Originally, the land was occupied by Native Americans who used it for hunting and harvesting wild foods. During the 18th century, European settlers farmed the area and harnessed the power of the Sawkill Creek for gristmills and sawmills. In 1802, 58-year-old Janet Livingston Montgomery, widow of Revolutionary War hero Gen. Richard Montgomery, purchased the land to create a fashionable country house.
In 1804–5, she built a federal-style mansion on the property. Janet’s true passion was for plants and botany, and she established and ran a commercial nursery for fruit trees, shrubs, berries, and seeds. When she died in 1828, her brother Edward and his wife, Louise, inherited the property.
After Edward’s death a few years later, Louise, daughter Cora, and son-in-law Thomas Barton transformed portions of the estate from a working farm into a showplace. Renowned architect Andrew Jackson Davis redesigned the house, adding new wings and porticos in classic revival style to suit prevailing Romantic sensibilities. Landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing created plans for elaborate flower gardens, several walking paths, rustic benches, and an arboretum. (Both Davis and Downing were also involved in the original design and layout of the Blithewood estate, now part of the main Bard College campus.)
In the 1920s, Violetta and John Ross Delafield (a Livingston descendent) inherited the estate. Violetta, a botanist, created multiple gardens, continuing the legacy of Cora, Louise, and Janet. In 1986, Livingston heir John Dennis Delafield transferred the estate to Historic Hudson Valley in whose hands it remained until 2016,when Bard College acquired the property and a new chapter began.
Montgomery Place illustrates Americans’ changing relationship with nature and landscape over time. As the attitudes of the people who lived and worked there shifted, the estate changed from productive landscape to ornamental showcase to recreational retreat. Today, the Montgomery Place setting functions as a microcosm of American landscape history, from the early wilderness to its latest reincarnation as part of the integrated campus of Bard College. Bard is committed to conserving Montgomery Place’s significant historic and cultural assets as well as preserving its landscape and maintaining its public access and farm.
For an extensive history, visit Montgomery Place: An American Arcadia.