In a region filled with history and culture, Hyde Hall – located on the shores of Otsego Lake – reflects the architecture and character that symbolize the Leatherstocking community and the Cooperstown area.
Hyde Hall was conceived and constructed by George Clarke, an Englishman whose great grandfather and namesake had been prominent in the colonial government of New York. Settling in Albany in 1806 to oversee his inheritance, he met and married the lively and beautiful Ann Low Cary, widow of Richard Cooper, the elder brother of novelist James Fenimore Cooper. Although he owned numerous parcels of land in different parts of the state, Clarke purchased several hundred acres that included a headland on Otsego Lake that not only adjoined his wife’s family property, but also offered a dramatic view down the lake to Cooperstown.
Plans for a small country villa were commissioned from Philip Hooker, the leading architect of Albany, in 1817 and construction began on the house and several outbuildings. Within months the Clarkes expanded their plans and began to evolve the concept of a large country house with family, guest and staff quarters set in surrounding parkland entered through a gatehouse and supported by an entire farm complex. The name Hyde Hall was chosen in honor of the Clarke family’s ancient seat, Hyde Hall in England.
Hyde Hall is one of the finest representations of romantic classicism in America. The three parts of the house – the family rooms, the guest or entertaining areas and the staff quarters – were built in three different styles around a central courtyard.
The house was set in parkland comprised of fields, streams and wooded hillsides. Guests entered the property through a domed gatehouse and proceeded on a curving, mile-long drive that crossed a covered bridge, now the oldest in America, and built up expectation by offering fleeting glimpses of the house, Otsego Lake and the countryside. The asymmetry of the structure fit into the natural landscape and the varied, but not too different architectural styles intentionally suggested a family seat built over generations rather than one lifetime.
The house and site experienced very few changes over the subsequent years. When the son of the builder went bankrupt in 1886, the house, its contents and surrounding 3000 acres were purchased by his son at public auction. A chapel replaced Ann Cary Clarke’s bedroom suite in 1908 and bathrooms were added. But Hyde Hall remained substantially the same as it was during the life of its builder, George Clarke, and continued as the home for two subsequent generations of the Clarke family until New York State acquired the property in 1963 and created Glimmerglass State Park.
Hyde Hall has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and subsequently declared a National Historic Landmark, the only such designation in Otsego County.