Guide Book

Use this guide as a resource to explore the many spaces on site.

This abbreviated web version of the Guide Book will lead you from space to space. Start scrolling to experience the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.

A printed copy of the Guide Book is available in our gift shop and online, here.

Thomas Cole lived here with his family. Through his art and writing he advocated for the preservation of the landscape. His paintings inspired the first major art movement of the U.S., known as the Hudson River School.

Objects to Touch, Chairs for Sitting

You will see both historic objects and reproduction items. While the historic objects should not be touched, the reproduction items can be! Look for green dots – these are items we encourage you to touch. Please handle only the items with green dots, for even the slightest oils from our hands will harm historic objects.

Enjoy your visit!

– NEXT –

Scroll down for a quick overview of the Site’s rotating exhibitions.

EXHIBITIONS

Our Exhibition Types:

Inside the New Studio:

Each year we invite a curator to bring a new perspective to Thomas Cole’s work by creating an exhibition inside the New Studio. The exhibitions bring together artwork from museums and private collections across the country.

OPEN HOUSE: Contemporary Art in Conversation with Cole:

A series of curated contemporary artist installations located within, and in response to, the historic home and studios of Thomas Cole. 

Mind Upon Nature:
Thomas Cole’s Creative Process
:

An exhibition in the Main House featuring original paintings, sketches, and artifacts.

This Year’s Exhibitions

– FIRST STOP –

Exit the Visitor Center and take the path on your right to the New Studio. Or, you may visit spaces in any order you wish!

NEW STUDIO

The family of Maria Bartow (1813-1884), who married Thomas Cole, owned the majority of the property that now bears the artist’s name. From them, Thomas purchased the plot of land for this building and designed what he called his “New Studio.” It was built in 1846 and Thomas worked there until his death in 1848. The original building was torn down in 1973 before the site became a museum. We reconstructed it in 2015 with a state of the art museum gallery inside.  

Emily Cole

Emily Cole (1843-1913) was a professional artist and one of Maria and Thomas’s children. She used this space as a studio and gallery. When you enter the Main House, look for her painted porcelains and watercolors. Emily lived here her whole life and made a living selling her art.

About the New Studio

– NEXT STOP –

Exit the New Studio to explore the Grounds.

GROUNDS & PROPERTY

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site is on the ancestral lands of the Mohawk and other Haudenosaunee peoples, and the Mohican, Lenape, and other Algonquian-speaking peoples. It was taken from them by a series of treaties and forced displacements in the seventeenth through eighteenth centuries.

A family by the name of Thomson bought property here in 1787. Three Thomson siblings (Thomas, John A., and Catherine) began the establishment of a homestead by 1814. In the years that followed, many people have nurtured this land. During Thomas Cole’s residency, (1836-48), the property consisted of 110 acres. A salaried farmer, domestic laborers, and gardeners tended and maintained the plants and animals, and protected the property and structures. 

  About the Grounds & Property

– NEXT STOP –

Head to the Main House.

MAIN HOUSE

The Main House was constructed in 1815 by a group that likely included enslaved laborers. The 1817 census includes two enslaved persons and two free Black persons as part of the household. The Thomsons enslaved people from at least 1790 until through at least 1818.

Thomas Cole moved into this house upon his marriage into the Thomson family (1836). During his time here, the number of residents ranged from 11-14, and included a free Black woman recorded on the 1840 census. This household of people acted as a support system to Thomas, enabling him to produce his artwork and support the household with his earnings. 

After John A. Thomson passed away (1846), ownership of the property passed to Emily Bartow (1804-1881). As a woman, she was able to own property only because she was not married. Thomas Cole never owned the house. 

About the Household
                                   

About the Main House

– NEXT STOP –

Walk onto the Porch of the Main House.

PORCH

Thomas moved to America with his family in 1818 at age seventeen. He grew up in northern England – then the biggest hub for industrialization in the world. There, he saw firsthand how factories took over the countryside of his hometown. In the 1830s, he was alarmed to see a similar transformation taking place here in Catskill.

Thomas first came to this area by traveling up the Hudson River in 1825. He returned often and made his permanent home here in 1836, when he married Maria Bartow (niece to the Thomsons).

This view of the mountains is one that Thomas painted often, but the landscape was changing. By 1836, there were over sixty mills, factories, foundries, and leather tanneries stretching west into the mountains. An early railroad crossed through in the 1830s, and hillsides were being clear-cut for the tanning industry.

Inside the house, you will discover Thomas’s thoughts on industrial changes to the land.

– NEXT –

Enter the House through the front door.

ENTRY HALL

Maria Bartow (1813-1884) lived here with her sisters, cousin, uncle, and hired laborers. They came to know Thomas Cole when he first rented their small cottage (no longer standing) as a studio space. Maria married Thomas in 1836, at which time he moved in. Together the couple had five children and shared this home with Maria’s family and household staff. Check out the 1840 federal census (reproduced nearby) showing a household of 11 people.

When Thomas moved in he began redesigning the first floor interiors. He painted decorative borders onto the walls in several rooms, and selected colors, textiles, and finishes, many of which have been recently restored or recreated.

– NEXT STOP –

Enter the green parlor.

EAST PARLOR

Thomas wrote essays, poems, letters, and kept journals. Fortunately, many survive. Ask a staff member to show you the presentation created with Thomas’s writings and paintings. We invite you to take a seat and listen as he tells his story. 

Read the Audio Transcription

“Wild?”

Thomas often described scenery in the area as “wild.” Though, indigenous people had inhabited this area for thousands of years, and many were still present along the east coast in the early nineteenth century. By depicting American landscapes as uninhabited, or showing solitary indigenous figures, Thomas Cole and other painters and writers contributed to the creation of fictions about American land: that indigenous people were either never here, or if they were, they had departed long ago. These myths became legend, and served to reinforce the government’s intended erasure of indigenous culture, and the histories of the land.

– NEXT STOP –

Exit and turn right into the red room.

LIBRARY

Near the ceiling is the exposed border that Thomas hand-painted nearly two hundred years ago. These original paintings (as well as others on this floor) were hidden beneath many layers of modern paint before they were discovered in 2014 by a paint analyst.

