Last September, Bard College acquired the Montgomery Place property adjacent to its campus in Annandale-on-Hudson. The early-19th-century estate on the 380 acres of land becomes the third historic former residence in Bard’s holdings, joining Blithewood and Ward manors on what is now a more-than-1,000-acre college campus. Montgomery Place and Blithewood share the distinction of having had their original design renovated by renowned architect Alexander Jackson Davis and grounds designed by noted landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing.
The college grounds also include a Gothic Revival gatehouse, chapel, dormitories and academic buildings, along with a Neoclassical library, faculty cottages in various styles and more recent buildings designed by a roster of prominent 20th-century architects. But given the challenges of historic preservation and the college’s ultimate imperative to educate, why would an institution of higher learning continue to invest in historic structures that need to be maintained and preserved, rather than building new?
“It’s really a logical extension of the original planning for the campus, and they can use the grounds in a number of ways,” says architect Warren Temple Smith, president of the Hudson River Heritage (HRH) organization, which is sponsoring a Preservation Forum at Bard College this Saturday, April 9. The nonprofit HRH is the federally designated steward of the Hudson River National Historic Landmark District, a 32-square-mile area stretching from Germantown in Columbia County to Hyde Park in Dutchess County. Smith says that, based on comments made by Bard’s president, Leon Botstein, at a public presentation last fall, he believes that the college has a “broad, holistic view” of how to incorporate the Montgomery Place estate into the entirety of the campus.
“Buying adjacent land makes sense, if the land can be an advantage for their programs,” Smith says. “They may want to keep the farm there going, and some of their environmental programs might use the site. And some of the other buildings on the site have already been used as offices [by the land’s previous stewards: the Historic Hudson Valley organization], and they could easily be adapted for offices for some of Bard’s programs that don’t need to be right in the center of the campus.”
Offices currently housed in dormitories on campus could be moved to the Montgomery Place property, which would open up space to create more dorm rooms, bringing in additional income to the college. As for the former estate on the land, Smith says that he believes Bard might hold seminars there, and that in any case it will remain open to the public to some degree for tours, even if not on the regular basis that it has been in the past. Deed restrictions guarantee the permanent protection of the site’s historic, architectural and environmental resources.
Bard’s plans for its future, including its goals for the adaptive reuse of the Montgomery Place site, will be discussed in the daylong Preservation Forum held at Blithewood on Saturday, April 9 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event will offer an overview of the architecture at Bard and discuss the challenges that the college has faced in the past with historic preservation and the successful adaptive reuse of their 19th-century buildings.
Scheduled speakers include Leon Botstein and Terence Dewsnap, Emily Majer, Matt Alexander, Ward Stanley, Peter A. Watson, Jr. and Jim Brudvig. Tours of Blithewood will be offered throughout the day, and tours of Montgomery Place in the afternoon. Admission costs $60 for the general public, $50 for HRH members and $25 for Bard undergraduate students with ID. A catered lunch is included. Reservations may be made online at www.hudsonriverheritage.org/preservationforum, by e-mail to [email protected] or through the mail to PO Box 287, Rhinebeck NY 12572.
Built for Janet Livingston Montgomery in 1805 and renovated by Gothic Revival proponent Alexander Jackson Davis in 1844, the Montgomery Place mansion has views of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains from its terraces and north pavilion. The property includes gardens designed in the early 20th century, an arboretum and productive orchards whose fruit has been sold in recent years through the Montgomery Place Orchards Farmstand. The land’s natural features include woodland trails laid out more than 100 years ago that lead to the waterfalls of the Saw Kill River.
The estate was originally known as Chateau de Montgomery in honor of Janet Livingston Montgomery’s late husband, General Richard Montgomery. After Janet’s death, the property passed to her brother Edward Livingston and his wife Louise, who renamed it Montgomery Place. After Edward died, Louise hired Alexander Jackson Davis to convert the mansion into a more ornate villa, reflective of the Romantic sensibilities of the times.
The original campus of Bard College was founded in 1860 as St. Stephen’s College. The land donated by physician John Bard included his riverside estate and a number of the buildings still in use today.
Preservation Forum, Saturday, April 9, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., $25-$60, Blithewood Manor, Bard College, Campus Road, Annandale-on-Hudson, www.hudsonriverheritage.org/preservationforum.