Category: Travel Adventures

Clinton Corners Day 9: Leaving The Willows

Yesterday I finally managed to locate and read the book that recounts the history of this great home. Built in 1914, the Ben Tousey House, or “The Willows” as it’s known by locals, holds New York State Historical Landmark Designation.

The Willows, 1915

Benjamin C. Tousey (1868-1955) built the house from 1914-1915. He was born in Clinton Corners, but reportedly moved to Florida and hit it big in the railway business. With his new wealth, he came back to Dutchess County and began construction on his family home.

Top: Porte Cochere 1915 and 2021; Bottom: West Veranda 1915 and 2021

While the architect remains unknown, the style of the home is Arts & Crafts. According to architecture.org: “The Arts and Crafts movement originated in England in the mid-19th century as an antidote to the dehumanizing effects of the industrial revolution. It looked back to a time before craftspeople were replaced by machines. Its roots were philosophical rather than architectural and it encompassed many art forms.”

Two features of the home distinct to the Arts and Crafts style are the Porte Cochere (seen above) and the sleeping porches.

Porte Cochere

A porte cochere is an architectural feature that dates back to French palaces. It’s a covered area designed for offloading horse drawn carriages and later cars. Many early 20th century homes featured them as a sign of luxury.

Sleeping porch (now enclosed)

Sleeping porches are also a hallmark of the Arts and Crafts movement. According to Bob Villa, “The sleeping porches often built into Queen Anne Victorians and Arts & Crafts-style homes provide just the space for all ages to enjoy nature’s version of a cooling system and white noise machine. These rooms were, in effect, screened decks and balconies adjacent to second- or third-story bedrooms, located on a corner to receive breezes from all directions… The house feature was extremely popular at the turn of the 20th century, when health professionals advocated sleeping outdoors as a way to bolster the immune system.”

The sleeping porch at The Willows is now enclosed with plexiglass windows, but one can imagine the appeal way back when.

The Willows, circa 1915-1925
The Willows, September 8, 2021

On the drive home I polled the crowd to ask everyone’s favorite thing from our Clinton Corners vacation.

Amir: Going to Innisfree and sitting in the rock gardens and playing on the fuzzy moss.

#1BigSis: The swing!

#1LilBrother: Collecting sticks and rocks (inferred)

Me: The slow pace, the views at sunset, three meals a day together and sleeping in.

Back pasture at The Willows

As I mentioned we’d entertained the idea of Hawaii or a tropical island, but abandoned it when Delta began to surge and timely passport renewals became impossible. I think it’s good things played out the way they did. There’s something about a family road trip in a car packed to the gills, pillows, stuffies and bags crammed in every possible nook and cranny… it’s not picturesque – but it’s perfectly messy.

Clinton Corners Day 8: Trevor Zoo & Dinner in Germantown

Today was an intentionally low key day. I had a suspicion that after the camping adventure last night, (not usually known for restful sleep) half our crew might be a little tired today.

We hung around the house until about noon then made our way towards Trevor Zoo at The Millbrook School, only to find we needed reservations. Only issue with that was we had no cell service there to make said reservations, so we drove into Millbrook with two goals: lunch at the Millbrook Diner (delicious) and use the wifi to make zoo reservations. Done and done.

Fishy friends

Trevor Zoo is a unique landscape tucked into the woods of the school surrounding a fast-moving stream. As you enter, river otters greet you as they splash and play below a wooden bridge that spans the stream.

Bridge from the parking lot to the walkway up to the zoo

The zoo is small and intimate, with attendance limited to less that 50 people at any time. Unlike many zoos, it had zero overlap with an amusement park and was more the character of a nature conservancy and place of learning (logical given its affiliation with the school).

Snowy Owl

There were lots of water fowl, three species of lemur and a host of birds of prey. The indoor exhibits feature reptile and fish tanks, a little bit of everything.

Alpaca
Balance jumps

#1BigSis found an area with stumps all aligned in a circle. Another little girl was jumping from stump to stump, but initially #1BigSis said she was too little to do the same. With a little encouragement from both of us, she gave it a try, and without a misstep was going round and round all her own.

After Trevor Zoo, we took a short drive to Germantown, NY to eat dinner with our friends, Chris and Adri. Chris and Amir were freshman hallmates at William & Mary. They bought a house about a year ago and moved out of the city to the countryside, complete with backyard mountain views, an enclosed garden and 5 chickens. We enjoyed pizza, salad and ice cream, but had to skip an evening stroll to get #1LilBrother back home and to bed.

No big plans tomorrow for the day as we plan to drive back to Virginia tomorrow evening. I have some laundry to tend to, a propane tank to refill (we did some good grilling), and bags to pack. It’s sad to see this trip coming to a close, but with so much in store for our team these next few months (new house, new baby, new car and then the holidays), I’m excited for things to move forward and to find our new normal.

