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.
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.
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.
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.