The Conservatory - Design and Construction

The Conservatory

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Design and Construction

After Janet Montgomery’s death in 1828, her sister-in-law Louise Livingston moved Montgomery Place’s farm functions to the far edges of the property and created park-like “pleasure grounds” in the area east of the mansion.

In 1839, Louise and her daughter Cora Barton commissioned the construction of an opulent wood and glass conservatory where Janet’s cow pasture had been. Soon after its construction, Cora worked closely with landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing to design formal garden beds and manicured paths to surround the gothic revival-style conservatory.

Initially, this stand-alone ornamental greenhouse at Montgomery Place was framed by a forest to the north and an allée of locust trees to the south. Located so that its façade faced west toward the mansion, the conservatory prompted a dialogue between the two structures (see Site Map). Within a decade, it would be flanked on the east by an arboretum designed by Cora’s husband Thomas. From its construction in 1840 until its destruction circa 1880, the conservatory was the most commanding structure on the Montgomery Place landscape aside from the mansion. The ghostly stereoscope view documents how landscape designers during this period punctuated elaborate gardens with large urns and potted trees.

The garden attached to the conservatory was similar to this modern German example. In his 1847 article on Montgomery Place in The Horticulturist, Andrew Jackson Downing likened this style of “carpet bedding” to home furnishings:

“Here all is gay and smiling! Bright parterres of brilliant flowers bask in the full daylight, and rich masses of colour seem to revel in the sunshine… the beds are surrounded by low edgings of turf or box, and the whole looks like some rich oriental pattern of carpet or embroidery.”

Century plant at Montgomery Place, by J. Coumbe. Albumen stereoscope print, 1873. Bard College, Montgomery Place Collection.

West view of conservatory at Montgomery Place stereoscope slide. Collodion emulsion and paint on glass, 1850–63. Bard College, Montgomery Place Collection.

Carpet-bedded garden in Tiergarten Park, Berlin, Germany. Photo: Historic Hudson Valley.

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