There are stories around every bend as you follow the Hudson River through its valley from Albany to New York. They span the Revolutionary War, the Gilded Age, the rise and fall of industry and modern times.
George Washington and Neil Armstrong slept in the same bedroom. Morse Code inventor Samuel Morse painted portraits. Twin Quaker brothers built a fabulous Victorian castle in the clouds. Pilot “Sully” Sullenberger skillfully landed his jet on the river; Chelsea Clinton’s wedding landed the tiny village of Rhinebeck in the limelight.
Rural exurbs in the mid-Hudson Valley, once home to Vanderbilts, Roosevelts and artists of the Hudson River School, also claim Army cadets at West Point and some of the country’s top chefs. The region is only an hour or two north of New York City, but even that small distance makes the cost of meetings and events drop noticeably.
Its proximity to the East’s main metropolis makes access easy. The mid-Hudson Valley is served by the New York area’s fourth-largest airport, Stewart International, near Newburgh, N.Y. Interstates 84 and 87 intersect there. And Amtrak runs trains up the east side of the river from New York’s Penn Station, as does the Metro-North commuter railroad from Grand Central Station, making day trips to the city an attractive add-on to meetings.
Poughkeepsie, the Dutchess County seat, is the largest town in the area with a population of 25,000 in the city limits and 29,000 in the surrounding area. IBM still makes mainframe computers there, employing 12,000 people. It’s also home to Vassar College and the Culinary Institute of America, where groups of 20 to 50 can sample a world of cuisines in five student-staffed restaurants.
A rehabilitated railroad span became the world’s longest pedestrian bridge when it opened last October as the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park; it’s 1.28 miles long and 212 feet above the river.
Last year the family-owned Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel and Conference Center completed a $2 million renovation with Dale Chihuly-style chandeliers and a midlobby lounge.
The 185-room hotel sits next to the Mid-Hudson Civic Center, an older facility that is suitable for trade shows. Its 15,000 square feet of meeting space includes two ballrooms, the larger for up to 150 people. What was once a restaurant is now available as a private event space for up to 75 people.
The family that owns the hotel also runs a trolley shuttle to two facilities on the river for off-site events.
The 3-year-old Grandview hosts business and social functions for up to 500 in its ballroom or as many as 300 in a climate-controlled permanent tent.
Next door, the contemporary Shadows on the Hudson restaurant has five dining areas, among them an all-weather terrace that can seat groups of up to 70. The Winter Room, which can hold 45, is entirely white, except for the blazing glow of its fireplace and brushed metal beads that divide the room from public areas. A new marina has slips for 35 boats and day docking.
Dutchess County also has a range of historic sites for meetings and events including a presidential home and a born-again scruffy old dive.
A new visitors center at Locust Grove, the 1851 retirement estate of inventor Samuel Morse, has made this historic site of greater interest to meeting planners. The meeting room, with a capacity of 150, opens onto historic gardens lush with the peonies and roses once prized there.
Hallways hung with Morse’s art recall his first career as a portrait painter and make a backdrop for an evening reception. Tours of the gardens and Morse’s 45-room yellow-and-brown Tuscan-style mansion can also be arranged.
A small museum suggests that chirping pet squirrels may have inspired Morse to invent the code that bears his name. Or maybe it was his realization that the speed with which messages are delivered can make a difference. His first wife died before he could reach her side.
The visitors center at the home of a another great American is also an option for small meetings. The center at the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park has four meeting rooms and a 224-seat auditorium. Its spacious, exhibit-filled lobby is available for receptions after hours.
The Roosevelt home can be toured, and a shuttle will take visitors to Eleanor Roosevelt’s cottage — Val Kill — and Roosevelt’s mountain hideaway, Top Cottage.
Washington and an astronaunt slept there
The Beekman Arms, built in 1766 in Rhinebeck, is the oldest continuously operating inn in the country. George Washington stayed in Room 21 when he was training troops for the Revolutionary War. Many years later, so did Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon.
Clinton didn’t sleep there, but many of the journalists who covered her wedding this summer did, and the hotel was often the backdrop for news coverage.
Renovated in 1995, the Beekman Arms has a ballroom for 80 that opens onto a patio. It has merged with the Delamater Inn, a collection of seven buildings that includes a small conference center for up to 50 people. There are 74 guest rooms.
The inn’s 1766 Traphagen Tavern has many stories to tell. Franklin Roosevelt followed election returns there. Washington and Benedict Arnold ate, drank and argued there before Arnold turned traitor.
Scruffy no more
Nearby, what was a scruffy old riverside hotel is scruffy no longer. The Rhinecliff reopened two years ago following a $5 million rebuild.
After buying the 1854 hotel in 2003, the new owners planned to slap on some paint and reopen. Faced with a crumbling foundation, they ended up gutting and rebuilding the place.
Five years later, they opened this comfortable minimalist haven with a bar and restaurant on the lower level, quirky art on the walls and a sunny meeting/banquet room that holds 120. The hotel’s nine guest rooms overlook the Hudson and have whirlpool tubs and beds fashioned from old rafters.
Over the river and through the woods
West of the river on the edge of the Catskill Mountains, Ulster County has a faraway feel. It also has meeting sites where nature is the star.
