Clermont State Historic Site
was the Hudson River seat of the politically and socially
prominent Livingston family of New York for more than
230 years. Seven successive generations of the
family left their print on the architecture, room interiors,
and landscape at Clermont. Today the 485-acre historic
site appears much as it did in the early twentieth century,
when the estate was the home of the last two generations
to occupy the property: Mr. and Mrs. John Henry Livingston
and their daughters, Honoria and Janet.
The Clermont estate was established
in 1728 when Robert Livingston, Jr. (1688-1775) inherited
a tract of 13,000 acres along the Hudson River from
his father, Robert Livingston (1654-1728), first Lord
of Livingston Manor. The Manor of Livingston, which
comprised the southern third of modern Columbia County,
was the second largest private landholding in colonial
New York. Robert of Clermont, as he was known, began
construction of his brick, Georgian-style country seat,
perhaps incorporating an existing seventeenth-century
house, between 1730 and 1750. Visible across the Hudson
River from the house are the high peaks of the Catskill
Mountains that inspired the estate's name: Clermont
means "clear mountain" in French.
Robert of Clermont's only child, Robert
R. Livingston (1718-1775), added to the family's landholdings
when he married Margaret Beekman, heir to immense tracts
of land in Dutchess and Ulster counties, in the 1740s.
Clermont's second owner was known to his contemporaries
as Judge of the Admiralty Court and Judge of the Supreme
Court of the Province of New York. Judge and Margaret
Beekman Livingston's eldest son, Robert R. Livingston
Jr. (1746-1813), was Clermont's most notable resident.
A member of the Committee of Five responsible for drafting
the Declaration of Independence, he also served as the
first United States Minister of Foreign Affairs (Secretary
of State) and, as Chancellor of the State of New York,
he gave the oath of office to George Washington as first
President of the United States.
Because of the Livingston family's
prominent role in support of independence, Clermont was
burned by British troops under the command of General
John Vaughan during a foray up the Hudson River in the
autumn of 1777. Margaret Beekman Livingston, who managed
the estate during most of the war years, rebuilt the family
home between 1779 and 1782. After independence was won,
Chancellor Livingston began developing Clermont as an
agricultural showplace. His experiments with sheep breeding
and methods for increasing the yield of crops, while retaining
the fertility of the soil, received national attention.
In 1792 the Chancellor began construction of an elaborate
new mansion just south of the original house as the centerpiece
of his experimental farm. Built in the shape of a capital
"H," this house was also called Clermont. It was destroyed
by fire in 1909, but its ruins are still visible and indicate
its size and grandeur.
Chancellor Livingston concluded
his public career as Thomas Jefferson's Minister to
France between 1801 and 1804. While in Paris, he negotiated
the Louisiana Purchase and entered into a partnership
with Robert Fulton, a Pennsylvania-born painter and
inventor who shared Livingston's fascination with steam
navigation. Their creation, which they called the North
River, is known to history as the Clermont.
Their steamboat embarked on its maiden voyage between
New York City and Albany in 1807, setting off a transportation
revolution in the United States.
Chancellor Livingston died at his
Clermont estate in 1813. The original Clermont residence,
which had remained the home of Margaret Beekman Livingston
until her death in 1800, was willed to the Chancellor's
eldest daughter. The Chancellor's heirs initiated a
series of additions and alterations to the house during
the nineteenth century.
The last significant changes to the
old Clermont residence were made in the 1920s, when
John Henry Livingston (1848-1927) and his wife, Alice
Delafield Clarkson Livingston (1872-1964), remodeled
the home in a Colonial Revival style. After Mr. Livingston's
death, Alice Livingston continued to reside in the house
until the onset of the Second World War, when she relocated
to the nearby gardener's cottage (known as Clermont
Cottage). Thereafter, the mansion was only opened for
special occasions during the summer months. In 1962
Mrs. Livingston deeded most of her family's historic
estate to the State of New York. An additional seventy-one
acres of the property were given to the People of New
York in 1991 by her daughter, Honoria Livingston McVitty.
Clermont was designated a United States
National Historic Landmark in 1973.
Clermont is also an anchor in the
Hudson River National Landmark District (designated
in 1990), a twenty-mile stretch of riverfront land in
northern Dutchess and southern Columbia counties. Restored
to its early twentieth-century appearance, Clermont's
furnishings and airy pastoral landscapes and vistas
reflect the continuum of a unique and vanishing way
of life along the Hudson River.
The visitor center and mansion are
open between mid April and Labor Day; Wednesday thru
Saturdays from 10AM until 5PM and Sundays Noon until
5PM. From Labor Day until the end of October: Wednesdays
thru Sundays Noon until 5PM.
The visitor center and mansion are
also open on Monday holidays during the season from
10AM until 5PM.
The last tour of the day is offered
Group tour reservations (twelve persons
or more) are accepted year-round on a daily basis between
9AM and 4PM. Garden tours are offered between mid April
and the end of September, Monday thru Friday. Reservations
are accepted for the current calendar year only, and
must be made at least two weeks in advance. Allow a
minimum of one and one-half hours at the site.
Clermont's visitor center and comfort
station are fully accessible to people with mobility
limitations. Access to the first floor of the historic
house is provided by a wheelchair lift. Designated parking
areas are provided for the convenience of visitors with
mobility limitations. New York State Access Passes are
FROM THE TACONIC STATE PARKWAY: take
the Red Hook/Rhinebeck exit onto Route 199 west. Continue
west on 199 through the Village of Red Hook. At the
intersection with Route 9G turn right (north). Drive
six miles north on Route 9G to the entrance sign for
FROM THE NYS THRUWAY: From the south
take Exit 19 (Kingston). Cross the Kingston-Rhinecliff
Bridge to the east side of the Hudson River. At the
second traffic light turn left (north) onto Route 9G.
Proceed north ten miles to Clermont's entrance sign.
From the north take Exit 21 (Catskill). Cross the Hudson
River on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, then bear right
(south) onto Route 9G. Take 9G south for ten miles to
the entrance sign for Clermont.