Memories of Olana, to Olana

by Melanie Hasbrook

By Melanie Hasbrook, Development and Marketing Communications Manager

Olana’s original guides and hosts Mary Ann Bikes, Alice Gold, Kay Sterns, Ruby Funk, Ruth Karmer and Mary Mazzacano in the Court Hall, c. 1960s, Olana Collection

“Well here I am! At last – looking at a perfect Eden of picturesque beauty.” Novelist Grace King to her sister Nan from Olana, July 4, 1891

“It was an ideal holiday, in a Garden of Eden . . .”  Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), June 11, 1887, writing a thank you note to Frederic Church after a recent visit to Olana.

There’s no doubt, everyone has a memory of when they visited Olana for the first time.  It’s an experience that you don’t forget.  In fact, visitors to Olana when the Churches lived here often wrote letters and journaled about how they felt during or after their visit.  For me, Olana was a fourth grade field trip.  I knew it was a beautiful place, the “castle on the hill,” but did not fully grasp the totality of Frederic Church and Olana until I was in college taking a River Ecology course that included a visit to Olana.  It was then that this place came alive for me the first time.

This year Olana is celebrating 50 years since it first opened to the public in 1967. Since then, Olana has welcomed thousands of visitors, each with their own first time memory. We are fortunate enough to have captured the remembrances of many members who were part of the original Campaign to Save Olana through our oral history project. Now, we’re asking you to share your story. We are collecting memories and memoirs via our “Share Your Memory” 50th Anniversary webpage. Simply fill out the form at the bottom of the page and hit submit. Your memory could be shared on Olana’s social media or “Share Your Memory” page. Not only will your story inspire others, it could help us with our curatorial work. Maybe your story can help tell Olana’s history at a certain point in time. Did you know Mrs. Church?  Did you visit when you were young before Olana was a State Historic Site?

As we move through 2017, we hope that you will be inspired to visit and recount your very first visit. As former board chair of The Olana Partnership and 2016 Frederic Church Award Recipient, Washburn Oberwager recalls, “I grew up with my grandmother who knew Louis Church, the son of Frederic Church. She knew about Olana. For me, Olana was the magical castle on the hill. It was exotic and worldly—maybe a little other-worldly. I used to dream about Olana and it inspired me. The more I learned about Frederic Church, the more I wanted to travel the world like he did.  Our family connection to Olana inspired my love of Hudson River School paintings.”