In Thomas’s time, a library was a space dedicated to expanding the mind, and likely featured art as well as books. Red-and-black Pompeiian designs and color schemes were associated in the 1830s with the display of art, suggesting that this room served as Cole’s art gallery.

– NEXT STOP –

Exit and turn into the parlor to your right.

WEST PARLOR

Here, Thomas and the family visited with patrons, friends, and fellow artists. It was a space full of conversation, where the business of art was conducted, and where Thomas expressed his personal opinions about landscape art.

On tabletops around the room you will find four different stories told through letters. These conversations about art and business raise questions that we still grapple with today.

– NEXT STOP –

Head upstairs to explore the family’s more private rooms of the house. Once upstairs, follow the railing to the Bedroom.

MARIA & THOMAS’S BEDROOM

Maria and Thomas frequently exchanged letters while he travelled. Explore the room to find them.

– NEXT STOP –

Exit and turn into the room on your left.

MIND UPON NATURE: THOMAS COLE’S CREATIVE PROCESS

Here, we encourage you to explore Thomas’s working process and ideas. You will find an array of sketches and paintings, the books and objects that inspired him, and the pigments and materials he used to create his paintings. This exhibition is refreshed annually and highlights original objects and artwork from the museum collection and major works on long-term loan.

Original Use of the Room

Maria’s sisters shared this space as a bedroom. Her eldest sister, Emily, was head of household after their uncle died. Harriet was a teacher, and tended the flower garden outside. The youngest sister, Frances, spent time in the Hartford Retreat for the Insane, the first hospital in the United States to employ “moral treatment” for individuals with mental illnesses. No personal records of hers have yet been found.

– NEXT STOP –

Enter the Sitting Room across the hall.

SITTING ROOM

Thomas was troubled by the political climate of the U.S., which he suspected was headed toward a major internal conflict. The Jacksonian Era of his time was marked by an authoritarian president, many political parties, expansion westward, reform movements, debates about slavery, and the Trail of Tears.

Thomas lamented that when it came to art, people wanted “things, not thoughts.” He wanted to make art that made people think critically. In the 1840s he drafted “Lecture on Art,” in which he articulates his thoughts about how art could help to create an improved world.

As you explore the newspaper clippings, letters, and essays on the table and desk, you will hear from Thomas about his ambitions and the political climate of his era.

Major Events Happening in Thomas’s Lifetime.

Read the Audio Transcription

Sarah Cole

Sarah Cole was a professional artist known as one of the first female printmakers in the country. In this room are two of her paintings depicting the English countryside. Sarah also counseled her brother, Thomas, during moments of doubt.

– NEXT STOP –

Head into the adjoining room. Ask a staff member to play the presentation.

HOUSE STUDIO

This room was Thomas’s first studio upon moving in. Maria was often with him, reading to him while he painted and offering advice. Thomas once wrote to her, “But how can I paint without you with me to praise or to criticize?” In her journal, Maria recorded: “a volume of Scot in my hand to read to T. who was painting the Sky of his Compagna Scene.” (April 6, 1843).

It was here that Thomas painted View of Schroon Mountain, Essex County, New York, After a Storm. Ask a staff member to play the presentation. We invite you to dive into Thomas’s creative process by joining him on his journey to the Adirondack mountains. Maria and Thomas’s writings about this trip (reproductions nearby) enabled us to retrace their steps. 

Read the Audio Transcription

– NEXT STOP –

Scroll down for more about this painting.

Creating A View of Schroon Mountain

Thomas placed several indigenous figures into this painting (two in the foreground, and several in the distance) – a departure from his more common inclusion of solitary figures.

In July of 1837 the Coles travelled to Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks. On their way they stopped in Albany to see the artist George Catlin and his “Indian Gallery” – a touring exhibition of hundreds of paintings depicting figures and customs of indigenous people, whose aggressive removal was legally sanctioned by President Jackson’s “Indian Removal Act” of 1830.

The following year, when Thomas finished this painting, one of the culminating events of the Indian Removal Act occurred. The U.S. government sent troops to violently evict all indigenous nations remaining east of the Mississippi River – particularly the Cherokee. They were forced on a deadly 1,200 mile walk west. Families were separated, and many died from sickness or starvation. It came to be known as the “Trail of Tears.”

– NEXT STOP –

Leave the house and walk back to the Visitor Center to enter Thomas’s studio where he painted for seven years.

OLD STUDIO

It was here that Thomas painted many of his major works, including The Voyage of Life, a series of four paintings that explore the stages of life. A reproduction of one of them, Childhood, is displayed on his original easel. This series illustrates Thomas’s wish to create paintings that combine landscape with narrative elements to convey ideas about humanity – what he termed a “higher style of landscape.”

Thomas worked here until 1846, at which time he moved into his “New Studio.”

About the Old Studio

– NEXT STOP –

Return to the Visitor Center to browse our selection of Thomas Cole-inspired items. If you’re looking for nearby walks, lunch spots in the village, or even Thomas’s burial site, we can help.

 

Images:

Exhibition installation, Thomas Cole’s Refrain: The Paintings of Catskill Creek, 2019, © Peter AaronOTTO

Exhibition installation, SPECTRUM, 2018, © Peter AaronOTTO

New Studio © Peter AaronOTTO

Main House, Photo by Rachel Stults

Entry Hall © Peter AaronOTTO

East Parlor © Peter AaronOTTO

Library Gallery © Peter AaronOTTO

West Parlor © Peter AaronOTTO

Bedroom © Peter AaronOTTO

Sitting Room © Peter AaronOTTO

House Studio © Peter AaronOTTO

Old Studio, Photo by Devin Pickering

Old Studio, Interior © Peter AaronOTTO

Heather ParoubekGuide Book

Guide Book

Welcome to the Thomas Cole National Historic Site – the home and studios where the artist and early environmentalist Thomas Cole (1801-1848) lived and worked from 1836 until his death in 1848.

Thomas advocated for the preservation of the landscape through his art and writing, and his iconic landscape paintings inspired the first major art movement of the United States, now known as the Hudson River School.

Use this guide as a resource to explore the many spaces on site.

This web version of the Guide Book will lead you through the site, space by space. Start scrolling to experience the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.

A printed copy of the Guide Book is available in our gift shop and online, here.

