One of the best places to go for a walk in the area is undoubtedly Montgomery Place (click here to view an earlier post). In terms of attributes to be found on the Hudson valley’s great estates, it has it all. Stunning views of the Hudson River and Catskills? Check. Gorgeous architecture? Check. Stunning gardens? Check? Fascinating history? Check. Open daily, free to the public? Check. It has many fans, although it justly deserves many more. There is one corner of the estate, however, that is woefully under-viewed, even by regular visitors familiar with the myriad other charms of the place. Namely, the cataracts formed by the Sawkill rushing towards the Hudson.
This magical spot, easily accessed by one of the well-marked trails on the site, is a great reward to those who venture down the path. Recently featured in this article in the Poughkeepsie Journal (be sure to check out the video), the Sawkill can lay claim to the distinction being the subject of one of the earliest conservation covenants in our country. Entered into between the owners of two adjacent properties on either side of the falls, it was crafted to remove later man-made intrusions and revert the falls back to their natural state. To quote the Poughkeepsie Journal article,
“The agreement is representative of the evolution of open space in the Hudson Valley, from the agricultural-intensive uses of the 18th century to more pastoral uses in the 19th century. More importantly, it foreshadows the modern conservation movement that led to local nonprofits such as the Dutchess Land Conservancy, Scenic Hudson, Winnakee Land Trust, Oblong Land Conservancy, Wallkill Valley Land Trust and the Open Space Institute, among others.”
Flashing forward two hundred years, world-famous photographer (and Hudson Valley resident) Annie Liebowitz selected the falls as the backdrop for a recent portrait she took of John Galliano, which appears in this month’s Vanity Fair. The Sawkill both compliments and serve as a foil to the notorious designer, heralded for his extravagantly elegant designs while at the helm of Christian Dior. This juxtaposition is not without precedent, for the one of the original partners in the historic covenant mentioned before was Marie Louise Valentine D’Avezac y Castera Livingston, chatelaine of Montgomery Place in the early 19th century. With her exotic looks, intriguing background, and high style, should would not seem out of place in Mr. Galliano's orbit. Definitely not a simple country girl, she recognized the falls value as a natural landscape, and a romantic contrast to her own glamorous personage. If she were with us today, she would undoubtedly look at the picture of Mr. Galliano perched in front of the Sawkill, and heartedly approve.
The grounds of Montgomery Place are open daily, free of charge. Directions and hours can be found here.