them all, unless you write some of it down.

  7. New York really does have some fabulous rural areas, that too many travelers don’t get the opportunity to see for not leaving the limits of Manhattan, or the city 🙂 You took in some fabulous historic sites – so glad you enjoyed your time in Albany, I didn’t know that Van Burrens house was the first in America to have plumbing, so that’s a cool fact to keep in mind for trivia nights! It’s sad to hear that history has been taken out of the syllabus at schools – I think it’s incredibly important to have a sound understanding of history, and use that to navigate the present and future. You’re doing a wonderful thing, taking your kids on an educational tour of the US! What a fun way for them to learn 🙂

    • I think the adults learn just as much as the kids. It was hard for me to remember history when I was a kid because it just seemed like a list of names and dates. Different things we have learned come up as we travel around reinforcing the lessons. I think it is easier for everyone because it is so much fun.

  8. We toured the Adirondacks last Fall after leaving New York City and absolutely loved the area. And yet we’d been so conflicted because we didn’t have enough time to head over to Catskill Mountain! Yet I’m sorry that you didn’t makage to camp for free, thanks for letting us know that it’s only free for backpackers!

    • The Adirondacks are also amazing and very large compared to Catskill Mountain. Both were beautiful and if you got to at least see one, then your still lucky.

  9. I only driven through this area on a long road trip many years ago but didnt stop off but it looks like I need to. Looks like there is quite a bit to do in NY.

  10. That is totally cool that you visited the sites of Van Buren & FDR! That alone would make it for me! I am not always the biggest fan of NYC but the rest of New York seems awesome to me. The Catskills looks beautiful to me and spending a day or two hiking around them sound amazing.

    • We had the perception that New York was all city, but most of it is rural farming and wilderness. If only it wasn’t so cold in the winter, then I might move there.


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