Place is one of the most significant and meticulously
preserved country estates in America. Set amidst 434
acres of rolling lawns, woodlands and glorious gardens,
the estate includes the mansion designed by AJ Davis,
America's greatest mid-19th century architect.
The estate was originally created
by Janet Livingston Montgomery, widow of Revolutionary
War hero General Richard Montgomery in 1804 and built
in the Federal style. During the next fifty years, her
descendants were responsible for the estate's reputation
as one of the most beautiful in the nation. They were
assisted by two of the most important designers in the
country, landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing and
architect Alexander Jackson Davis.
In 1859, Downing wrote that Montgomery
Place "...is one of our oldest improved country
seats ...nowhere surpassed in America in point of location,
natural beauty, or landscape gardening charms."
Stroll through the gardens and walk
the many trails and paths around the estate. Take a
walk along a woodland trail to the falls of the Sawkill.
Spread out a blanket on the lawn and enjoy a picnic,
or pull up a chair on the North Porch and just relax.
The 434 acre estate, gardens and grounds are open for
a small grounds fee from April through October on Wednesdays
through Mondays from 10am till 5pm and November &
December on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am till 5pm.
The house is currently closed for renovations and tours
are not available.
There is an excellent gift shop available
filled with interesting objects and literature on the
history and culture of the Hudson Valley.
Montgomery Place is best known as an architectural landmark
designed by Alexander Jackson Davis and a landscape
influenced by the great Andrew Jackson Downing.
In 1775 General Richard Montgomery (1738-1775) was
killed in the battle for Quebec and became the first
hero of the American Revolution. His wife Janet Livingston
Montgomery (1743-1828), at home on her place near Rhinebeck,
became a revered widow, a status she cultivated for
half a century.
In 1802, fifty-nine year old Mrs. Montgomery surprised
her family by acquiring a working farm and building
a new house she named "Château de Montgomery."
She built it to honor General Montgomery's memory and
to provide a fitting legacy for his heirs; the French
name derives in part from her brother Chancellor Livingston's
tenure as Minister to France from 1801 to 1805. "She
had ample pecuniary means," recalled Thomas Clarkson
in 1869, "and good taste at command, the two needfuls
in the successful improvement of a country estate."
At the terminus of a half mile-long allée of
deciduous trees, some of which predated her arrival,
Janet built a federal-style house of stuccoed fieldstone.
Here she developed a prosperous commercial enterprise
of orchards, gardens, nursery, and greenhouse, tended
by hired hands and enslaved Africans. Its beauty and
marvelous westward vistas appealed to Janet, who noted
charmingly, "Our eligant Mountains which bound
the River so fantastically and varied, and our boasted
Hudson which brings to its banks all we can desire is
sufficient to gratify any moderate American Woman."
General Montgomery's heirs, to whom Janet expected
to leave Montgomery Place, predeceased her, and so Janet
left the estate to her youngest brother, Edward Livingston
(1764-1836). His fascinating lifetime of public service
included terms as Mayor of New York City, United States
Representative and United States Senator from Louisiana,
and Secretary of State and Minister to France in the
Andrew Jackson administration. Edward's cosmopolitan
and well-traveled widow Louise Livingston (1782-1860),
a French-speaking native of Haiti, and their daughter
Coralie Livingston Barton (1806-1873) used Montgomery
Place as a summer home and remade its architecture and
landscape over a forty-year period. They transformed
the renamed Montgomery Place into a handsome, self-sufficient
estate in the picturesque mode, adding a conservatory,
intricate flower gardens, and architectural follies.
Their comfortable lifestyle was supported by an ample
domestic staff; the 1860 census reported three white
and six free African-American house servants on the
For re-design of the house, Louise turned to the "taste,
experience, & Skillful pencil" of A. J. Davis
(1803-1892), the greatest American architect of the
romantic movement. Adding porches, wings, balustrades,
and other detail to Janet's original structure, Davis
created a classical revival house in two phases, the
first beginning in 1842 and the second during the early
1860s. Among the surviving features designed by Davis
are the classical-style coach house, a Gothic Revival-style
farmhouse, and the unique Gothic Revival-style Swiss
Cottage. A gatehouse, at least one folly in the conservatory
garden, and a rustic Chinese bridge were among the un-built
features proposed by Davis.
Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852), co-owner of a sophisticated
nursery down river in Newburgh, advised informally on
the gardens and grounds and on the layout of walks,
statuary, rustic seats, and water features; sold the
Bartons a variety of plants and trees; and, with Coralie
Barton, designed the ornamental flower gardens surrounding
the conservatory. Downing was the foremost American
writer on landscape and garden subjects, editing the
highly influential and nationally distributed monthly
periodical The Horticulturist; he also wrote an important
treatise on landscape design as well as architectural
pattern books with architectural drawings and illustrations
by Davis. Not surprisingly, Downing wrote extensively
about Montgomery Place, asserting that the estate "is
second as it is to no seat in America, for its combination
of attractions . . . all its varied mysteries of pleasure-grounds
and lawns, wood and water."
Thomas Barton (1803-1869) began an arboretum in the
1840s, planning it with Hans Jacob Ehlers (c.1803-1858),
a German landscape gardener. Writing in 1857, Henry
Winthrop Sargent described Ehlers' design as "the
most complete and satisfactory arboretum in the United
States". Neither pains nor expense have been spared
in obtaining the most entire and thorough collection."
The post-Civil War period witnessed the decline of
Montgomery Place, when it was occupied by relatives
with life tenancy. Happily, the estate was inherited
in 1921 by Livingston descendent General John Ross Delafield
(1874-1964), a New York attorney, whose grandmother
Julia Livingston Delafield had been a cousin and close
friend of Cora Barton.
Gen. Delafield's energetic wife Violetta White Delafield
(1875-1949), a talented botanist with a serious interest
in horticulture, stabilized the 19th-century landscape.
She was responsible for the terraced landscaping on
the west side of the house; a series of garden rooms
for roses, herbs, and perennials; the romantic rough
(or "wild") garden with its artificial stream
and woodland plants; and the hedged ellipse with its
pool for aquatics.
The Delafields added a hydroelectric generator, clay
tennis court, squash court, and greenhouse, restored
the 19th-century woodland walks, improved the orchards,
and thoroughly renovated the house. General Delafield
became an enthusiastic collector of furnishings and
memorabilia with Livingston connections. Once again
Montgomery Place became a centerpiece of active and
idyllic family life, with picnics and lawn parties,
teas and dinners, tennis matches, swimming, boating,
riding, and all the pleasures of privileged country
To ensure Montgomery Place's preservation, Delafield
descendants conveyed title to Sleepy Hollow Restorations
(now Historic Hudson Valley) in 1986. The combination
of sale and gift included 434 acres of land, a portion
of the hamlet of Annandale, orchards, gardens, and the
house. Its contents were preserved, according to a family
member, by "strong family tradition and the precept
of saving and never throwing away." Letters and
papers documenting the estate's history were deposited
in the Princeton and Historic Hudson Valley libraries.
Historic Hudson Valley restored the house and grounds
to a meticulous standard, opening the estate to the
public in 1988.