Objects to Touch, Chairs for Sitting

You will see both historic objects and reproduction items. While the historic objects should not be touched, the reproduction items can be! Look for green dots – these are items we encourage you to touch. Please handle only the items with green dots, for even the slightest oils from our hands will harm historic objects.

Enjoy your visit!

– NEXT –

Scroll down for a quick overview of the Site’s rotating exhibitions.

EXHIBITIONS

Inside the New Studio:

Each year the Thomas Cole National Historic Site invites a guest curator to bring a new perspective to Thomas Cole’s work by creating a new exhibition in Thomas Cole’s reconstructed New Studio. The exhibitions bring together artwork from museums and private collections across the country.

OPEN HOUSE: Contemporary Art in Conversation with Cole:

An annual series of curated contemporary artist installations located within, and in response to, the historic home and studios of artist Thomas Cole. 

Mind Upon Nature: Thomas Cole’s Creative Process:

An exhibition in the Main House featuring original Thomas Cole paintings, sketches, and artifacts.

This Year’s Exhibitions

– FIRST STOP –

Exit the Visitor Center and take the path on your right to the New Studio. Or, you may visit spaces in any order you wish!

NEW STUDIO

The family of Maria Bartow (1813-1884), who married Thomas Cole, owned the majority of the property that now bears the artists name. From them, Thomas purchased the plot of land for this building and designed what he called his “New Studio.” It was built in 1846 and Thomas worked there until his death in 1848. The original building was torn down in 1973 before the site became a museum. We reconstructed it in 2015 with a state of the art museum gallery inside.  

When Thomas died suddenly at the age of 47, he left behind a studio filled with artwork and boundless unfulfilled potential. Maria preserved the space as he left it and welcomed other artists to visit. In this way, his art and ideas continued to inspire and influence the next generation of artists and the evolution of art in the United States.

Emily Cole

Emily Cole (1843-1913) was a professional artist and one of Maria and Thomas’s children. Emily used this space as her own studio and exhibition gallery. She was just five years old when her father passed away and grew to share her father’s focus on nature in her artistic practice. When you enter the Main House, look for her painted porcelains and watercolors. Emily lived here her whole life and made a living selling her art.

About the New Studio

– NEXT STOP –

Exit the New Studio to explore the Grounds.

GROUNDS & PROPERTY

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site is on the ancestral lands of the Mohawk and other Haudenosaunee peoples, and the Mohican, Lenape, and other Algonquian-speaking peoples. It was taken from them by a series of treaties and forced displacements in the seventeenth through eighteenth centuries.

A family by the name of Thomson bought property here in 1787. Three Thomson siblings (Thomas, John A., and Catherine) began the establishment of a homestead by 1814. In the years that followed, many people have nurtured this land. During Thomas Cole’s residency, (1836-48), the property consisted of 110 acres. A salaried farmer, domestic laborers, and gardeners tended and maintained the plants and animals, and protected the property and structures. Saleable crops were grown (hay, oats, corn, and barley), and a variety of livestock were kept (horses, pigs, goats, oxen, beef cattle and chickens). The main source of income was fruit from the orchards.

If you’d like, borrow a sketchbook from stations around the site and take inspiration from nature just like Thomas Cole, Emily Cole, and many other visitors have done.

Honey Locust Tree

The large tree with sharp thorns in front of the Main House was planted in 1817, even before Thomas Cole came to live and work here. When you enter the house, look for a small painting that shows this same tree.

Greening

As we work to restore and maintain the grounds of this historic site, we are guided by principles of supporting biodiversity, reducing the use of toxic materials, and connecting people to the natural world.

About our Greening Initiative

  About the Grounds & Property

– NEXT STOP –

Head to the Main House (yellow, with large porch).

MAIN HOUSE

The Main House was constructed in 1815 by a group that very likely included enslaved laborers. The 1817 census includes two enslaved persons and two free Black persons as part of the household. The Thomsons enslaved people from at least 1790 until through at least 1818.

Thomas Cole moved into this house after he married into the Thomson family in 1836. During his time here, the number of residents at the property ranged from 11-14, and this included a free Black woman recorded on the 1840 census. This household of people acted as a support system to Thomas, enabling him to produce his artwork and support the household with his earnings. 

After John A. Thomson passed away in 1846, ownership of the property passed to Emily Bartow (1804-1881). As a woman, she was only able to own property because she was not married. Thomas Cole never owned the house himself. 

Who Was Living Here During Thomas Cole’s Residency?

Maria Bartow Cole, Harriet Bartow, Emily C. Bartow, Frances E. Bartow, Frederic Church, Thomas Cole, Theodore A. Cole, Mary B. Cole, Emily Cole, Elizabeth Cole, Sarah Cole, Egbert, David E., Martin, Mary, Benjamin McConkey, Peter, John A. Thomson, Charlotte Thomson, free Black woman recorded (without a name) on the 1840 census (age 55-99), Jonny W., and Mr. Whitbeck.

About the Household
                                   

About the Main House

– NEXT STOP –

Walk onto the Porch of the Main House.

PORCH

Thomas moved to America with his family in 1818 at age seventeen. He grew up in northern England – then the biggest hub for industrialization in the world. There, he saw firsthand how factories and smokestacks took over the countryside of his hometown. In the 1830s, he was alarmed to see a similar transformation taking place here in Catskill.

Thomas first came to this area by traveling up the Hudson River in 1825. He returned often and later made his permanent home here in 1836, upon his marriage to Maria Bartow (niece to the Thomsons).

This view of the mountains is one that Thomas painted many times, but this landscape was changing rapidly. A large hotel – the Catskill Mountain House – opened in 1824, drawing crowds of tourists. By 1836, there were over sixty mills, factories, foundries, and leather tanneries stretching west into the mountains. An early railroad crossed through in the 1830s, and hillsides were being clear-cut for the tanning industry.

Inside the house, you will discover Thomas’s thoughts on industrial changes to the land.

Differing Perspectives on Land

The copper-hearted barbarians are cutting all the trees down in the beautiful valley on which I have looked so often with a loving eye.
(Thomas Cole to Luman Reed, March 6, 1836)

With these immense avenues for trade […] the town of Catskill is destined to increase in wealth and population with great rapidity.
(Catskill Association formed for the Purpose of Improving the Town of Catskill, 1837)

– NEXT –

Enter the House through the front door.

