Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Giving West Point a Second Look

Cadet Chapel at West Point Credit: Bill Rockwell

About eight years ago, I planned an early September driving tour up the Hudson. Starting in lower Westchester County, New York, where I went to the best dog show ever at the Westchester Kennel Club, I was supposed to end my excursion miles upriver in Olana, home to Frederic Edwin Church, a central figure in the Hudson River School of landscape painters.
Blessed with wonderful weather, I left the aforementioned dog show and headed up river to Sunnyside, the charming home of Washington Irving, then on to Lyndhurst - the Gothic Revival country home of rail tycoon Jay Gould, Kykuit - home to four generations of Rockefellers, and finally to West Point, all of which have magnificent views of one of eastern America’s most beautiful rivers.
My luck turned sour the morning after my stay at the Thayer Hotel, which actually sits on the base of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point. After discovering that my car wouldn’t start due to a faulty alternator, my itinerary was thrown way off whack, and I decided to return home, but with the intention of completing my original travel plans at a later date.
Watching every episode of the Ken Burns’ series on the Roosevelts on PBS this September rekindled my interest in visiting Hyde Park, part of my original itinerary. My curiosity piqued, I decided to set out at the beginning of October to pick up where I left off years ago on my Hudson River excursion.. The fact that the fall leaf colors along the Hudson were expected to be at around 25 percent peak gave me an extra impetus to go.
Thayer Hotel at West Point Credit:Bill Rockwell

After a seven-hour, GPS-guided trip, I arrived at the Thayer for another overnight stay. With plans that evening for dinner at the Bear Mountain Inn, seven miles down the road, I still had time to reacquaint myself with the Thayer.
Named for Sylvanus Thayer, cited as "the Father of the Military Academy and 1808 West Point grad, the hotel, built in 1929, is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
The list of dignitaries and historic figures who stayed at the hotel is staggering. And, because of its West Point  location, I wasn’t surprised to learn that many of the ballrooms and public spaces are named after presidents and military figures like Washington, Jefferson, Grant, Pershing and MacArthur, with the naming rights to the tavern going to General Patton.
The hotel’s location high above the Hudson and its beautiful gardens make it a prime location each year for an average of 80 weddings, many of them outdoors. Speaking of the outdoors, I especially enjoyed the hotel’s  Zulu Time Rooftop Bar and Lounge which has a great view of the Hudson Valley.
Looking Down on the Zulu Hour Lounge and Hudson River at Thayer Hotel

Forewarned that the traffic leaving Bear Mountain later that evening would be heavy due to the annual Oktoberfest at the Bear Mountain Inn, I was told to make a right at the traffic circle on Route 9W, then head toward Perkins Tower. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the 40-foot tall tower at the summit it was closed, but the view from the mountain top was spectacular nonetheless. On a clear day, it’s said that visitors can see four states - New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, as well as the Big Apple skyline 40 miles south.

Autumn Sunset on Bear Mountain Credit: Bill Rockwell

Bear Mountain Inn Gives Off Warm Welcoming Glow Credit: Bill Rockwell
By the time we got to Bear Mountain Inn, most of the Oktoberfesters had left and the traffic had dissipated. Built in 1915, the regally rustic stone and timber inn was bathed in a warm, inviting glow flowing through large plate glass windows. Entering, we made our way up to the 1915 Restaurant on the second floor..

Seated near the massive stone fireplace, our glasses of Lyric by Etude Pinot Noir stimulated our taste buds and paved the way for a truly memorable meal that started with mussels and ended with lamb chops and Blue Bunny Dulce de Leche ice cream for dessert.

Lamb Chops at 1915 Restaurant; Credit Bill Rockwell

Up early the next morning, we waited at the Visitor Center for our bus pickup for a guided tour of West Point. No self-guided tours are permitted on the grounds of the military academy, but our informed guide made us glad they aren’t because he was both informative as well as entertaining. Besides relating the history of the academy starting with fortifications along the river in 1778, he pointed out many of the major buildings and landmarks.

Superintendent's House at West Poin.t Credit: Bill Rockwell

There are only two stops on the hour long tour where visitors are able to get off and walk around. The first is the amazing gothic revival Cadet Chapel, home to the world’s largest pipe organ with 23,511 pipes. The second stop, Trophy Point overlooks a curve in the Hudson and is named for the collection of canons, some of which date back to the Revolutionary War, exhibited on the grounds
Behind the visitors center, the West Point Museum is the oldest military museum in the nation and focuses on everything from the history of West Point to the history of warfare from the Egyptians up through Desert Storm. Its large collections of arms, flags, uniforms and armaments include Hitler’s gold-plated pistol, Napoleon’s sword and Washington’s pistols. Depending on your interest, you could easily spend several hours taking it all in. The collection even encompasses paintings, including some by Hudson River School artists
For more information on West Point and Orange County, phone (845) 615-3860 or visit website www.OrangeTourism.org.

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