Hyde Hall holds history close to its heart, mission

Hyde Hall is 22,000 square feet and was built in the 19th century. (Kevin Limiti/AllOtsego.com)

Hyde Hall holds history
close to its heart, mission

The haunted mansion exudes an atmosphere
that is unlike any other in Otsego County

Hyde Hall brings to mind Shirley Jackson’s famous opening for the Haunting of Hill House. Only in this case, the house stood for more than 200 years and will probably stand for 200 more.

Hyde Hall is something of an anomaly. It’s a relic of the past, which does not exist anymore and was unusual even for the time, at least in Otsego County.

The breathtaking scenery surrounding Hyde Hall is enough to warrant a visit. At the top, where the house stands, you can look down at Otsego Lake and see all the way to Cooperstown.

The limestone house has a cold, intimidating demeanor, which is why it is a surprise the interior of the house feels warmer and much more decorative. Marketing Manager John Aborn describes it as an oyster with a pearl inside.

Aborn said many visitors to Hyde Hall are surprised when they first enter the building, which was built in the 19th century by Henry Clarke, an Englishman who married Ann Low Cary Cooper, the widow of the elder brother of James Fenimore Cooper.

“They’re always surprised how stern the house is on the outside,” Aborn said.

The land around Hyde Hall is 120,000 acres, while the house itself is 22,000 square feet. The property has been well maintained throughout the years, thanks to the efforts of Hyde Hall, Inc., formerly known as Friends of Hyde Hall.

Fenimore Art Museum loans Hyde Hall four portraits each summer.

When entering Hyde Hall, the music from Ma’alwyck plays a somber, classical tune that sets a Victorian atmosphere for the rest of the visit. Recent events have taken advantage of the recording, with musicians playing the songs heard during the Clarke era.

The formal dining room at Hyde Hall where the Clarkes used to host parties. (Kevin Limiti/AllOtsego.com)

The portraits on the inside of the house are plentiful and the only interior lighting comes from either the natural sunlight through the windows or lamps. Most of the house is available to be toured with few areas being roped off, including some areas that are being renovated. But with all the old fashioned portraits and dark atmosphere, it’s no surprise there have been numerous ghost sightings and even a Ghost Hunters episode filmed at Hyde Hall.

“This house has had ghost stories attached pretty much (since) when George Clarke, the builder, died,” Aborn said.

The question of the supernatural has always been debatable, but the one thing that is hard to argue against is the history Hyde Hall emits. The house lives and breathes history, being one-of-a-kind in the Otsego County area.

Mirrors that are opposite each other in the sitting room reflect back and forth until you can see an endless cascade of mirror images that grow ever darker than the furthest one looks. The mirrors also have the ability to refract light coming from the windows and chandelier. It was considered fashionable back in the day to have mirrors arranged in this way.

Clarke kept detailed receipts, which are able to provide a vast historical insight into what things they bought and how daily life was during his era.

“I can tell what pickles he would buy,” Aborn said. “As historians, it’s almost cheating to have that much information.”

The house is built around a courtyard, which has open windows, letting in light from outside.

In the west of the house is an area that was used by the staff. In the kitchen, there is a very old menu which contained meals such as Halibut steaks, creamed sweetbreads, queen of pudding, roast veal and other unusual ingredients.

In the formal dining room, where the Clarkes would host their parties, there are vapor lamps, which were something of a novelty at the time. They burn clean and smell of turpentine, which makes sense because the fuel is part alcohol, part turpentine. But because of this lamp, the Clarkes were able to host parties long after most people would be going to bed because, back then, candles were quite expensive, Aborn said.

The formal dining room hosts a painting of Jane Cooper Worthington, known as “Janie,” whose portrait used to reside at a private residence in Cooperstown.

Worthington died, and when her husband remarried, he tried to take her painting down and, as the story goes, there were screams and moans heard throughout the house until the painting was put back up,

where it remained for 150 years. “We have inherited a haunted painting,” Aborn said.

Aborn said he loves working at Hyde Hall. “I love history, especially our region’s history,” he said. “It’s a great way to understanding how everything fits today. You need that reference.”

In addition to tours that run every day by appointment, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., between May 31 and Oct. 31, Hyde Hall also hosts musical events on its front lawn. At 6 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 21, there will be a performance by folk duet Robin and Linda Williams which will include food and drinks from Brewery Ommegang. There will also be a Get Lit event featuring historic lighting and cocktails on Saturday, Sept. 11, and ghost tours all throughout October.


The mirrors in Hyde Hall were often opposite each other to refract light and to create an illusion of endless reflection. (Kevin Limiti/AllOtsego.com)


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