ENTRY HALL

Maria Bartow (1813-1884) lived here with her sisters, cousin, uncle, and hired laborers. They came to know Thomas Cole when he first rented their small cottage (no longer standing) as a studio space. Maria married Thomas in 1836, at which time he moved in. Together the couple had five children and shared this home with Maria’s family and household staff. Check out the 1840 federal census showing a household of 11 people, reproduced nearby.

When Thomas moved in he began to redesign the interiors. He painted decorative borders onto the walls in several rooms, and selected colors, textiles, and finishes throughout the first floor, many of which have been recently restored or recreated.

Floor Cloth

This floor covering is a piece of cotton canvas that has been hand-painted and coated with layers of varnish. It was a popular feature in the nineteenth century because it was inexpensive and easy to clean. The example here is a recreation of an historic design. Thomas grew up working in the decorative arts and at one time painted floor cloths for his father’s business.

Don’t Miss the Top Hat

Thomas wore a top hat because he wanted to present himself as part of the upper class, but always struggled with bringing in enough revenue to support the household.

 

– NEXT STOP –

Enter the green parlor to hear from Thomas about his experience of living in Catskill, his ambitions, and his sentiments.

EAST PARLOR

Thomas wrote essays, poems, letters, and kept journals. Fortunately, many of them survive. Ask a staff member to show you the presentation, created using Thomas’s writings and paintings. We invite you to take a seat and listen as he tells his story. 

Read the Audio Transcription

“Wild?”

Thomas often described scenery in the area as “wild.” Though, indigenous people had inhabited this area for thousands of years, and many were still present along the east coast in the early nineteenth century. By depicting American landscapes as uninhabited, or showing solitary indigenous figures, Thomas Cole and other painters and writers contributed to the creation of fictions about American land: that indigenous people were either never here, or if they were, they had departed long ago. These myths became legend, and served to reinforce the government’s intended erasure of indigenous culture, and the histories of the land.

Paintings

All of the paintings on the first floor are reproductions, carefully selected based on what was here in Thomas’s time, and for what they tell us about his vision. You will see original paintings on the second floor.

Don’t Miss the Chair

The upholstered chair with bookstand and candle holder belonged to Maria’s uncle, John A. Thomson. He initiated the building of the house with his brother in 1814, and lived here with many relatives and laborers until his death.

 

– NEXT STOP –

Exit this room and turn right into the red room down the hall.

LIBRARY

In Thomas’s time, a library was a space dedicated to expanding the mind, and likely featured art as well as books. Red-and-black Pompeiian designs and color schemes were associated in the 1830s with the display of art, suggesting that this room served as Cole’s art gallery.

The Latest Style

The wall color and border design that Thomas chose for this room were likely inspired by his trip to the ancient ruins of Pompeii, and from seeing fashionable Pompeian-inspired rooms, and the artist J.M.W. Turner’s red-walled gallery during his trip to London.

Don’t Miss the Painted Border

Near the ceiling is the exposed border that Thomas hand-painted nearly two hundred years ago. These original paintings (as well as others on this floor) were hidden beneath many layers of modern paint before they were discovered in 2014 by a paint analyst.

 

– NEXT STOP –

Exit this room and turn into the parlor to your right to experience some of the challenges, ideas, and relationships in Thomas’s career.

WEST PARLOR

In this room, Thomas and the family visited with patrons, friends, and fellow artists. It was a space full of conversation, where the business of art was conducted, and where Thomas expressed his opinions about what landscape art should be.

On tabletops around the room you will find four different stories told through letters. These conversations about art and business raise questions that we still grapple with today.

Team Effort

Thomas benefitted from having a large extended family that provided support for his growing artistic career. Maria’s sister Harriet is known to have shown Thomas’s paintings to visitors, and Maria was a savvy advisor on Thomas’s negotiations with potential buyers.

Don’t Miss the Wall Paint

The wall paint in this room has been made and applied through historically accurate methods. The paint was hand-mixed with oil from natural pigments, and then applied using a brush. The color, here and in other rooms, is true to the time of Thomas’s residency.

 

– NEXT STOP –

Head upstairs to explore the family’s more private rooms of the house. Once upstairs, follow the railing to the Bedroom.

MARIA & THOMAS’S BEDROOM

Maria and Thomas frequently exchanged letters while he travelled. Thomas’s career required that he have a presence in both New York City and Europe, but he missed his family terribly. Explore the room to find these letters.

Don’t Miss the Trunk

Thomas’s Trunk accompanied him on his two European trips, carrying everything he might need, from clothes, to sketchbooks to canvases. The trunk was not custom made but purchased at a store in New York. His initials were necessary because Thomas was not traveling in a private carriage and had to be able to identify his trunk among strangers.

 

– NEXT STOP –

Exit the bedroom and turn into the room on your left.

MIND UPON NATURE: THOMAS COLE’S CREATIVE PROCESS

Here, we encourage you to explore the artist’s working process and ideas. You will find an array of sketches and paintings, the books and objects that inspired him, and the pigments and materials he used to create his paintings. This exhibition is refreshed annually and highlights original objects and artwork from the museum collection and major works on long-term loan.

The Bartow Sisters

Maria’s sisters once shared this space as a bedroom. Her eldest sister Emily was the head of the house after her uncle passed away. Harriet was a teacher, and the flower garden outside was generally referred to in letters as hers. The youngest sister, Frances, spent time in the Hartford Retreat for the Insane, then known as the first hospital in the United States to employ “moral treatment” for individuals with mental illnesses. Frances was identified as “insane” on the 1870 census. No personal records of hers have yet been found.

 

– NEXT STOP –

Enter the Sitting Room across the hall.

SITTING ROOM

Thomas was troubled by the political climate of the United States, which he suspected was headed toward a major internal conflict. The Jacksonian Era of his time was marked by an authoritarian president, a large number of political parties, expansion westward, reform movements, debates about slavery, and the Trail of Tears.

Thomas wanted to make art that mattered and made people think. He had high aspirations about the power of art, and complained that people wanted “things, not thoughts.” In the 1840s he drafted “Lecture on Art,” in which he articulates his thoughts about how art could help to create an improved world.

As you explore the newspaper clippings, letters, and essays on the table and desk, you will hear from Thomas about his ambitions and the political climate of his era.

