Day Trip: Opus 40 – One Man’s Work

Fite’s sculptured landscape serves as everlasting destination

By Mary Ann Ebner

Harvey Fite used dry-key stone techniques using millions of bluestone quarry pieces to create Opus 40. Photo by M.A. Ebner

Imagine one man’s work as spirals of hand-fitted bluestone, swirls of stone passageways, and terraces built in a natural setting embellished with pools, fountains and fauna. The creation represents the work of an individual. The work of that man, Harvey Fite, carries on as Opus 40, much more than a sculpture park and museum, but a tranquil retreat anchored into the earth in the community of Saugerties in Ulster County.

The strength of Overlook Mountain provides a powerful yet peaceful backdrop to the sculpture’s centerpiece, a 9-ton monolith discovered by the artist in a streambed. Fite formed the monumental artistic structure out of a lifetime of creating, carving and sculpting with remnants left behind in an abandoned bluestone quarry.

Just under 60 miles from downtown Cold Spring, Opus 40 represents one of the Hudson Valley’s rich cultural and artistic destinations. The earthworks creation that Fite produced grew piece by bluestone piece from 1939 until the artist’s accidental death from a fall in 1976 at the Opus 40 quarry site. Though Fite had planned to carry on his work for 40 years, his untimely death marked a finishing point of 37 years.

Areas of Opus 40 that Fite was still designing remain largely as he left them, honoring the wishes of his late wife, Barbara, who passed away in 1987. Shortly after her husband’s death, Barbara Fite opened Opus 40 to the public on a regular basis. Family members continue to operate the 6 1/2-acre site as a nonprofit organization and welcome visitors from May through mid-October to the majestic outdoor space.

“My mother felt very strongly that the unfinished areas stay unfinished,” Fite’s stepson Tad Richards said. “Now it’s open to the public, and we get many local people, but we get people from all over the world actually.”

Tad Richards, stepson of Harvey Fite, has called Opus 40 his home since he was 3 years old. He grew up with Opus 40 and serves as the site’s artistic director. Photo by M.A. Ebner

Visitors follow a winding country road that leads to Opus 40 to see Fite’s finely fitted bluestone piece as well as the artist’s large stone carvings displayed about the site near walkways and pools. The Quarryman’s Museum showcases tools and equipment used by quarrymen, and many of the same hand tools that Fite, one of the founders of the Bard College Fine Arts Department, relied on to create the Opus 40 setting.

“Harvey taught for many years at Bard College,” Richards said. “When he retired (1969) he decided to build a garage with bays for his trucks. The second floor housed his collection of tools, many hand-forged by quarrymen and farmers.”

The Quarryman’s Museum remains much as Fite left it on the building’s second floor, though the main floor is no longer used as a garage but includes a small gallery, gift shop, and video viewing area. First-time visitors may more fully appreciate Fite’s vision by viewing the Opus 40 7-minute video that a friendly museum manager will play on demand. Visitors should plan to relax and stroll the grounds of the site without a care to rush back to life’s busy highways. The setting also offers an ideal spot to picnic and an array of striking vistas.

Fite’s family members continue to make their home at Opus 40, living in an elegant woodsy house that the artist originally built as his studio. Resident handyman Bill Cochran also makes his year-round home at the quarry sculpture, keeping a watchful eye on the countless bluestone pieces of Opus 40.

Though no new building takes place or changes made, Cochran maintains the grounds all through the year, doing stonework and clearing areas to maintain the space and perpetuate Fite’s work for many seasons to come. Opus 40 welcomes individual visitors and groups and has also hosted weddings, concerts and charitable events. Fite’s earthwork sculpture is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and students, and $3 for children (ages 6 to 12). For more information, call 845-246-9922 or visit the Opus 40 website at opus40.org.

The Quarryman’s Museum at Opus 40 houses Fite’s collection of quarryman’s tools and artifacts. Photo by M.A. Ebner

“The fall foliage season is certainly spectacular and is generally in early October,” Richards said. “There are a lot of wonderful things about Saugerties, and Opus 40 has international acclaim. We’re very proud of Saugerties in all sorts of ways.”

Opus 40 is located at 50 Fite Road, Saugerties. The site is a short distance from downtown Saugerties and in close proximity to Woodstock and Kingston.

Seasonal Schedule

Late May through mid-October
(Traditionally closes after Columbus Day weekend, but mild weather may extend season.)

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday and holiday Mondays

Trip Tips

Wear comfortable walking shoes.

No climbing on sculptures.

Bring a picnic.

Restroom facilities are available.

Non-paved parking located on site.

Some areas not handicapped accessible but many vistas still enjoyed from a distance.