I’d never seen anything like it before. A large, stalwart gatehouse, the color of whipped butter, stood stoically – like a sentry in uniform – at the entrance to Hyde Hall. It had been built in the same style as the very first toll houses dotting New York’s western turnpikes. In August’s early afternoon heat, the sun glinted brightly off a section of its roof, a tin-covered dome nicknamed “tin-top” for that very reason.
Long ago, the gatekeeper and his family would have lived here, in charge of the traffic’s flow. They would have noted the arrival of the rich and famous to the sprawling estate, as well as their exit, hours or even days later, through the main gate. The tour guide took note of me admiring the unique, two-winged structure built in the 1820’s, and rose gracefully from her seat to greet me. In a soft, lilting voice, she regaled me with some colorful, yet pertinent facts.
She explained that Tin-Top was the earliest surviving gatehouse in New York, moved from the main entrance of Glimmerglass State Park to its present location several years earlier. In addition to reclaiming its’ main function – greeting guests, it presently housed Hyde Hall’s ticket office, a bookstore, and large space for historic exhibits. It remained an important symbol of New York’s transportation history and no doubt would continue to do so.
“You’re in for a treat, once the tour starts!” she exclaimed. “Just wait and see. It’s a beautiful piece of history.” And five minutes later, when our tour group assembled and we began the short walk across Tin Top Bridge, her words rang true. The gasp was audible when we caught sight of Hyde Hall. It was just, well, so majestic. And the setting, romantic. There had to be a ghost or two somewhere!
We could see three distinctly different sections of the home, each built around the central courtyard, overlooking Otsego Lake. If you’re familiar with the five-book series Leatherstocking Tales, or the author James Fenimore Cooper, you’ll recognize Otsego as the Glimmerglass he often wrote about.
The Stone House was built with the family’s everyday life in mind. The next unit would become home to sizable servants’ quarters and second-floor bedrooms. That structure, though larger than the first, was much simpler in detail. The third, known as The Great House, was built in yet another style, more squared-off in design than the previous two.
George Clarke was a robust Englishman from an affluent family. He was named after his great-grandfather. The elder George was prominent in New York’s colonial government. He’d also amassed 120,000 acres along the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys, and a sizable fortune when he returned home to England. It was the land, the promise of a future that inspired young George to envision the loveliness of Hyde Hall. He was determined to come to America and settle down here.
Built between 1817 and 1834, Hyde Hall’s namesake was in honor of another property owned by his grandmother’s family in Cheshire England, bearing the same name. This newer home, a grand private residence, is still considered one of the most stunning reminders of by-gone eras, a time when influential English families set down roots and established vast estates and fortunes, both here in America and ‘across the pond.’
It wasn’t hard to fall under its’ spell. After all, we were wandering through one of the country’s oldest structures, in and out of 50 palatial rooms that held on tightly to a mind-boggling collection of furniture and artwork, china and other artifacts from the rich history of yesteryear.
The staircases were breath-taking. They spiraled up-up-up. We could not see to the top of them. The tour guide showed us where the family ate, where they slept, where the servants worked tirelessly, 24/7, in order to make the house run smoothly.
In one room, a life-sized painting of Jane Storrs Cooper Worthington greeted us. The masterpiece, on loan from the Cooper family, captures the likeness of this young woman standing on the rocks in Newport, Rhode Island. White-capped waves crash against the craggy shoreline behind her. It was obviously a place she loved to visit, judging from the peaceful expression on her face.
“Jenny,” as she was fondly referred to by family and friends, passed away two months after her wedding day. Her husband, John Worthington, was heartbroken. He commissioned the stunning portrait of his beloved bride two years later.
Time passed, as it tends to, and John remarried. His new wife was quite upset though, forced to see the likeness of his first love every morning, noon, and night. She was firm in her request that he remove the painting and put it out of her sight. Jenny landed in a dark closet, covered in sheets. Jealousy is a cruel beast. Especially if one of the subjects is dead.
That should have been the end of it, right? The start of a new chapter in life. But, once the painting was off the wall, hidden from the light of day, strange things began to happen. Pots and pans would fly across the kitchen, thrown by an unseen hand. Glassware would be tossed to the floor, where it shattered into a million pieces. Loud noises were heard in the night and other disruptions were reported during the day. Finally, when the likeness of Jenny was unwrapped and hung in its rightful place again, all paranormal occurrences ceased.
In 2013 the SYFY channel’s show, Ghost Hunters, investigated the estate and aired the immensely popular episode, October 30th of that year. There are rumors of a widow’s curse, stories of a woman in white, a piano in the drawing room that’s heard playing a melody – even though no one’s there, and a mayday message via the radio, heard by the craftsman who’d worked alone in the home for ten years.
The home and grounds were silent while we were there. But, an overwhelming feeling that there might be some activity at different times was strong, almost palpable. Imagining the people who’d passed through these 50 rooms over the years – the love affairs, weddings and divorces, the births and deaths, laughter and tears – how could there not be some residual energy waiting to manifest itself?
Regardless, the architecture is stunning, the history of the family and home quite interesting. The tour guide was knowledgeable and willing to answer any questions we asked. Believe me, there were plenty. Hyde Hall is part of the Haunted History Trail of New York State, which features 65 attractions to date, covers 31 counties and over 400 miles of history, culture and the paranormal. If you have any interest, you need to get in touch with them! You’re in for a great time.
All photos by Theresa St. John