Paths of visionaries

Lee had hoped to use the Chrystie House Project to start a communication about the System Thinking that early visionaries had applied in the area. The vista lines established by their approaches can be retraced and regarded as the sacred geometry of the earth; they indicate the formations of the landmasses, and help identify the energy flows of the air and water that impact natural or human habitats. These geometric methods embodied the "self-evident" concept of "laws of nature" the American Founding Fathers had articulated how an independent America should follow.

In 1709, the second generation of a Belgian immigrant, Catheryna Rombout Brett, resettled in today's Beacon, started the European developments on 28,000 acres of land she inherited. There are two Indian words used to describe the area between two falls of a creek the Bretts had chosen to settle: Matteawan, which means "joining of the two rivers," and "Tioronda," which means "meeting of the waters." The northeast-southwest Fishkill Creek nourishes the southern tip of this inhabitable land between the Hudson and the High Lands. The 33 miles long creek provided farming and hydraulic power for the milling; before Madam Brett retired, one-third of the flour consumed by the colony of New York was produced by the mills she owned. In 1743, after the three ferry/freighting docks was regulated, Madam Brett incorporated 21 farmers, millers, and manufacturers, established the first corporation in southern Dutchess County, Frankford Store House, and established the river freighting industry. In 1738 and 1743, Madam Brett sold 300 acres of land to her nephew Abraham DePeyster Jr, one of the wealthiest merchants of West Indies trades in New York. DePeyster built the country home complex on a vista point of an inverted bow-like land; the house enjoyed the river views from three sides and the mountain views from one side. In 1781, Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler stayed in the house between April and June. After the war, the DePeyster property was forfeited by New York State and sold to Alexander Hamilton's right-hand man, the biggest landowner in Dutchess County, Gulian Verplanck. In 1820, William Few and his son-in-law, Albert Chrystie, bought the complex on 99 acres from Verplanck's son-in-law William Allen. It made the Chrystie House uniquely owned by the founders of two rival banks, Bank of New York and Manhattan Bank. During the first and second industrial revolutions, with investors like John Jacob Aster and Charles Moseley Walcott, the mills next to the two waterfalls became major factory complexes.
The map of the Beacon riverfront protracted with the vista lines that the visionary developers had used. (Yuan Lee, copyrighted 2021)
In around 1841, the legendary landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing, a Newburgh native, and Henry Winthrop Sargent, a Bostonian horticulturist, had envisioned creating another Lake Como*, the best-landscape area in the world in their minds, in the Mid Hudson between Cold Spring and New Hamberg, partially called Newburgh Bay. The two famous 19th-century garden estates, Sargent's Wodenethe and Walcott's Rosenethe were established in Beacon under their vision on the upper level of the land of inverted bow. In Wodenethe, Downing and Sargent nurtured Calvert Vaux, recruited by Downing from London, who later created the Greensward Plan for Central Park in N.Y.C.
The protracted Google map of Mid Hudson, between West Point and New Hamburg (Yuan Lee, copyrighted 2021)
The Google map of Lake Como, Italy, was protracted with the vista lines. The protracted map shows why H.W.Sargent drew the parallel between the area and the area between West Point and New Hamburg. (Yuan Lee, copyrighted 2021)
The efforts to materialize the vision of a Lake Como in the U.S. were destroyed by Homer Ramsdell's plan to turn Beacon and Newburgh into one of the largest transportation hubs in the northeast. Ramsdell applied the scorched earth capitalism to the lands he had grabbed by1872 when his transportation hub plan failed. He turned the Beacon riverfront into one of the largest brickyards in the region. Denning's Point Brick Work started in 1881 and closed in 1939; all the historic properties on riverfront were destroyed. In most places excavated by the company, the ground went 50-60 feet lower. Fishkill Landing, known for its garden estates, was annexed by the industrial village Matteawan in 1913 and became the City of Beacon. The city turned the diminished vista point of the Chrystie House site into a sewage plant and garbage dump.

The relocation plan of Chrystie House in 1927 done by Dr. CJ Slocum, the owner of 365 acres Craig House Sanitarium, had followed the vista line and moved house up into the Wodenethe. The location was not far from the border between Rosenethe and Wodenethe so that it wouldn't interfere with the viewsheds of both garden estates. The C.D.C. mental drugs laws shattered the sanitariums like Craig House; the Wodenethe mansion was burned and destroyed in 1954. The famous garden became a 20 houses development; like many developments in the city, it wasn't designed to preserve or create viewsheds. Started the 70s, without the needed visions, the city shared the fate of the cities of the Rust Belt and went depressed for thirty years. In the late 80s, New York State, joined by Scenic Hudson saved Beacon riverfront by putting parks on rehabilitated lands. That didn’t save Rosenethe, the mansion was destroyed by arson in 1992.

The city's plan to chop and divide sloping Rosenethe into 11 lots failed in 2014; the developer took over the remaining 14 acres and divided it into three lot. He planned a new house on a 7-acres lot at the location of the original mansion; another house on the 6-acre lot neighboring Chrystie House. The plan has two long driveways for the houses situated on the top of the slope; one was placed right next to the long border with the Chrystie House property. This approved driveway cut into the viewshed of the river from Chrystie House, the ground level up. Toward the end of the political process, hundreds of matured trees were cut down on the slope, allowing the walls of fast-growing invasive shrubs and trees to block the river views from Chrystie House. Interestingly, the neighbor of the Wodenethe gatehouse on the other side of Chrystie House filed a lawsuit at the same time to eliminate the right of way/easement on the historical driveway. The legal/political process between 2015 and 2019 monitored by the city eventually changed the lot line, voided the historical entrance, and created another new driveway. During Covid-19, Yuan Lee constructed the 300 feet long driveway and its stone retaining wall; that's the second driveway the city had monitored building on the historical lot. The two large Rosenethe lots were sold to the same owners; they built the main house on the vista line as the city had approved; in 2021, the groundwork for the second driveway started, clearly visible in the photos below covered in snow.
The Hudson view from Chrystie House patio in 2021, showing the groundwork of the neighboring driveway covered in snow.
The Hudson view in 2021 from Chrystie House's second-floor window, the only visible ground of neighboring property was the cleared area for the new driveway covered in snow.
After the Civil War, Homer Ramsdell used Eminent Domain laws and train rails to target and destroy historical sites built on vista lines. His irreversible actions of scorched earth capitalism later destroyed one of the country's best scenic, historical areas. The impacts continued even after Denning's Point Brick Work ceased to exist. Beacon suffered thirty years of depression after the industrial era ended, yet, the so-called "2003 renaissance" brought another round of attacks on the remaining views sheds on the vista lines. The Chrystie House is like a wounded old soldier who survived the massive assaults on the front lines and mended on the second lines to face weaponized driveways, used to compromise scenic sites. What happened to Chrystie House between 2009 and 2021 demonstrated that the local politics could easily undermine the property rights protected by U.S. Constitution, New York State laws, and the Beacon City Charter. The entrenched attorneys, architects, and land use engineers across the board told Yuan Lee that the historic preservation laws and codes were obsolete and not worthy of mentioning in the court and public hearings. As a visual thinker, what has worried Lee the most is how these political process intentionally ignores the most evident, basic facts.

Following the legal counsels' advice, Yuan Lee had reframed himself from speaking publicly about the "land dispute." Still, this experience has turned him from an artist inspired to preserve American Visionaries' paths to a property owner who has problems with his basic rights. It compelled him to seek support from people who care about nature and humanity through connecting to their own environments. He knows the reality, but in his Don Quixote moments, he dreams about the Lake Como-like Beacon and Newburgh, envisioned by Downing and Sargent.
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