The Workers - Estate Work in the 20th Century

The Workers

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Estate Work in the 20th Century

The attitudes and circumstances of many of those who worked at Montgomery Place during the twentieth century have been documented through a program of oral history interviews conducted during the 1980s.

Combined with the written record, these reminiscences of the workers and their children reveal the challenge of earning a livelihood off the land. Working and living conditions during the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s were difficult. Employment options in this fairly isolated rural area were few. If they did not work for the Delafields at Montgomery Place, the residents of Annandale-on-Hudson generally labored at the other great estates in the neighborhood or at one of the local institutions: the nursing home Ward Manor; St. Stephens, later Bard, College; or St. Joseph’s Seminary. They weathered an uncertain future when faced with serious illness or accident. These working families squeezed into small houses with few amenities. They fetched their drinking water from the public pump in the center of the hamlet, used outhouses, and dreamed of owning radios and other electrical appliances.

Prior to World War II, few families in the hamlet owned cars and opportunities to travel were limited. The refined and restorative leisure-oriented lifestyle enjoyed by Montgomery Place’s owners and their guests was in marked contrast to the hardscrabble, country existence experienced by most of the residents in Annandale.

Rhinebeck post office mural (detail), by Olin Dows. Oil on canvas, 1939-1940. Photo: Hudson Valley Institute.

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