Designed by Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church in collaboration with Calvert Vaux, this 250-acre, Persian-inspired estate was conceived as a three-dimensional work of art. The grand views west over the Hudson River to the Catskill Mountains beyond are emblematic of the era’s idealized mix of agrarian and wilderness landscapes.
Developed between 1860 and 1890, Olana means ‘our place on high’ in Arabic. The approach roads to the hilltop house present a sequence of hide-and-reveal views in which woodland-framed vistas are interlaced with open meadows and cultivated farmland. In addition to planting thousands of trees, Church converted a large wetland to a ten-acre, forest-ringed lake. He retained the original farm fields and orchards, planting rye, corn, hay, and vegetables and creating an intricate eastern landscape to contrast the vast westward vistas.
After the death of Church’s daughter-in-law Sally Good Church, in 1964, a group of citizens, aided by the state legislature and then-governor Nelson Rockefeller, succeeded in raising the capital to purchase the property. In 1966 the Olana State Historic Site was designated a National Historic Landmark and opened to the public. Along with nearby Hoyt House and Wilderstein, Olana exemplifies Vaux’s sensitivity to site and his unique collaborative abilities with other artists.