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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
It’s been 1 year, 6 months and 21 days since my last travel post. When traveling back from Argentina back in February 2020, we knew Covid-19 was coming since as doctors we were following everything in China early on… but even on that last pass through customs, we were asked ONLY if we’d been to China at all during our vacation – there weren’t any masks yet – just an occasional bottle of hand sanitizer and oblivious travelers, us included.
The pandemic has been hard for us in some ways, but also easy in some unexpected aspects. As Emergency Physicians in the thick of treating Covid patients every day, we expected a degree of risk and danger, but I know that worry of us getting sick never settled (and still runs strong) amongst our friends and family.
We never took anything lightly. From the get go, we wrote our will, identified someone to care for our kids should the worst case happen… all the things, that for us almost felt normal – as all of our friends at work were doing the same. Things normalized to a new existence, and unlike most of our friends and family who experienced huge changes in their daily routines (working from home, virtual school), we still woke up every day and put on the same gray scrubs (plus a new scrub cap), drove the same 10 minute commute, dropped our kids off at the same daycare, and went to work with the same awesome and snarky people, just with a lot more PPE. In some ways nothing changed, relatively speaking, but of course everything changed and is still changing.
We’ve had a few weekends away during the pandemic, some camping, time back in Norfolk with our families, but nothing I would call a vacation. Covid isn’t entirely to blame for that – we also added one more to our family in June 2020 – so #1Toddler has been promoted to #1BigSis to make room for #1LilBrother. Probably also relevant to note is that I’m 24 weeks pregnant with our third and last addition to TeamLouka, a little girl we expect to join us in December.
We’d originally considered a trip to Hawaii, but with the Delta variant surging, passport renewals delayed 5+ months, and #1BigSis occasionally rejecting mask-wearing, we felt like flying was a recipe for vacation heartbreak. As an alternative, we settled on a tried and true staple destination for us, a (drivable) getaway to a home owned by family in Clinton Corners, New York. Stay tuned for an entire post (or two) about this incredible 1914 Craftsman home set on 12.9 acres of rolling green hills.
We arrived just before 3am this morning. When Amir initially suggested driving through the night, the exhaustion of just having prepared and sold our current home followed by an unexpected week of me taking care of the kids at home (thanks to a Covid exposure at daycare)… it seemed ridiculous at first pass. But then he pointed out that they would sleep… SLEEP in the car for the majority of the 6 hour drive… SOLD.
The drive really wasn’t that bad (says the person who didn’t actually have to drive). We were originally going to take Amir’s car, but just before getting on I95, his check engine light came on, then the whole car started to shudder, and the check engine light began to flash. Back home we went to switch over to my car, just happy we didn’t end up stranded in DC or elsewhere far from home. AAA would have been no match for this car full of three tired grumps and a pregnant lady.
Whenever we first arrive somewhere, we always like to walk and explore – to get a feel for the nooks and crannies. Whether an AirBnB or a campsite, it helps us plan our stay.
Amir and #1BigSis headed down to checkout the pond and fishing prospects, while #1LilBrother and I trapsed the perimeter of the house. Covered in moss, and with all the bump outs of a true craftsman, we found much to explore.
Team Pond Explorers caught a fish but threw it back. Hearing the jubilant cheers of victory, #1LilBrother and I went to check it out. Unfortunately I stepped on an underground hornet nest and was stung on my ankle. I looked down expecting a snake since we were at the waters edge and was slightly relived to just see flying critters. Man oh man did that burn. It’s easily been 30 years since I’ve been stung. I’ll happily go another 30.
After some lunch and some ice for my ankle, we set out for some swimming pool time. We still have two non-swimmers on our team, so pool time comes with a level of stress and anxiety only a parent of fast walking toddlers can appreciate. Few things in parenting legitimately give me nightmares – car accidents, choking, unsafe sleep… and DROWNING. I guess in our line of work you see the things that truly hurt kids. It’s not GMO food.
After the pool, we stopped back by the garden. We’d paid it a quick visit first thing this morning, but had mistakenly arrived without a basket to carry things. Perhaps we made an assumption based on the low output of our city garden… but this time we returned with a proper vesicle.
Pools are refreshing and priceless on a hot summer day, but the BEST things about a pool these days is it’s a sure-fire way to guarantee a solid nap by both kids. Back at the house, they were both down for the count in less that 10 minutes.
As I mentioned, we had a big week ahead of this trip. We sold out beloved 102 year old house in Richmond, affectionately known as “Pink Floyd,” for its bright pink front door and address on Floyd Avenue. We’re moving to “the burbs,” something we said we’d never do, to a 4 year old home in a large neighborhood with great schools and built-in activities. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as we return here to The Willows for what might be our fifth visit over the years, I’m appreciating this 107 year old masterpiece more than ever. Old houses are alive with history.
I want more than anything to sit down tonight and flip back through the large coffee table book that recounts the history of this epic home. With two under 4 though, quiet moments alone are rare, so I’ll just see how the night carries on.