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An Upstate Weekend With the Rockefellers

How the famous family’s legacy endures north of New York City

If you were to head north out of Manhattan on a quest for peace, quiet and oneness with nature, Pocantico Hills, New York might be the first place you’d be absolutely guaranteed to find it. A 40 minute drive up the Saw Mill Parkway or a roughly equal train ride out of Grand Central, the hamlet and its surrounding towns are home to a scenic state park, a world-renowned farm-to-table restaurant and numerous historic sites which make the destination popular for day-trippers and a lion’s den for anyone looking to buy real estate.

What these amenities—which locals like myself take wholeheartedly for granted—have in common is that in some way or another, their existence is owed to the famous family of David Rockefeller, the 101-year-old billionaire who passed away last week. The former head of Chase Manhattan Bank was the last grandchild of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, who, widely known as the world’s first billionaire, began buying land for the family’s country estate in Pocantico in 1893.

At one point, the family reportedly owned upwards of 3,000 acres in the area. Now, much of that land is the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, a vast expanse of trails where you’re likely to encounter runners, hikers, horseback riders and mischievous teenagers from the surrounding towns of Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown, Pleasantville and Pocantico Hills. As you near the edge of the park, you’ll also run into Eater’s Best Restaurant of 2016, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. There, if you’re lucky enough to get a reservation, you’ll enjoy a meal sourced straight from the adjoining 80-acre farm, former Rockefeller land donated by the family in 2003 to create Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in memory of David Rockefeller’s late wife Peggy, an agricultural and environmental advocate. At a cool $238 per person, there’s no set menu—you’ll be offered a taste of everything the farm has to offer.

Historic Hudson Valley, a non-profit organization founded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1951, maintains and hosts events at five area landmarks worth checking out. In addition to Sunnyside, the country home of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow author Washington Irving, there are two 18th century manor homes where tourists flock to Halloween-themed events like the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze each October. 

The final two properties with ties to the Rockefellers are perhaps the most intriguing. From the outside, the Union Church of Pocantico Hills appears to be the hamlet’s modest place of worship, but inside are stunning stained glass windows by two of the world’s most renowned artists. In the 1950’s and ‘60’s, various members of the Rockefeller family commissioned a total of nine windows by Marc Chagall and one by Henri Matisse—his last piece of work before his death in 1954. Not too far away from the Union Church is the Historic Hudson Valley estate Kykuit, which provides perhaps the most intimate glimpse into life as a Rockefeller. Built by John D. Rockefeller between 1902 and 1913, Kykuit is where David Rockefeller would have spent his childhood weekends and where former New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s expansive art collection still resides. While these Westchester destinations are by no means a complete picture of the family’s legacy, a day trip to Pocantico Hills offers a peek into the life of a Rockefeller—minus the million(s) dollar trust fund.

Main image by: Jaime Martorano

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