Historic site revamping tours, exhibits
Boscobel House and Gardens, the historic site on Route 9D in Garrison with jaw-dropping views, is “seeking more flexibility in the stories we’re telling,” says its executive director, Jennifer Carlquist.
In the six decades since it opened, the 68-acre property, presided over by a Neoclassical mansion that was relocated to Garrison, has been celebrated for its Federal period decorative arts collection. The home, built between 1804 and 1808 for the Dyckman family, is the centerpiece of the riverine setting, along with its gardens, orchards and woodland trail.
Anticipating the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution in 2026, Carlquist says the site is seeking a more comprehensive understanding of the people who lived in the home.
“It’s time to raise the flag but also to ask questions and listen to other perspectives,” she says. “With the history here at what was a Loyalist property [Elizabeth and States Dyckman supported the Crown during the American Revolution], we get to tell both sides. This is fitting, as the Hudson Valley as a whole was a very mixed-allegiance region.”
There are many other matters and mores to consider. “There’s this history of slavery in the Hudson Valley; we’re learning more about Boscobel’s connection to it,” she says. “There are layers of women’s history. Consider that when Boscobel opened, no one in the household could vote. The men were away, the boys weren’t old enough and the slaves and women didn’t have the right to.
“Boscobel survived because of choices made. As woodlands became farmland, there were landscape decisions made in what was then an entirely chosen environment. We’re trying to be a little more transparent in the choices we made and make.”
The site has changed the way it trains guides, and how they lead tours. “There’s no more ‘We talk to you for 45 minutes, then we’re done,’” Carlquist says. “Guests are participants. We don’t give our guides a script, we give them a bibliography. They go through many months of training. Much of it is about presenting more than just one perspective. They learn to share facts in a transparent way and to be open to challenges.
“There’s no ‘one tour’ here,” she adds. “In many ways, Boscobel can be a window or a mirror; we’re looking for diversity within our guides, and also making a point to ask questions of our guests, particularly as to what they want from their visit.”
Other upgrades include a wheelchair lift on the exterior of the home and a series of panels in the Carriage House Visitor Center that replaced a timeline of the property. Called Presents from the Past, the rotating narratives were designed by Philipstown resident Randi Schlesinger and focus on storytelling through objects.
Boscobel’s current exhibit includes a royal oaks snuff box that symbolizes the Dyckman’s loyalty to the Crown and a silver tankard that symbolizes the family’s break with their family in England that led them to emigrate: A Dyckman great-grandfather wanted to continue prospering from the slave trade, while the family who stayed in the U.K. became prominent abolitionists.
Butter stamps convey the complicated relationship the Dyckmans had with their cook, Sil, a former slave. Their transatlantic letters reflect affection for her. States Dyckman requested that “Sil’s butter” be sent to him in England so he could give it out as gifts to people he was trying to impress.
Along with the creation of a native meadow on site, Boscobel has introduced a weekly “Hands on History” table at the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market each Saturday morning at which educators share objects and pertinent news. “It’s about meeting people where they are,” Carlquist says.
Boscobel, now in its second year without the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, a tenant on its lawn for more than 30 summers (the festival moved in 2022 to a new home at the former Garrison golf course), will continue traditions such as the annual Greater Newburgh Symphony Orchestra concert (this year on July 1) and the second annual Boscobel Chamber Music Festival, with accompanying exhibits of music-related objects and imagery in the Boscobel collection.
One popular program, now in its third year, is the Boscobel Artist Free Pass, which attracted more than 900 applicants for 150 spots. Those selected will be allowed access to the grounds and house to paint, draw, photograph, dance or take part in other disciplines — there’s even a sound artist. The program is sponsored by the Putnam Arts Council; typically a few dozen participants will show up on nice days, Carlquist said.
Barbara Chitkara is a Thursday regular. Spotted recently on a pathway to the herb garden/orangery, laden with easel, she was focused on the design of the entryway and concerned about the overly soft condition of her pastels in the summerlike heat of a perfect May day.
A Peekskill resident and member of a plein air painting group, Chitkara pronounced the artist-free days “an incredible opportunity. To have these gardens opened up is just unreal.”
Boscobel is located at 1601 Route 9D in Garrison. The grounds and gardens are open to the public from 9 a.m. to sunset from Friday to Monday. Guided house tours are offered Monday, Friday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Admission starts at $12 for adults and $7 for children, or free for members. See boscobel.org.