By Andrew Frey, New York by Rail

It’s a brisk, autumn afternoon in New York’s first capital, Kingston. I make my way down Broadway toward Rondout Creek through a vibrant, colorful retail area, intrigued by the alluring aromas of restaurants and the eclectic displays of antique shops and galleries. The area’s history emanates from its tall, industrial-era buildings that slope toward the creek, a tributary of the Hudson River. Even beyond this strip, Kingston’s deep-rooted history, from America’s beginnings, is apparent, spreading far beyond this community’s borders.

Four neighborhoods in Kingston are designated historic districts. The first, Stockade National Historic District, was the original site of the village of Kingston, which was fortified by a 14-foot stockade fence during the American Revolution. The second, Fair Street, is a neighborhood of large homes built by affluent businessmen during the 19th century. Throughout the 1800s, distinguished residences representing architectural styles like Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival were constructed on this tree-shaded street just outside the mercantile center of uptown Kingston. The third, Chestnut Street, a hill adorned with mansions overlooking the Hudson River with views of the Catskill Mountains, was home to Rondout’s leading citizens, most notably James McEntee, who built the first home there. The McEntee property is now listed on the National, State, and Local Registers of Historic Places. I’m heading to the fourth, the Rondout-West Strand National Historic District. This district encompasses the area that rapidly transformed from farmland into the thriving maritime village of Rondout after the Delaware and Hudson Canal opened in 1828. The terminus of the canal was at Rondout, which later became part of the city of Kingston.

A stroll through the Rondout-West Strand National Historic District is like stepping out of a time capsule into the 1800s. Each boatyard I pass was an ally to industries like brick-making, cement-making, bluestone (flagstone) shipping, and ice-making. Reaching Rondout Landing, I’m eager to learn more about this district’s history. I continue northeast along the waterfront to explore the brick warehouses along the creek when I stumble upon a tugboat, towering above me in the courtyard of the Hudson River Maritime Museum.

The tugboat Mathilda at the Hudson River Maritime Museum.
Photo by Tim Hetrick

Hudson River Maritime Museum

Built in 1898 in Sorrel, Quebec, the tugboat, Mathilda, is one of the few remaining steam-powered tugboats in existence. With its original steam engine intact, Mathilda is a testament to the Hudson River Maritime Museum’s preservation efforts. Permanently dry-docked at the museum, the tugboat is surrounded by gardens, picnic tables and benches, a gazebo, and a walkway along Rondout Creek.

The museum is housed in a former lumber company’s office and warehouse. Inside, a panoramic display of model boats sail along a mock-up of the Hudson River. The exhibit, "The Modeler’s Craft: An Artisan’s View of Hudson River Boats," includes boat models from the museum’s collection, as well as loans from Friends of Historic Kingston and the Newburgh Historical Society. Many of the models in the museum’s collection were donated by the late Charlie Niles, a local model boat builder who specialized in Hudson River boats and to whom the museum has dedicated a permanent exhibit.

Other intriguing displays include Henry Hudson and Early Exploration, where I step inside a hands-on replica of the aft cabin of Henry Hudson’s 85-foot wooden sailing ship, Half Moon. Another exhibit, "The Hudson River and Its Canals: Building the Empire State," has interactive models of canals and locks, perfect for kids, and a reconstructed interior of a barge’s family cabin. My personal favorite is Winters Past on the Hudson, a display of recreational activities, including a 50-foot ice yacht for high-speed racing.

After perusing the countless ship models and displays, pretending to steer a tugboat replica, and toying with an antique ship throttle, it was time to ship-off, “full steam ahead” next door to Hudson River Cruises.

Cruising the Hudson River

Hudson River Cruises is among the Top 10 Best Hudson River Valley Tours on TripAdvisor. For over 35 years, this sightseeing experience has offered passengers a memorable view of the Hudson’s historic shoreline from May through October. Especially at this time of year, with the changing leaves at their peak color, the two-hour ride aboard the Rip Van Winkleallows for sweeping views of the fall foliage along the banks of the Hudson. In addition to sightseeing cruises, Hudson River Cruises offers themed and music cruises with a DJ or live music, and hosts private events such as class reunions, birthday and anniversary parties, and private group tours.

I make my way through a large crowd to board. Despite colder weather than anticipated, the main deck is flooded with passengers. Luckily, seating is available on the lower deck, along with panoramic windows for unobstructed views. There’s a fully stocked bar and snack stand with hot drinks and other refreshments available during the journey, too. I buy a coffee to warm up and grab an open seat.

The narration during the cruise provides interesting insights to more than a dozen landmarks of historical significance, including extravagant estates, quaint villages surrounded by vineyards, orchards, and other scenic sites. I catch views of the Rondout and Esopus Meadow lighthouses, Mills Mansion State Historic Site, a Vanderbilt mansion, and Holy Cross Monastery. As we pass Esopus Island, I learn there’s camping on the island, which I hope to experience in the near future.

As the sun gets low, a golden glow shimmers off the gentle waves of the river. The boat returns to Kingston. Back on shore, I head back to my rental car to prepare for another journey, the train ride home aboard Amtrak.

Esopus Island in Ulster County, New York
Photo by Andrew Frey

Walking Tours of Kingston's Rondout-West Strand District

Friends of Historic Kingston offers walking tours on select dates from July to October. Tours of the Stockade National Historic District are on the first Saturday of each month. Tours of the Rondout-West Strand National Historic District are on the last Saturday of each month.

Information for self-guided walking tours can also be found at the Friends of Historic Kingston Museum and the Kingston Heritage Area Visitors Center.

Take Amtrak to Kingston, NY

Experience the historic charm of Kingston via Amtrak to the Rhinecliff-Kingston Station (RHI) in the Hudson Valley. Don’t forget to use the I Love New York 15% discount!

Staying in the area? Rent a car from Enterprise. Enterprise picks you up at RHI and takes you to your rental car. Use the code NYTRAIN for a discount when making your reservation. Click here to reserve your car or call Enterprise’s Kingston office: 845-336-4700.

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