Major Events Happening in Thomas’s Lifetime.

Read the Audio Transcription

Sarah Cole

Sarah Cole was a professional artist known as one of the first female printmakers in the country. In this room are two of her paintings depicting the English countryside. Sarah also counseled her brother, Thomas, during moments of doubt.

Wallpaper & Carpet

The wallpaper and carpet are historic designs recreated for this space.

 

– NEXT STOP –

Head into the adjoining room. Ask a staff member to play the presentation.

HOUSE STUDIO

This room was Thomas’s first studio upon his marriage to Maria. Maria was often with him, reading to him while he painted and offering advice. Thomas once wrote to her, “But how can I paint without you with me to praise or to criticize?” In her journal, Maria recorded: “a volume of Scot in my hand to read to T. who was painting the Sky of his Compagna Scene.” (April 6, 1843).

We believe it was here that Thomas painted View of Schroon Mountain, Essex County, New York, After a Storm. Ask a staff member to play the presentation. We invite you to dive into Thomas’s creative process by joining him on his journey into the Adirondack mountains.

Read the Audio Transcription

The Children’s Room

After Maria and Thomas had their first child, this room became the children’s bedroom. The couple had five children. Theodore was the eldest, and would go on to become property manager at Olana, Frederic Church’s home across the river. Mary and Emily lived the remainder of their lives here. Emily was fascinated by nature, and like her father was a professional artist. Elizabeth lived for only two days. Thomas Cole, Jr. was born shortly after his father died in 1848. He became a reverend in nearby Saugerties.

– NEXT STOP –

Scroll down to dive deeper into View of Schroon Mountain.

Creating A View of Schroon Mountain

Thomas placed several indigenous figures (two in the foreground, and several in the distance), into this painting – a departure from his more common inclusion of solitary figures.

In July of 1837 the Coles travelled to Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks. On their way they stopped in Albany to see the artist George Catlin and his “Indian Gallery” – a touring exhibition of hundreds of paintings depicting figures and customs of indigenous people, whose aggressive removal was legally sanctioned by President Jackson’s “Indian Removal Act” of 1830.

The following year, when Thomas finished this painting, one of the culminating events of the Indian Removal Act occurred. The U.S. government sent troops to violently evict all indigenous nations remaining east of the Mississippi River – particularly the Cherokee. They were forced on a deadly 1,200 mile walk west. Families were separated, and many died from sickness or starvation. It came to be known as the “Trail of Tears.”

Don’t Miss This

Maria and Thomas’s written recollections of their trip to the Adirondacks enabled us to retrace their steps. Check out the reproductions of those writings nearby.

Lumber Industry

Thomas described dashing through the woods and finding “mutilated trees” and “clearings.” Many trees in this area were cut down for the lumber industry, and it was because of such clearings that he was able to find this view.

– NEXT STOP –

Leave the Main House and walk back to the Visitor Center in the white barn to enter Thomas’s studio where he painted for seven years.

OLD STUDIO

It is in this studio where Thomas painted many of his major works, including The Voyage of Life, a series of four paintings that explore the stages of life. A reproduction of one of them, Childhood, is displayed on his original easel. Thomas worked here until 1846, at which time he moved into his “New Studio.”

When Thomas died of pleurisy in 1848 at age forty-seven, he left behind a young family. Maria was pregnant with their fifth child, and his children were all under the age of ten. His newly constructed studio (“New Studio”) was full of half-finished paintings. Through his mentorship and ideas, Thomas inspired generations of artists including Frederic Church, Susie Barstow, Asher B. Durand, and Sanford Gifford, who would collectively become known as the Hudson River School painters.

Narrative Landscapes

The Voyage of Life series illustrates Thomas’s wish to create paintings that combine landscape with narrative elements to convey ideas about humanity – what he termed a “higher style of landscape.”

Don’t Miss the Easel

The size of Thomas’s original easel helps put into perspective the scale at which he was working, and why he built a bigger space for himself in his New Studio.

About the Old Studio

– NEXT STOP –

Return to the Visitor Center to browse our selection of Thomas Cole-inspired items. If you’re looking for nearby walking trails, places to grab lunch in the village, or even Thomas’s burial site, we can help.

 

Images:

Exhibition installation, Thomas Cole’s Refrain: The Paintings of Catskill Creek, 2019, © Peter AaronOTTO

Exhibition installation, SPECTRUM, 2018, © Peter AaronOTTO

New Studio © Peter AaronOTTO

Main House, Photo by Rachel Stults

Entry Hall © Peter AaronOTTO

East Parlor © Peter AaronOTTO

Library Gallery © Peter AaronOTTO

West Parlor © Peter AaronOTTO

Bedroom © Peter AaronOTTO

Sitting Room © Peter AaronOTTO

House Studio © Peter AaronOTTO

Old Studio, Photo by Devin Pickering

Old Studio, Interior © Peter AaronOTTO

Heather ParoubekGuide Book

The Grand Opening!

On Sunday May 1, the grand opening and official ribbon-cutting for the New Studio took place at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. Pictured here, left to right: Anne Miller, Chairman of the Capital Campaign Committee; Lisa Fox Martin, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, George Amadore, State Senator; Elizabeth Jacks, Executive Director; and John Mesick, Architect.

Betsy JacksThe Grand Opening!

The Hudson River School Art Trail connects you with the places in nature that Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School artists made famous in their 19th-century American landscape paintings. Thomas Cole was an artist and early environmentalist who founded the Hudson River School of landscape painting in the United States and advocated to protect the country’s natural scenery.

Today, you can visit these magnificent views thanks to extensive preservation efforts.

The Hudson River School Art Trail is a program of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in partnership Olana, the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Step into a Painting on a Self-Guided Adventure

Guided Art Trail Experiences are offered seasonally. Check back for more information soon. 

What to Expect on Guided Art Trail Experiences:

Please note that the experiences range in difficulty. We suggest that you read each description carefully and choose accordingly. Below you will find links to the information you need for both the paddling and the hiking trips.

Click here for information about what to bring and wear on a hike.

Click here for information about what to bring and wear on a paddle.

All hikes are dog friendly – Please keep your dog on a leash at all times. No dogs allowed on the paddle.