The Mohonk Mountain House (see sidebar, p. 10) is up in the clouds. The Emerson Resort and Spa is along the banks of Esopus Creek, one of the best fly-fishing streams in the Northeast.
Built in 1996, the Emerson Inn burned nine years later. Rebuilt, it opened in March 2007 sporting upscale Asian decor and 26 spacious suites. There are fireplaces, private decks and 24 bottles of wine in each room (you pay for what you drink). Bill and Hillary Clinton are frequent guests. No pets or children are allowed.
Nearby, the Lodge at Emerson Place welcomes both families and pets. Twenty-seven rooms are nicely done in a casual Adirondack style with moose-adorned coverlets.
The inn is best for groups of 20 to 50 that can use two 1,500-square-foot meeting rooms bathed in natural light and several small breakout rooms. The Great Room is used for meetings and as an after-hours gathering place. The inn’s dining room is available for banquets.
The Emerson turned its 64-foot silo (this was once a dairy farm) into an enormous kaleidoscope with shows offered daily.
“It was the largest such thing in the world in the 1998 ‘Guinness Book of World Records,’” said Tracy Lynch, sales director. “Then Japan built a bigger one.”
Seventeenth-century doors from India lead into the resort’s new Forbes four-star spa, with 10 treatment rooms and an outdoor relaxation area.
Meeting on the edge
Five miles from New Paltz, Minnewaska Lodge sits on 15 acres of woods in the Shawangunk Mountains.
The spacious main room, with its many sofas, is the primary meeting space in this 26-room property. The room overlooks cliffs called the Trapps.
“They are world famous for rock climbing,” said Gunter Spilhous, sales manager, “second-best place in this country.”
Even if you’re not a rock climber, the outdoors is a lure there, as are homemade cookies and granola. Spilhous will lead hikes and just about any other kind of team-building activity.
Recently, a group from Whole Foods’ regional office in New Jersey met there. Spilhous organized their trip as a “Hair-Raising Race,” adapted from television’s “Amazing Race.”
“They played paint ball, built bears [later donated to charity], bowled and acted in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” he said.
Back to earth
Following the Hudson toward New York takes you through Orange County, for the past six years the fastest-growing county in New York.
Meeting options include a historic hotel at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a new boutique hotel and wonderful buildings in a state park.
West Point’s Thayer Hotel was built in 1926 for academy guests. It stands, solid and imposing, just beyond the academy’s security gates.
Baronial in style, with carved wood, gold-inscribed columns, leaded glass and coats of arms, the hotel has 147 guest rooms and 15,000 square feet of meeting space in 10 rooms on two levels. It can comfortably handle groups of as many as 200 people.
Two of the meeting rooms that overlook the Hudson were recently renovated, with the latest in technology.
Team building is a specialty, some of it based on the West Point experience.
“People come here and say they want cadet stuff — you know, physical rigor,” said John Ferrell, director of sales. “But they don’t really know what cadets go through.”
Instead, the leadership development group uses rowing on the river, trapezes and reball (similar to paint ball) to help groups strategize and communicate.
“They also use military-style staff rides to help groups apply lessons from history,” said Christine Mazzoli, senior sales manager.
Staff rides are training exercises. Officers study historic battles, glean the lessons learned from them and then visit the battlefield to get a better idea of what actually happened. The focus is on applying the lessons learned to issues that arise in the future.
A new management company, Dolce, took over at the Thayer in November. Tours of the academy are available, and a free museum will interest history buffs.
Catlin Gardens Inn, a boutique hotel topped with a golden cupola, opened in August with two meeting/banquet rooms for up to 130 and an Irish pub. Four breakout rooms fan out from the dark-red octagonal lobby.
The hotel is the vision of owner John Stack and his family to complement their 40-suite Manor House, which has a meeting room that holds 210 and six acres of gardens with walkways.
Lucia Granite, with Scott Lask Wealth Management Group, takes high-end prospective clients there.
“The staff is extra professional and courteous. They become an extension of our company,” she said.
Those seeking a mountain hideaway might consider Bear Mountain State Park on the Appalachian Trail. Built in the 1970s, the park’s Overlook Lodge completed a $3 million renovation in January.
“We can handle 200 for a meeting,” said innkeeper Alicia Diamond.
The lodge’s 24 rooms have a bear decor. There’s also a wonderful gathering room. Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Mike Mattarozzo recently won the American Culinary Federation’s USA Chef of the Year award.
The park’s centerpiece, the 1915 Bear Mountain Inn, closed five years ago after descending from glory days to become a glorified shelter for hikers.
This fall, following a $10 million restoration, inn’s first floor will reopen with an 80-person banquet room, a gift shop and an informal bistro. In 2011, it plans to open a second-floor dining room and 12 to 15 guest suites.
The park also has four inexpensive but rustic six-bedroom Stone Lodges that were built by Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.
They stand in sharp contrast to Woodbury Commons, the world’s largest collection of luxury designer and brand-name outlets, 20 minutes away. Those outlets have become some of New York’s hottest tourist attractions, especially for international visitors.
Contrasts abound in the Hudson Valley — and there’s a story around every bend.