Violetta Delafield - Beautification, Conservation, & Healthy Living

Violetta Delafield


Beautification, Conservation, & Healthy Living

By 1910, the U.S. had become a nation of urbanites with the majority of the population living in cities.

In the decades leading up to this tipping point, urban living had become a cause for concern among many Americans because of the health and social ills associated with overcrowding, slum conditions, and industrialization.

In the 1890s, some progressive reformers re-purposed the long-cherished notion of environmental determinism—the idea that one's character is shaped by one's physical surroundings as much as by other factors—and applied it to the idea of city beautification. Their hope was that introducing beauty into the city (through monuments, fountains, civic buildings, and plantings) would have a positive moral effect on residents who might otherwise contribute to social decay by succumbing to the pitfalls of urban life.

Although conceived as an approach to urban problems, the idea of "beautification" worked its way through other aspects of American life, even into rural Dutchess County. Violetta Delafield, an urbanite herself for the greater part of each year, seems to have subscribed to these ideas in the 1930s when thinking of ways to improve the area around Montgomery Place.

For a garden club display, Violetta designed the "wayside stand" as a way to encourage local farmers to sell their produce in an attractive manner and for Americans in general to beautify their roadsides. The ever-increasing number of automobiles meant that more people were able to take driving excursions from the city into the surrounding countryside, and Dutchess County was a popular destination then as it is now for residents of New York City. The Delafields practiced what they preached, eventually using Violetta's display as an actual farm stand for selling the estate's apples and other fruit.

The wayside stand at the Dutchess County Fair. Gelatin silver print, 1935. Bard College, Montgomery Place Collection.

The wayside stand. Gelatin silver print, c. 1937. Bard College, Montgomery Place Collection.

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