Great Bones! Exploring Dr. Bronson’s House

Staircase detail, Dr. Oliver Bronson House - Photo by Andy Milford
Staircase detail, Dr. Oliver Bronson House – Photo by Andy Milford

Where else but the Hudson Valley can you find a house that was once a shining example of Hudson River school aesthetics, later part of a penal colony and reform school for girls, and recently featured in both a big-budget Hollywood movie and an Anthropologie catalog?

In Hudson, New York, work is under way to save the legendary Dr. Oliver Bronson House. Abandoned more almost 40 years, this A.J. Davis-designed home was originally built in 1812 in the Federal style. In the 1830s it was redesigned by Davis to exemplify the Romantic-Picturesque movement and to reflect the same aesthetic sensibility expressed by painters in the Hudson River School, including neighbors Thomas Cole and Fredric Church. Evidence of this genteel way of life can still be seen in the sweeping staircases, six-over-six windows, mantels, and elaborately carved woodwork.

Detail of watercolor by William Guy Wall, circa 1819, collection of the New York Historical Society
Detail of watercolor by William Guy Wall, circa 1819, collection of the New York Historical Society

Life went on for many years with residents living in rural splendor, until the house met the same fate as many others, moving from family member to family member until landing in state hands. It was then incorporated into a penal institution before becoming home to the superintendent of a reform school for female juvenile delinquents. It was abandoned in the 1970s. With this kind of history, the Bronson has a slightly creepy vibe, suggesting all sorts of untoward goings-on that belie its stately grandeur. Just our kind of place.

Pre-restoration 1997. Photo: Historic Hudson Archives
Pre-restoration 1997. Photo: Historic Hudson Archives

In 1997 time and tides began to change for the Bronson House when Historic Hudson began to advocate for its restoration. In 2003 the house received National Historic Landmark status and in 2008 work began in earnest. Teams dug up old cobblestone paths, restore dwindows, replaced the roof, and began to carefully and lovingly restore Davis’ landmark achievement. In 2010 the public was allowed in for the first time in decades.

In recent years, clothing company Anthropologie took advantage of the Bronson House’s gorgeous bones for a catalog shoot. Hollywood took notice as well, using the house as a location for the Bourne Legacy. With so much positive attention, the future is looking bright for this extraordinary Hudson Valley home.