 Paddle includes life vests for adults; children’s life vests are limited.

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Arrange a Private Guided Tour

2022-23 Mask Policy: We continue to require that masks are worn inside any of the buildings on site, regardless of vaccination status. We do this to protect our staff and visitors, and it ensures that we are able to remain open. We appreciate your understanding!

During the winter and early spring months (December – May), visits are welcome by advance appointment. Please email us for more information and to book your tour as early as possible to secure your date of choice. Please Note: These are tours that are scheduled upon request, outside of regularly scheduled offerings, which are available/visible on our events calendar. We offer two types of guided tours during the winter/early spring months: Regular Guided Tours and Custom Guided Tours:

Regular Guided Tour, 1 hour in length

Visitors are guided through the Main House and Old Studio by knowledgeable museum guides.

Rates: $120 for up to 3 people. Each additional person is $40/each. Admission to the grounds is always free of charge. Availability is limited, so please plan ahead.

Custom Guided Tour

Custom Tours are led by senior staff members. You may request for your tour to include specific areas depending on the interests of your group. Such topics might include the historic interior decoration and furnishings; a focus on a particular exhibition; or a behind the scenes look at the innovative Parlors installation. Availability of Custom Tours is limited, so please plan ahead.

Rates: $450 for up to 10 people. Each additional person is $45/each.

Groups of more than 12 will be split up. Please note that there are several flights of stairs.

Booking

To make a reservation email us at education@thomascole.org. Please supply the following information:

  • The type of group visit in which you are interested
  • The number of people in your group
  • The preferred date and time of your visit
  • A short description of your group

Bus Parking

We recommend that Buses park along Hudson Avenue, accessible from Spring Street.

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School Programs

Bring History to Life!

School programs at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site promote learning through student participation in history, art, literature and preservation.  Our programs encourage students to explore in new ways, making history come alive.

General Information

By participating in the Thomas Cole Historic Site’s school programs, students will build higher level thinking skills while investigating the life and times of America’s most influential landscape painter, Thomas Cole. Students’ investigations begin when your class receives a package of evidence in the mail as the basis for pre-visit activities. The evidence includes documents, photographs and a powerpoint presentation introducing the class to Thomas Cole, the Hudson River School of Art, and Cedar Grove. Afterwards the students visit the historic site and explore more evidence about the life and creative output of Thomas Cole. Students examine data, gather information, and draw conclusions from their personal experiences. All school programs meet New York State learning standards for grades K-12.

An introduction to Thomas Cole’s Story

Get kids engaged before they even step in the door. Beloved children’s book author and illustrator Hudson Talbott takes us on Thomas Cole’s adventure in “Picturing America: Thomas Cole And The Birth of American Art.”

Programs

1) Youth Tour

The students will visit the historic home, studios, and grounds of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. This special tour for students will pass through the historic flower garden and visit the site’s famous 200-year old Honey Locust Tree. The tour will then lead the group to the porch of the Main House, where perfect views of the Catskill Mountain range can be enjoyed. Students then enter the 1815 Federal yellow-brick Main House and tour the historic rooms where the Cole family lived, including the West Parlor where Thomas Cole was married. The Main House also includes gallery rooms, where exhibitions of art from the Hudson River School are on display. The tour continues into the “Old Studio” where Cole painted many of his best known works. The studio still contains Cole’s original easels and art-making materials.  The tour also includes a visit to the “New Studio” and the special exhibition inside it. This program lasts approximately one hour and costs $4-8 per student, on a sliding scale.

2) Thomas Cole and the Creative Process

Students examine Thomas Cole’s 1839 painting studio and learn what it was like to be an artist in the 19th century.  Students learn about the life of Thomas Cole, the Hudson River School of Art, and about the historic site.  The students then create sketches based on their experiences and turn these sketches into original paintings.  This program involves a youth tour and art project.  The entire program lasts approximately 2.5 hours and the cost is $6-12 per student, on a sliding scale.

Program Details

Availability
School Programs are offered Wednesday through Friday 9:30am to 1:00pm, May through October. Please make your group’s reservation at least one month in advance in order to secure your desired date and time.

Group size
Groups larger than 75 students may be accommodated when split over the course of two days.

 

For More Information

Contact: Heather Paroubek, Education Manager:

E-mail: hparoubek@thomascole.org

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The Village of Catskill in the Hudson Valley

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site sits near the Hudson River with a view of the Catskill Mountains, surrounded by other cultural destinations, lively restaurants, and world-renowned natural beauty. 

If you’re looking to plan your visit to the historic site, click here. To plan the rest of your stay, check out our recommendations below. From dazzling hikes in the Great Northern Catskills to the best places to sleep, we’ve got you covered.

When Thomas Cole first traveled up the Hudson River in 1825, he fell in love with this picturesque village on the water. Today, the Village of Catskill welcomes you with beautiful 19th-century architecture along the historic main street with shops and galleries, river activities including fishing and boating, waterfront restaurants, and an Audubon nature preserve where if you’re lucky you can spot a Bald Eagle.

General Visiting Information

Rachel_Stults_2017_Sunset_Rock_crop

The official website for visiting Greene County, where the Thomas Cole Site is located. This website includes a comprehensive listing of places to stay, places to eat, sights, activities and outdoor adventures.

Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area

A user-friendly website with in-depth information about the historic, cultural and natural resources of the Hudson River Valley. You can see a list of recommended sights to visit, create your own itinerary, or request free maps and brochures about visiting the Hudson River Valley.

Where to Stay

Photo by The Catskill Milliner

Photo by The Catskill Milliner

The Catskill Milliner: Boutique guest house and inn located just blocks from Catskill’s Main Street, the Thomas Cole Site, and the Hudson River.

Catskill Village House: Located on Main Street in the historic Village of Catskill, an entire home to rent with all your friends.

Hotel Mountain Brook: Adirondack-style lodge in Hunter with views of the Catskill Mountains

Hudson Milliner: A boutique guesthouse and inn located in the City of Hudson, across the river.

The Kaaterskill: A Farm Estate in the outskirts of the Town of Catskill.

Scribner’s Catskill Lodge:  Recently reopened following an extensive renovation for a new generation of urban explorers,  the lodge features thoughtful design, friendly service, and delicious food and drinks in a mountain setting.

