Cora Livingston Barton - Hands-on Designer

Cora Livingston Barton

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Hands-on Designer

Cora followed her mother in asking Alexander Jackson Davis to provide architectural designs for Montgomery Place.

Davis included little figures resembling his patrons in his architectural renderings, a conceit that was both a form of flattery and a device to encourage patrons to imagine themselves in his buildings. His watercolor drawing of this fanciful gothic revival style garden folly contains the figure of a woman as well as the initials C and L for Cora Livingston (Barton) worked into the brackets. On one of his visits to Montgomery Place, Davis noted that he and Mrs. Barton walked three miles around the property to look at rustic seats and scenic views. Davis designed classical garden structures as well, such as the octagonal “temple” seen here.

After her mother’s death in 1860, Cora continued to collaborate with Davis on building projects at Montgomery Place. She was particularly active in the design of the east portico, added to the mansion in 1863, and the redesign of the porch on the west side of the house during the same year. Cora sent sketches and measurements for Davis to comment on. The following excerpt from one of her many letters to him expresses the intense level of her involvement in the building and gardening projects at Montgomery Place: 

“Please let me know what you think of the plan of placing the columns of the West portico on Pedestals — for I confess I am afraid of the enlargement plan entailing as it does the cutting down of two trees which if not well placed at least give a very necessary shade --- I could put the two middle columns nearer each other & narrow the stairs which I have no objection to.… I have had the floor there straightened out & old rails and balustrade put up to judge the effect — The straight floor is a vast improvement & a beautiful stand point for the view—but the balustrade looks uglier than ever on this new portico. What shall I do? pray help me!”          

She was so excited at times that she could not wait for the designs she had requested from Davis. In regard to a garden swing, she told Davis that she had decided to design it herself. She was very proud of the finished product.

 

Garden Arch at Montgomery Place, by Alexander Jackson Davis. Watercolor on paper, c. 1850. Bard College, Montgomery Place Collection.

Garden Arch at Montgomery Place (detail), by Alexander Jackson Davis. Watercolor on paper, c. 1850. Bard College, Montgomery Place Collection.

Octagonal Garden Structure for Montgomery Place, by Alexander Jackson Davis. Watercolor on paper, c. 1850. Bard College, Montgomery Place Collection.

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