Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Magnificent Ruin

Daheim, the Hudson Valley estate where I have lived for the last 30 years, originally had two major greenhouse installations. The view above is of the easterly end of a complex surrounding a 500-foot long lean-to fruit house. This spectacular structure - its glazed iron framing demolished long ago - was achored at each end by unique stone pavilions. These in turn were flanked on the west by ornamental seating and a wisteria arbor, and on the east by an artifical lake that provided irrigation. The view above shows a stair leading up from the greenhouse level to ornamental seating on each side of a water tank.

Don't you love the heft of that rail. Notice too its subtle outward sweep.

This tank provided water to the decorative basin below. Classical architectural motifs - broken pediment, keystone arches, cornice and stringcourse moldings - that are typically rendered in dressed stone are done here with natural field stone.

How brilliant is this? The fruit house complex on this estate, like the great dairy barn immediately to the east, dates from the first decade of the twentieth century. The stone masons were Italian immigrants, some of whom had previously worked on the construction of Tuxedo Park. Others were relatives who came here specifically to work on this property.

The basin into which water once flowed.

An open superstructure of ornamental beams once rested atop those pillars and provided support for the wisteria. The stair links the lower greenhouse level with an upper level roadway connecting the barns to the rest of the estate.

The wisteria arbor is to the left; one of the twin anchoring greenhouse pavilions is on the right - another classical facade rendered in natural field stone.

Here is the same pavilion, looking in the other direction. The greenhouse glazing started at that line which is clearly visible below the top of the wall, and extended down at an angle to the low wall at lawn level.

This is the eastern pavilion, looking west. The trees give the place an Angkor Wat-ishness that was wholly absent when built. What's grass covered would have been graveled back then, and the southeast exposure would have been tree free and brilliantly sunny.

Steam in the winter was provided by an enormous coal fired boiler housed in the room beneath this chimney.

This stair descends to a tunnel that connected the greenhouse to the boiler room on the other side of the drive.

The greenhouse's interior masonry walls were glass-smooth finished cement. The graceful curve of the original glazing is visible on this side wall view of the east pavilion.

This is bravura work, appreciated by the present owners, who have sensitively stabilized it.

At the eastern end of the complex is this artificial lake, which provided water for the greenhouse and visual interest along the road - really at this point a causeway - to the barns.

Overflow from the lake passes under the causeway in pipes, and spills picturesquely to the east of the complex.

I took 136 pictures here last weekend, and it was a challenge to winnow them down to just 18.


  1. These are some of my favorite shots of Daheim. I love the roughness of the stone wall, and their good-humored allusion to more refined classical forms. If I lived there, this would be one of my favorite picnic spots.
    --Road to Parnassus

  2. This is astonishing. Just plain astonishing---marvelous work.

    You're probably aware of this, but Walter Teagle, who once owned the property kept an English landscape gardener on payroll as superintendent of all his properties---and the man, whose name escapes me at the moment would travel from estate to estate, designing new features, training staff in proper maintenance technique, and doing seasonal planting plans.

  3. being a fairly skilled stone worker i am in absolute awe of the work you have shown. is just beyond description, the playful way the stone was used belies the roughness of the stone, in a class all to itself. i am sorry that i cannot see the other 118 pictures

  4. It must have seemed a glass hill in its time -- do you have any period photos, or are your descriptions of what was based entirely on remaining evidence? I would so love to see period photos!

  5. The stone work is breathtaking! Truly beautiful.

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