The Sawkill Creek - Preserving & Enhancing Nature’s Beauty

The Sawkill Creek

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Preserving & Enhancing Nature’s Beauty

During the decades following the American Revolution, the push was on for entrepreneurs to establish factories and extractive industries in the Hudson Valley.

The fate of the Sawkill, in particular the Lower Falls nearest to the Hudson River, was uncertain. The Sawkill had become a source of scenic inspiration celebrated by artists in America and Europe. Would it remain this way, or would factory owners develop it? 

In 1841, Montgomery Place’s Louise Livingston and her neighbor to the north, Robert Donaldson, entered into an agreement to purchase the Sawkill ravine and to preserve its beauty by vowing never to develop it for industrial uses. They also purchased land at the mouth of the Sawkill and dismantled a mill on the site.

Livingston and Donaldson feared that if the creek and the ravine fell into the hands of an industrialist, their own estates would suffer the visual intrusions, noise, and other nuisances that a large-scale factory would bring. They made the Sawkill ravine the centerpiece of romantic pleasure grounds that connected their properties, enhancing the steep slopes of the ravine with walking trails, rustic pavilions, and bridges across the creek that linked both properties.

Their legal agreement is one of the earliest scenic preservation covenants entered into in the United States. It reflects how, during the first half of the 19th century, Americans were starting to view nature as an aesthetic resource to be protected.

The Cataract, by Alexander Jackson Davis. Watercolor on paper, 1847. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York.

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