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In his book on Bard, former president Reamer Kline says, "Bard College was founded on the grounds of one of the great 19th century Hudson River estates, John Bard's seat, variously known as Annandale or Blithewood and, especially in its early years, the College was both a part and a product of the 'estate culture.' The twenty-mile 'continuous succession of fine seats,' as [Andrew Jackson] Downing phrased it, (roughly the stretch from Tivoli to Staatsburgh) is still the environment of the college and several of those estates are now part of the College's campus. It is a stretch of river bank associated with such great family names as Livingston, Cruger, Stevens, Donaldson, Montgomery, Chanler, Armstrong, Astor, Aldrich, Delano, Aspinwall, Vanderbilt, VanNess, DePeyster, Bartlett, Beekman, Roosevelt, Dows, Dinsmore, Hull, Huntington, and Schuyler."
"Downing and his associates did much to set both the esthetic tone and the social philosophy of mid-century America, and especially the Hudson Valley. The river-front estates were the scene of some of their most important work and served as examples of Downing's influential work." In Rural Essays, Downing calls Blithewood 'one of the most charming villa residences in the Union.'"
Kline says that Downing's view is characteristic of his age: "the chief value of a refined and cultivated way of life is not that it represents ease and self-indulgence for those fortunate enough to enjoy it, but that is serves as an example and leaven for the life of the whole society, 'for the social and moral development of the our people.'"
After a description of life on the Hudson River estates, the writer directly links the religious and social obligations of the owners to the development of the college: "the estates shaped a culture and that culture built St. Stephen's College [Bard's predecessor, an Episcopalian foundation]."
In 1852 John Bard bought the 130 acre Donaldson estate, known as Blithewood. He built a chapel for the neighborhood, which is now Bard Hall (q.v.). He gave key support to the foundation of St. Stephen's College in 1860 and donated 18 acres. Into the 1960s, gifts of deed from owners of adjacent properties and purchases permitted Bard College's expansion.
Downing's possible contributions are further reflected in the entry on Levy Economics Institute.*
Ravines and other natural features survive in a landscape conditioned by agriculture and picturesque landscape gardening. The formal garden at the 1900 Blithewood mansion may have been provided by A.J.Downing.
*Quotations from: Reamer Kline, Education for the Common Good: A History of Bard College-the First 100 Years (1860-1960) (Annondale-on-Hudson: Bard College, 1982), 2-3.
Kline, Reamer. Education for the Common Good: A History of Bard College--the First 100 Years (1860--1960). Annandale-on-Hudson, NY: Bard College, 1982.
Hudson River Historic District. National Park Service Report and Inventory. Hudson River Heritage Office, Rhinebeck, NY, [n.d.].
Hudson River Historic District [including Bard College]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1990.