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Montgomery Place

Montgomery 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 " 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.

The History of Montgomery Place

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 payroll.

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 living.

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.

Specifics on visiting Montgomery Place were correct at time of publication. We would suggest that you confirm dates and times prior to your visit.
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