Blithewood Mansion, Bard College
The land was originally home to Algonquian-speaking Native Americans, who had inhabited the Hudson Valley region for more than a thousand years before colonial settlement. In 1680, Pieter Schuyler, the first mayor of Albany, was given rights to a tract of land that included the Blithewood site. Eight years later, he was issued a Crown Patent for 22,400 acres (slightly larger than the towns of Red Hook and Tivoli) under a land-grant system that eventually took much of the state from the Native people. In 1795, John Armstrong Jr. and his wife, Alida Livingston, purchased the property.
The grounds began their metamorphosis from untamed woods into a carefully landscaped estate in the 1830s, when Robert Donaldson of North Carolina acquired the property and gave it the name Blithewood. He commissioned Andrew Jackson Downing, one of the foremost landscape artists of the day, to design the grounds. In 1853 Blithewood was purchased by John Bard of Hyde Park, who in 1860 gave a corner of the estate for the founding of St. Stephen's College, which became Bard College in 1934. In 1899 Captain Andrew C. Zabriskie, a cattle breeder, numismatist, and antiquarian, purchased the estate and retained Francis Hoppin, an alumnus of the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, to design a manor house and garden. Hoppin produced a house in an eclectic, grand style, blending architectural and decorative elements from centuries of English mansion design with the latest turn-of-the-century technology. Captain Zabriskie's son donated the estate to Bard College in 1951. Finally, the College transferred Blithewood to the Levy Economics Institute in 1987.
Restoration of the building was directed by the architectural firm of James Polshek and Partners, noted for its restoration of Carnegie Hall. Marvin D. Schwartz of The Metropolitan Museum of Art supervised the furnishing of rooms in period style. The formal Italian garden was also restored. The renovated Blithewood now contains offices for scholars and staff, a library, and several lecture and meeting rooms. It is equipped with advanced computer and communications systems to provide extensive research resources.
Blithewood's location offers easy access to and from New York, Albany, Boston, and more distant places by automobile, rail (Amtrak), and air (Stewart International and Albany Airports).