Clinton Corners Day 7: Innisfree Garden

Today we returned to a place we’ve visited many times before that seems to get more peaceful and more beautiful with age – Innisfree Garden in Millbrook, NY.

Entrance trail to Innisfree Garden

The brainchild of landscape architect Lester Collins (1914-1993), Innisfree opened over 50 years ago with the goal of creating an immersive, individual experience in nature, inviting exploration and contemplation.

The lake is surrounded by banks of varying elevation

The garden pathways wrap around a large lake filled with lily pads and other aquatic plants. The terrain is mixed, with gravel pathways, moss and grass leading you around the bends of the crystal clear lake.

Many varieties of mushrooms

The plants are all native to the area, many of which we recognize from the land at The Willows. It’s tempting to fixate outward on the tranquil lake, but looking down at your feet reveals mixed mushrooms and wild flowers and insects in colors spanning the rainbow.

Admittedly, the place isn’t the most stroller friendly, but it was no where near as difficult a trek as our Argentinian hike to Tacul Beach. Our CitiMini stroller has seen much more difficult terrain.

I took advantage of the frequent seats

After the first uphill climb, we rounded the corner and spotted a vertical water stream which didn’t take long for #1BigSis to decide to explore. We hadn’t come prepared with bathing suits, but that’s never stopped her from good water play before.

With no towels either, I just grabbed an extra fleece jacket from the diaper bag and viola – dry and happy again. I would have let #1LilBrother play in the water too, but eventually someone would need to fish him out – and I didn’t want that someone to be me.

Rock balancing

Around the bend from the water feature we encountered an open area with 5 large boulders, each covered in stacks of smaller rocks. Innisfree borrows from Chinese and Japanese garden design, and the rocks are a reminder.

Continuing past the rock balancing to the larger rock gardens ahead

The pathway then takes a turn to the left, and as you round the corner, you are met with the sound of a waterfall off a cliff up above that empties into the lake to the right.

The base of the waterfall features broken slate slabs, some large enough to serve as bridges over the streams of water as it flows into the lake.

Just past the waterfall you’ll find a rock garden with deliberately placed boulders creating terraces and retaining walls perfect for resting. Wikipedia tells me that the rocks all come from the local forest.

Dude you are missing the view!
Crossing the bridge

At this point we’d been walking about 2 hours and the troops were a little tired and hungry. We’d made it roughly 300 degrees around the lake and were almost back at the entrance. With the promise of Mexican food for lunch, everyone rallied.

Back at the house, Amir wanted to throw his pole in the water again, and this time his efforts were VERY fruitful. The pond is so clear you can actually aim your cast towards where the fish are (which I feel like is a little bit cheating), but the crowd was happy to get to see some fish up close.

The great thing about The Willows and two kids under 4 is there are tons of outdoor spots to explore. #1LilBrother seems fascinated by the moss entryway at the formal front of the house, while #1BigSis as expected takes every opportunity to swing.

When the water isn’t reflecting, you can see every fish

Tonight Amir and #1BigSis are doing something special (and adventurous) – sleeping in a camping tent out under the star-filled sky. I’m hoping for a positive report in the morning from both explorers.

Clinton Corners Day 6: Rivendell Riding Academy & a Drizzly Lazy Afternoon

This morning we again awoke to rain, and I wondered if other parts of New York have yet dried out from the flooding brought by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. Fortunately we really suffered no effects here in Clinton Corners, but watching the news these past few days, we’ve learned that so many weren’t so lucky.

Guinness getting prepped for a ride

This morning #1BigSis had her first ever horseback riding lesson. Rivendell Riding Academy is close by, offering lessons for all ages. We scheduled a 1 hour lesson with Madison on a friendly pony named Flash.

Leading Flash to the barn after some initial prep

Madison started by teaching #1BigSis about the basics of grooming and dressing her pony with a saddle. She spent a good 10 minutes brushing his mane.

#1BigSis grooms Flash
Indoor warm up

Since it was drizzling, Madison decided to start the lesson inside the barn to allow everyone to get aquatinted without the added variable of rain. After a few laps where they mastered starting and stopping, everyone headed outside to explore the fields.

Just past the silo is a field with jumps

Out in the field, we encountered other riders enjoying their quiet Sunday mornings.

No jumps yet for these new friends

Madison was a great teacher – patient, spirited and reassuring. Just what our novice rider needed. after about twenty minutes in the fields, the crew made their way back to the barn.

#1BigSis had no trouble with the dismount. In fact she was too fast for me to catch a photo.