The Stewart House:  A recently renovated 11-room “River House” in nearby Athens, NY that first opened its doors in 1883 with a restaurant.

The Wick, A new full-service boutique hotel in Hudson, NY.

WM Farmer and Sons: Rustic chic accommodations and restaurant in Hudson, NY.

Where to Eat

Avalon Lounge, Music venue with a Korean kitchen

Ambrosia Diner, A classic retro diner.

Crossroads Brewing Co, A water-front tap room and brewery in Catskill.

Gracie’s Luncheonette, A stylish diner where everything is homemade, right down to the ketchup.

Hartland on Hudson, One of a kind stationery and coffee bar.

Mansion + Reed, A general store and coffee counter on historic Reed Street, Coxsackie

The Mermaid Cafe, Farm to table taco cafe

New York Restaurant, The local spot for lunch and dinner.

Port of Call, Waterfront dining and seafood.

Willa’s Bakery Cafe, A waterfront breakfast and lunch spot on Catskill Creek.

 

Nearby Attractions

Hudson River School Art Trail: Take a drive to the nearby views that Thomas Cole painted.

Hudson River Skywalk: See America’s first canvas with the Hudson River Skywalk, a new historic and scenic walkway at the place where American landscape painting began. The new walkway connects the Thomas Cole Site with Frederic Church’s Olana over the Rip Van Winkle.

Mountain Top Arboretum: A public garden in the Catskill Mountains, with trails connecting 178 acres of plant collections, meadows, wetlands, forest, and more.

RamsHorn-Livingston Audubon Sanctuary on River School Art Trail: Located in the Village of Catskill, this compact sanctuary contains over 436 acres of tidal marsh and swamp, upland forests and fallow farm fields. Keep your eyes peeled for Bald Eagles.

Scenic Hudson and Greene Land Trusts’ Mawignack Preserve: One mile loop trail along Catskill Creek, an area that Cole painted more than any other subject.

Olana State Historic Site: Just two miles away is the magnificent home of artist Frederic Church.

The Greene County Historical Society: Nine miles north is the Bronck Museum, the Hudson Valley’s oldest home, built in 1663.

City of Hudson: Across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge is this hopping city with shopping, restaurants and antiques.

Maps for download

Hiking in Greene County

Antiques and Country Stores

Nearby Attractions

Greene County Driving Tours

Itineraries for the Hudson River School Art Trail

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Visitor Center

VC

The Visitor Center at the Thomas Cole site is located in part of an 1839 barn that was used as a storehouse for the farm operations at Cole’s home in Catskill. The other part of the building contains Thomas Cole’s “Old Studio”, the workspace that the artist used from 1839 to 1846, before his “New Studio” was completed. The charming 19th-century building with wide floorboards, exposed beams and the original bare wood walls on all sides, was restored to its original appearance in 2004. The Visitor Center now contains a great variety of books and gifts, public restrooms, and a welcome desk where visitors can purchase tickets and get information about their visit.

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Old Studio

This studio is the where Thomas Cole created many of his major works. The building was restored in 2004 and is now furnished with his original easels and other art-making equipment and tools.

 

Do you know that I have got into a new painting Room[?]  Mr. Thomson has lately erected a sort of Storehouse and has let me have part of it for a temporary painting room; it answers pretty well, is somewhat larger than my old one and being removed from the noise and bustle of the house is really Charming – what shall I be able to produce in it heaven knows – the walls are unplastered brick with the beams and timbers seen on every hand – not a bad colour this pale brick and mortar.  I am engaged upon my great Series. 

Thomas Cole to Asher B. Durand, December 18, 1839. NYSL, Cole Papers, Box 1, Folder 4

 

When/By Whom it was Built:

Begun in early 1839, and overseen by John Alexander Thomson and Thomas Cole. Information about the team of people who built the structure is not currently known.

 

By Whom it was Designed:

Thomas Cole and John Alexander Thomson. Click here for the 2022 exhibition catalog, in which scholar Annette Blaugrund discusses a letter revealing Thomas’s role in designing the building.

 

The Other Half of the Building: Storehouse

During Thomas’s residency here, the property consisted of 110 acres of farm fields and orchards. The east half of this building was the storehouse, a crucial part of the farm operation. It was likely in this building that harvested and saleable crops (hay, oats, corn, barley) were stored. Today, this east half of the building is the Site’s Visitor Center and Gift Shop.

 

Enter Thomas Cole:

Immediately after his marriage in 1836, Thomas Cole worked in the Main House itself. But in 1839, he was able to move to this building, a larger and more private space. He considered this new building to be “a temporary arrangement,” for he hoped to build a new house with a studio inside. The house was never realized, and instead he painted here for seven years. Thomas painted many of his most important works here, including the Voyage of Life for his patron Samuel Ward, as the ceiling was high enough to accommodate large canvasses. A fireplace permitted Thomas to work in any season, and he added a large skylight-like window to admit northern light, the preferred light for painting. Thomas welcomed visits from his family to the studio: as he worked, Maria, who married Thomas, read to him and offered advice, and the Cole children often visited. The Old Studio also afforded space for grinding pigments into paint, constructing stretchers, stretching canvasses, and fitting pictures into frames. Painting at this time involved a lot of hard physical labor—active, smelly, and frequently messy.

 

Painted Here: “My Great Series”

Among other works, Thomas pained The Voyage of Life series in this space. Click here for more about the series.

 

About Contemporary Artwork On Site:

This property has long been an inspiration for artists. In addition to Thomas Cole, family members Sarah Cole (1805-57) and Emily Cole (1843-1913) were both practicing artists; and many others visited here to see the place where Thomas lived and worked. We seek to continue this tradition of living artists actively working in and being inspired by this site, by working with artists through OPEN HOUSE: Contemporary Art in Conversation with Cole. This annual series of curated contemporary artist installations is located within, and in response to, the historic home and studios of artist Thomas Cole. Operating from the concept that all art is contemporary, the program activates conversations between artists across centuries. Exhibitions and artworks have ranged from those that literally reference Thomas’s iconic works to those that expand on issues and themes relevant to Thomas, including art, landscape, history, and balancing the built and natural worlds. OPEN HOUSE projects shed light on the connections between nineteenth-century American art and our contemporary moment. Click here to see the current or upcoming exhibition in the series.

