The charming village of Kinderhook, or “children’s corner,” was first settled by the Dutch—a fact reflected in the town’s neat tree-lined streets, historic wooden buildings, and laid-back atmosphere. The village’s most famous native son was Martin Van Buren, and signs directing visitors to the former president’s birth site, home, and gravesite are everywhere.
It is to Van Buren, nicknamed “Old Kinderhook,” that we owe the expression “O.K.”
To reach Kinderhook from Hudson, take Route 9 north about 10 miles.
Martin Van Buren National Historic Site
Martin Van Buren, a tavern owner’s son who rose to hold the highest office in the land, spent the last 21 years of his life in this large yellow house surrounded by linden trees (1013 Old Post Rd., off Rte. 9H south of the village, 518/758-9689, www.nps.gov/mava, 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily May–Oct., 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Sat.–Sun., Nov.–Apr., adults $4, children under 17 free, grounds free). Before Van Buren bought the property in 1839, Washington Irving had often visited here, sometimes even tutoring the former residents’ children.
A visit to Lindenwald, as the house is known, begins with a short film on the “Little Magician” (Van Buren was only five feet six inches), who avidly supported Jeffersonian democracy, served as vice-president under Andrew Jackson, and established the country’s independent treasury. In his day, Van Buren was regarded as a cool and competent diplomat who operated most effectively behind the scenes, “row[ing] to his object with muffled oars.”
In the sitting room, all done up in elegant gold and light blue, is a fine collection of musical instruments. In the banquet room is a magnificent French wallpaper mural depicting the landscape of the hunt. The room is kept dark at all times to preserve the mural, which can only be viewed by flashlight.
Luykas Van Alen House
Also off Route 9H, just north of Lindenwald, is the Luykas Van Alen House (Rte. 9H, 518/758-9265, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Thurs.–Sat. and 1–5 p.m. Sun. June–Sept., adults $3, seniors $2, children under 12 free), a 1737 Dutch farmhouse complete with a steeply pitched roof, wide chimneys, Delft tile, and sturdy furnishings. If the place looks familiar, it’s because it was used in Martin Scorsese’s film The Age of Innocence, based on the Edith Wharton novel.
In front of the farmhouse is a dark and peaceful pond that’s home to several swans, while to one side is the one-roomed Ichabod Crane School House. Washington Irving apparently based his famous character on a schoolteacher from Kinderhook; the building has been restored to look as it did in the 1920s.
Downtown Historic Sites
By the village green is the 1820 James Vanderpoel House (16 Broad St., 518/758-9265, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Thurs.–Sat. and 1–5 p.m. Sun. June–Sept., adults $3, seniors $2, children under 12 free). Vanderpoel—a contemporary of Martin Van Buren—was a prominent attorney, state assemblyman, and judge. The house is an excellent example of Federal-style architecture and contains an interesting collection of period furnishings and paintings by early area artists.
Nearby is the Columbia County Museum (5 Albany Ave., 518/758-9265, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri. and 1–5 p.m. Sat. May–Oct., 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon., Wed. and Fri. Dec.–Apr., free admission), housed in what was once a Masonic temple. Changing exhibits focus on the history and culture of the county.
At one end of the Kinderhook green is the well-stocked Blackwood and Brouwer Booksellers Ltd. (7 Hudson St., 518/758-1232), home to summer story hours, author breakfasts, readings, and book-signings. At the other end is the creaky, old-fashioned Fisher’s O.K. Rock Shop (2 Chatham St., 518/758-7657), selling minerals, fossils, jewelry, and gifts made from polished rock.
Kinderhook also has its share of antique shops. One of the biggest is the Kinderhook Antiques Center (Rte. 9H, 518/758-7939), housed in an old dairy barn on Route 9H several miles south of the green.
Housed in a classic 1900s home surrounded by flowering gardens and an inviting side porch is the Kinderhook B&B (67 Broad St., 518/758-1850, $124–149). The four air-conditioned guest rooms—two in the main house, two in a guest cottage—are smartly outfitted with country antiques, high featherbeds, and private baths.
The idiosyncratic, log cabin Carolina House (59 Broad St., 518/758-1669, $16) is a local favorite that attracts diners from miles around. On the menu is such hearty Southern fare as baby-back ribs, Southern-fried chicken, catfish, crab cakes, biscuits, and pecan pie.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition