While his popularity has waned somewhat in the 21st century, there were few 19th-century American painters that were more well known than Frederic Church. And, wanting to learn more about his life and art, I recently had a chance to visit his incredible home, Olana.
Olana is located high atop a hill overlooking the Hudson River in Columbia County, New York. The home was built by Church between 1870 and 1872 on land that he had acquired over the previous decades because he loved the view of the river and the Catskill Mountains from the hilltop.
As one of the most prominent members of the famed Hudson River School, the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains were two of the subjects that most impacted the art of Frederic Church, so it’s no wonder that he desired to see his artistic inspiration from his home.
Today, the home is known as Olana State Historic Site and is open for guided tours from April to October. While there are a variety of tour options at the site, the standard Historic Approach and Interiors Tour is a great option for those wanting to see the home’s interior and learn about the life of Frederic Church.
Tours last roughly an hour and start near the gift shop. They do tend to sell out, so it’s recommended that you buy your tickets a few days early. Even when I visited on a weekday during the fall, people were being turned away because tours were sold out.
Guides take visitors along the paved path that winds its way up the hillside towards the entrance to Olana. Along the way, they discuss the life of Church and the story of his home, Olana,
While there are many cultures that influenced Church’s design of Olana, Middle Eastern elements are clearly present in the house’s design and aesthetic. This gives that house a unique look that you won’t find elsewhere in New York.
Furthermore, to Church, both Olana and the many acres of land that surrounded the home were works of art. He carefully sculpted everything from the amazing framed views from the windows to the walkway up to the home to ensure maximum natural beauty.
Inside the home, guides take you through rooms on both the home’s first and second floor, including sitting rooms, porches, bedrooms, and even Church’s studio.
Along the way, they offer great insight into the home’s features and what life in the home was like for Frederic Church, his family, and even the servants that worked at the property.
Interestingly, nearly all of the furniture and decorations in the home were owned by Church and much of it sits in the same place where it was when he lived here.
These decorations include many of Church’s beautiful paintings, featuring destinations both near and far. Given that his work can be found at world-famous institutions like the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it’s really great to see so many of his works within the space.
I also found it interesting that the site also weaves in temporary exhibitions from current artists both inside and outside the home. This really adds a fun and unique feel to the home that you don’t often see at artists’ homes and helps to bring to light emerging artists and their art.
I also really appreciated how a portion of the tour goes into the servent’s quarters. It was interesting to learn a bit about the lives of those that worked in this home and served the Church family. Since Olana was also their home, it’s fitting that they be covered during the tour as well.
After the tour of the home, visitors can explore the grounds of Olana State Historic Site at their own pace. In fact, one of the great things about this spot is that, since it’s a New York State Park, the grounds are open dawn to dusk throughout the year, even if tours are not running.
The park features roughly five miles of trails that offer great views of the incredible landscape that Frederic Church fell in love with. You can even walk around the 10-acre lake that Church created and view his original home on the property, Cozy Cottage.
There is no charge to simply explore the grounds of Olana. However, if you’d rather, Olana does offer several different guided tours of the property for those wanting to learn more about how Church crafted the landscape as part of his artistic endeavors.
Overall, Olana State Historic Site is a really fascinating and beautiful spot to visit. Whether you love art, history, or simply quirky and unusual sites, there’s a lot to love about this great home and park in the northern Hudson Valley.
Definitely don’t miss this spot when exploring the region.
Olana State Historic Site
Hours: Tours offered Friday-Saturday: 11am-3:30pm
Cost: Adults: $20, Kids: Free
Address: 5720 NY-9G
See map below for other area attractions.