Summer is the time to see Graycliff at its best; great events, too

pond at Graycliff in Derby NY
The main house at Graycliff is reflected in the pond designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Though Wright wanted many more water features to be integrated into the site on Lake Erie, Isabelle Martin decided she didn’t want even the pond and later had it removed. The pond was integral to Wright’s design, so it was restored in recent years, said Anna Kaplan, executive director of Graycliff. Notice the view of the lake to the left of the house. You can also see the lake through the “transparent” house, which has large windows that act like glass walls. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
The picking garden at Graycliff in Derby NY
Isabelle Martin was known around Buffalo for her flower arrangements. She had a picking garden at Graycliff designed by Frank Lloyd Wright with contributions from Ellen Biddle Shipman, pioneering landscape architect. Shipman worked mainly on private gardens, so the Graycliff landscape is one of the few publicly accessible Shipman landscapes. Shipman created a repeating design with vibrant colors. “It’s always interesting,” said Anna Kaplan, executive director of Graycliff. The privet hedge at the back is original to the garden. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Perched on a cliff overlooking Lake Erie, Graycliff is a wonderful spot to catch a cooling breeze and enjoy the view. No wonder Isabelle and Darwin Martin had their second fabulous estate built there.

“This was the Martins’ summer home,” said Anna Kaplan, executive director of Graycliff. “Summer is the time to see it!”

This architectural gem, designed in the 1920s by Frank Lloyd Wright, features newly completed restoration projects. They include stone benches looking out to the water, garden beds lining the original driveway, a vegetable garden for fresh produce and the picking garden for Isabelle to create flower arrangements.

Take a tour to find out more about the architecture, the landscape and even the rocks. Tichenor limestone, taken from the top layer of the cliff to be used inside and outside at Graycliff, contains fossils–There’s even a geology tour.

Events at Graycliff include a farmers market called Market at Graycliff and a new art installation by Sarah Braman. See more below.

Graycliff is at 6472 Old Lake Shore Rd., Derby. That’s not as far as you may think–just 13 miles from downtown Buffalo.

stone bench with view of Lake Erie at Graycliff in Derby NY
This stone bench designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is part of a recently completed project at Graycliff. When part of the cliff fell and 15 feet of horizontal land was lost, the bench was rebuilt. Eighty percent of the bench is original stone; there are still remnants of the original bench outside the fence. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Market at Graycliff

The fifth annual Market at Graycliff will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays from Aug. 4 to Sept. 15. All products sold must also be produced within the eight counties of Western New York. Admission to the market is free.

Vendors in the past have offered an array of homemade baked goods, specialty food items, locally produced wine, cider and mead, along with quality handmade crafts.

This year’s focus is to include locally grown produce along with produce grown in Graycliff’s historic vegetable garden.

During the Market at Graycliff, you can take a self-guided tour of the grounds for free. To see the main floor of Graycliff’s restored main house, take a self-guided tour for $10.

original driveway with gardens and pillars at Graycliff in Derby NY
Recently restored garden beds line the historic driveway at Graycliff. They were planted in 2019 and 2020 and are filling in this season. The pillars are made from Tichenor limestone that was taken from the top layer of the cliff. The stone leaches iron oxide, which is why the pillars look rusty in spots. Tichenor limestone, which was also used inside the main house, contains many fossils; there’s a geology tour every month. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Art installation: Sarah Braman: Finding Room

Sarah Braman: Finding Room is a collaborative exhibition between Graycliff and the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. It bridges nature and architecture through indoor and outdoor sculpture installations.

The exhibition is viewable only by guided tours and through special events. See details and register here.

Art tours are free for everyone on the first Saturday of each month, but advance registration is required.

The inside art installation will continue through October and the outside installation will continue through March.

sunken garden at Graycliff in Derby NY
The sunken garden is just off the porch of the main house, creating a feeling of seamlessness between the exterior and interior. The house was a gift from Darwin Martin to his wife Isabelle and she steered its design. Isabelle had an eye condition and wanted light; Graycliff is much brighter than the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo, also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright, who was not known for compromising, gave into Isabelle more than once, even when she wanted an exterior wall moved three feet– after the house was built. Photo courtesy of Graycliff

Docent-led tours

  • Landscape tours. There are only two docent-led landscape tours left. They will be held at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 14 & 28.
  • Standard one-hour tour. Take a tour of the gardens, grounds and first floor interior of the main house. Examine the history of Graycliff, from Wright’s design and the Martins’ time on the property through today.
  • Extended two-hour tour. Experience a two-hour tour of the gardens, grounds, both floors of the main house, and the second floor of Foster apartment. Examine the history of Graycliff, from Wright’s design and the Martins’ time on the property.
  • Wright Rocks! Join Graycliff and Penn Dixie for a special geological tour of the site and discover the history of the land, the architecture and Wright’s material choice. This 90-minute tour of Graycliff, led by a Penn Dixie staff member with expertise in the geological significance of the site, includes both floors of the main house. 
  • You can also schedule private tours of Graycliff. See more here.

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