The Blithewood Estate today encompasses the Blithewood Mansion and Garden. The Estate is a contributing property in the Hudson River National Historic Landmark District, a 32-mile stretch that extends from Germantown to Hyde Park. Now housing the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College, the Estate represents several periods in American design history: notably the Romantic and Picturesque and the Neoclassical Italianate. The bulk of the Collection dates from three significant periods: 1835 until 1852, when it was under the ownership of Robert Donaldson, who worked with A. J. Downing and A.J. Davis to develop the estate; 1899 -1951, during which time Captain Andrew C. Zabriskie and his wife, Frances Hunter Zabriskie, built the present day mansion and garden; and 1951- present, covering the Estate under Bard College. The Collection includes photographs, personal letters, engravings, and magazines. Tearsheets and photocopies of contemporary magazine articles and book chapters, published from 1951-on, give the history of the site in full, and include reproductions of many important photographs, sketches, engravings and plans.
.5 linear feet
Scope and Content:
The Collection includes personal letters, engravings, and magazines. There are several reproductions of design sketches from Donaldson’s collaboration with A. J. Downing and A.J. Davis. Several tearsheets and photocopies of contemporary magazine articles and book chapters, with publication dates from 1951-on, give the history of the site in full, and include reproductions of many important photographs, sketches, engravings and plans. Historic sources include A. J. Downing’s A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America and his Landscape and Gardening and Rural Architecture; The Cultivator, a monthly publication devoted to agriculture, published by the New York State Agricultural Society, 1834-. Included are two magazines from the 1980s with articles about Richard Jenrette, who bought Robert Donaldson’ estate Edgewater, and who amassed a large collection of Donaldson furniture, paintings, and memorabilia that shed light on Donaldson’s time at Blithewood. Sources from the Bard College era include articles from various Bard publications, including the Hudson River Valley Review, Perspectives, the Bard College Bulletin, and the Campus Newsletter. There are also excerpts from various local newspapers, including the Poughkeepsie Journal and the New York Herald Tribune. There is a copy of the Landscape Report of 1989 prepared by Landscape Conservation & Interpretation for Lepera & Ward, Architects.
Biographical / Historical:
The Blithewood Estate has significant connections to the heritage of the Hudson Valley region and the evolution of American landscape design. The Estate has a long history, beginning in 1680 when it was acquired from local native Americans by Colonel Pieter Schuyler. In 1790, 400 acres of this land were sold to John Armstrong and his wife Alida LIvingston. This included the Ward Manor area known then as ‘The Meadows.’ In 1801, Armstrong sold the property to John Allen and Mary Johnston. She was the first to name the property Annandale, after her family’s home in Scotland. In 1810, the Allens sold the estate to John C. Stephens of New York City, a noted yachtsman and sportsman, who then sold the land to John Church Cruger in 1833. In 1835, Cruger sold the property to Robert Donaldson, a North Carolinian living in New York City. The architectural importance of the estate dates from this period. Donaldson’s wife Susan named the estate Blithewood for the bird song that filled the woods. Donaldson worked with Andrew Jackson Downing and Alexander Jackson Davis, the most significant landscape designer and architects of the Romantic period. Donaldson envisioned Blithewood as an example of an estate designed in the Picturesque mode (fully natural and pleasingly wild). In 1860, John and Margaret Bard, who had purchased part of the Donaldson estate in 1853, donated 18 acres for the founding of St. Stephen’s College (renamed Bard College in 1934). At the turn of the twentieth century, new owners Captain Andrew C. Zabriskie (1853–1916) and his wife, Frances Hunter Zabriskie (1866-1951), commissioned Francis L. V. Hoppin (1867–1941), of the architectural firm Hoppin & Koen, to design a house and garden according to the tastes and trends of the Gilded Age. Hoppin’s Georgian manor house and Italianate garden that we see today are examples of the Country Place Era in the Hudson Valley. After Captain Zabriskie’s death in 1916, his widow, Frances, took an active part in the development and upkeep of the gardens and grounds. After Frances died in 1951, the Zabriskies’ son Christian donated Blithewood, by then an 865-acre estate, to Bard College. In 1987, it was renovated and transferred to the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. The Garden continues to be maintained in the style created by Frances Zabriskie. On October 16, 2016, Bard College and the Garden Conservancy–—a national nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and sharing outstanding American gardens—signed an agreement to work together on the rehabilitation of Blithewood Garden. This partnership will continue to address the renovation and conservation of the historic garden’s structures and hardscape.
See the Blithewood photographs in The Photograph Collection in the Bard Archives.