Back at the barn, she helped tie up Flash and said some goodbyes. A few last strokes on his mane and a big hug for both Flash and her teacher Madison, and we called it a day. Total expense: $65 + tip.

Madison & #1BigSis
Rivendell Riding Academy

After riding at Rivendell, we came home for lunch and a bit of R&R. Amir and #1LilBrother hit up an air show in Rhinebeck while us ladies took it easy binging on YouTube and afternoon tea.

We made our nightly trip down to the garden to grab veggies for dinner, and Amir collected what dry wood we could find for the solo stove. I’ve been seeing these things all year in Facebook posts from friends and in social media ads, but had never experienced one in real life. There’s a calming feeling it invokes – gentle flames with little to no smoke… this will likely be on the list for Santa this year.

#1BigSis supervises

I finally found the book today that tells the history of The Willows. It was compiled in 1994 by a previous owner when seeking historical registry status for the house. It’s too much to tackle tonight, but fortunately we are here for three more days and nights.

“The floor is LAVA!”

Clinton Corners Day 5: Millbrook Farmer’s Market & Tribute Gardens

This morning we wandered over to Millbrook, a small village about 90 miles north of NYC, with a population of only 1452, but one of the most affluent villages in New York State. Just a 13 minute drive from Clinton Corners, the Farmer’s Market opens at 9am Saturdays and offers fresh veggies, fruit, eggs, handmade wood furniture and local crafts.

Scones with clotted cream and jam

Imagine Amir’s surprise and delight when the third stall at the market was a British Food Truck, complete with sausage rolls, Cornish pasties, and scones with clotted cream & jam. Jackpot!

Just up the hill from the Farmer’s Market are Tribute Gardens, dedicated to the local residents who fought in WWI. Upon walking to the garden gates, you are immediately struck by a sense of peace and beauty, and unlike most faux displays of patriotism, with American flags and eagles plastered everywhere, a single simple flag waves tall and reassuringly at the top of the garden hill.

Entrance to the Millbrook Tribute Gardens

As you enter the garden, you have the option of walking straight ahead up the stairs, across a small bridge spanning a babbling brook with lily pads and flowers, or for those of us with strollers or disabilities, turn right and you’ll find a snaking pathway that weaves back and forth at a steep grade as you climb the hill.

A small bridge crosses the lily pad laden brook

The top of the hill features one of the most immaculately tended playgrounds we’ve ever visited. There are play structures for all ages, public restrooms, picnic tables and plenty of shady seating.

The playground at Tribute Gardens

It was difficult to pull everyone away from the playground, but ultimately our stomachs started rumbling, and Millbrook has a whole street lined with picturesque cafes and restaurants calling us to explore. We settled on Babette’s Kitchen, a small bakery with fresh sandwiches, coffee and chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles.

Back at The Willows, Amir discovered an unexpected talent, and perhaps a new hobby – archery. The first day we arrived, we’d noticed the target sitting in the garage, but hadn’t been able to locate a bow. Oddly, yesterday, we found the bows hiding in the secret back stairwell that connects the kitchen to the second floor, a common feature of older houses, including our own back in Richmond.

The week has been full of new experiences

Amir had only been out shooting for a few minutes when I wandered out to see what he was up to (and maybe ensure no one would get impaled). After only 10 minutes he was hitting the target, and on shot #11, maybe #12, he hit the bullseye. It just happened to be when I was filming in slow-mo with my iPhone. We couldn’t have staged it better.

Bullseye!

I also gave it a turn, and while Amir snapped a photo for evidence, nothing looks more ridiculous than a pregnant woman yielding an ancient weapon, so I’m opting not to post that one (editor’s perk), but will say that after just 4 tries, I was striking within the rings, too. Not bad considering my general lack of coordination and aim in all things athletic.

Amir’s bullseye (I was witness)

#1BigSis even gave it a go – but after 4 shots, gave up in frustration and stomped off shouting “I wanna watch something!” Old habits die hard.

Dressed for the occasion as usual, even if on accident

After our archery adventure, we headed to the pool for some swim time. The pool here is heated to 85 degrees, which on this 78 degree day was perfect. #1BigBrother remained attached to his dad, while #1BigSis and I worked on some swim lessons.

The nap-inducing pool time gifted us once again with some afternoon downtime. Amir took the quiet moment to build a LEGO VW Campervan Bus, and me to edit a few photos and type out this post. We’ll cook dinner here at the house tonight, and enjoy yet another tomato cucumber salad fresh from the garden. I’ve been enjoying great sleep on this vacation, which is much welcomed given that pregnancy and sleep are ironically not very compatible. We’ll wake up again tomorrow to the sound of #1LilBrother rather than our alarm clocks, and see what adventures another day holds in store.

My favorite alarm clock