 

How to Explore:

In the warmer months, the Site has regular open hours, and you can purchase a ticket to explore the historic interiors. In the colder months, the Old Studio (and Main House) are open for private tours by appointment. Click here to find out more. Also, check out 360 Explore, a virtual walkthrough of the historic interiors.

 

 

I am still a Youth in imagination + build Castles still.

Thomas Cole to Asher B. Durand about the “Voyage of Life” series, March 8, 1842, New York State Library, Thomas Cole Papers, Box 1, Folder 5

 

Image: Charles Herbert Moore, Old Studio, c. 1860s. Oil on canvas, Thomas Cole National Historic Site.
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Main House

In 1815, siblings Thomas, John Alexander, and Catherine Thomson had this house built for themselves and their extended family. It has stood here since that time. Cole-family descendants lived here through the 1970s, after which time the house was neglected. It passed through several hands before the Greene County Historical Society assumed ownership in 1998. The house/site is now owned/operated privately by the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.

 

I arrived here in February last after an absence of nearly 12 years [in South America] in good health and flourishing circumstances having realized my full expectations as far as regards the accumulation of wealth […] Alexander has […] commenced building a very comfortable House on the Hill for the Family which I trust will be ready by next Dec.

Thomas T. Thomson in Catskill to his sister Maria Thomson Bartow in Canada, May 17, 1815. Albany Institute of History and Art, Thomas Cole Collection, CV553, Box 1, Folder 11.

 

When/By Whom the House was Built:

Begun in 1814, and overseen by siblings Thomas, John Alexander, and Catherine Thomson. This house was built by a group that likely included enslaved persons. We know that the Thomsons enslaved people from at least 1790 up until at least 1817. For more, check out the research of two of our Cole Fellows, Adaeze Dikko and Beth Wynne: Regarding the Free, Black woman documented as a Cedar Grove Resident and Contextual Research on the Unnamed, Free Black Woman and Other Laborers at Cedar Grove.

 

Architectural Style:

Federal (of the period after the American Revolution when a federal system of government was being developed). It is characterized by symmetry, high ceilings, the bald eagle visible in the window over the front door, and features inspired by ancient Greek architecture.

 

Enter Thomas Cole:

Thomas Cole moved into the house after he married into the Thomson family: Maria Bartow (1813-1884) married Thomas in 1836. Thomas himself never owned the house.

 

Who Lived Here During Thomas Cole’s Residency (1836-48):

Maria and Thomas lived here along with many other family members and hired laborers. During Thomas’s time here, the number of residents at the property ranged from 11-14, and this included a free Black woman recorded on the 1840 census. This household of people acted as a support system to Thomas, enabling him to produce his artwork and support the household with his earnings. Click here for the in-progress list of people who resided here at the same time as Thomas Cole.

 

Title Holders:

After John A. Thomson passed away in 1846, ownership of the property passed to a succession of Bartow and Cole women, who were both titleholders and stewards of the property. We are ever in debt to their remarkable efforts to preserve it. For a glimpse into their stories, check out A Feminist’s Guide to the Thomas Cole Site.

 

Reinterpretation Efforts: 

We believe that the stories of those who lived here are key to telling the histories of this property. In 2017, we installed the first phase of these efforts with The Parlors, combining scholarship, restoration of the interiors, and technology-driven storytelling to immerse visitors in Cole’s world and thoughts. As we move forward, we seek to shine a spotlight on those who lived here with Thomas, and who made his pursuit of a career in the arts possible.

 

Restoration of the Interiors: 

Click here to view the 2019 Historic Structures report.

 

About Contemporary Artwork On Site:

This property has long been an inspiration for artists. In addition to Thomas Cole, family members Sarah Cole (1805-57) and Emily Cole (1843-1913) were both practicing artists; and many others visited here to see the place where Thomas lived and worked. We seek to continue this tradition of living artists actively working in and being inspired by this site by working with artists through OPEN HOUSE: Contemporary Art in Conversation with Cole. This annual series of curated contemporary artist installations is located within, and in response to, the historic home and studios of artist Thomas Cole. Operating from the concept that all art is contemporary, the program activates conversations between artists across centuries. Exhibitions and artworks have ranged from those that literally reference Thomas’s iconic works to those that expand on issues and themes relevant to Thomas, including art, landscape, history, and balancing the built and natural worlds. OPEN HOUSE projects shed light on the connections between nineteenth-century American art and our contemporary moment.  Click here to see the current or upcoming exhibition in the series.

 

Artworks by Thomas Cole Made Inside the Main House: 

Upon Thomas’ marriage to Maria Bartow, he used a small room on the second floor as a studio space. It later became the children’s bedroom. In that room, Thomas painted:

  • View on the Catskill—Early Autumn, Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • The Departure, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • The Return, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • View of Florence, The Cleveland Museum of Art
  • View of the Arno, Near Florence, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA
  • Dream of Arcadia, Denver Art Museum Collection
  • Elevation of State House, Columbus, Ohio, (architectural drawing), Detroit Institute of Arts
  • Italian Coast Scene with Ruined Tower, National Gallery of Art (NGA)
  • Past, Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, MA
  • Present, Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, MA
  • Tower by Moonlight, Thomas Cole National Historic Site
  • View of Schroon Mountain, Essex County, New York, After a Storm, The Cleveland Museum of Art
  • A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford Notch), National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Landscape with Tower in Ruin, Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH
  • Multiple studies for The Voyage of Life series, National Gallery of Art, DC; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute

  

How to Explore:

In the warmer months, the Site has regular open hours, and you can purchase a ticket to explore the historic interiors. In the colder months, the Main House (and Old Studio) are open for private tours by appointment. Click here to find out more. Also, check out 360 Explore, a virtual walkthrough of the historic interiors.

 

I often look at our house and think, how wonderful that so much of happiness should be comprised in that little spot.

Thomas Cole to Maria Cole, undated letter from the Mountain House, New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections, Thomas Cole Papers 1821-1863, SC10635, Cole Family Letters, Box 4 Folder 4.

 

 

Image: Charles Herbert Moore, Untitled (Cedar Grove), 1868. Oil on canvas, 5 7/8 x 9 1/4 in., Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Gift of Edith Cole Silberstein. 
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