“Boscobel “ an American Federal Treasure

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Services for Real Estate Pros with The Historic Interior
Recently I had the opportunity to visit “Boscobel”, widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Federal interiors in the country. Boscobel was originally located in Montrose, New York, about fifteen miles south of the present site, with views overlooking the Hudson River at Haverstraw Bay. It was built by States Morris Dyckman (1755-1806), a descendant of one of the early Dutch families of New Amsterdam. As a Loyalist during the American Revolution, States became a clerk for the British Army's Quartermaster Department in New York. He and his family returned to England to wait out the War and after receiving a pardon from the new American Govt. they arrived back in New York in 1804. He immediately started the work on his mansion and sadly he died before the foundation was finished. His widow carried on and “Boscobel” was finished in 1809. Although no architect has been identified for the building, it has long been considered to be an outstanding example of Federal domestic architecture in America. One can assume that States was influenced by what he had seen in England, particularly the designs of Robert Adam (1728-1792) and his contemporaries. It is possible that he had the architectural plans for his new house drawn in England since construction was started within six months of his return to the Hudson Valley in the summer of 1804. Boscobel is distinguished by its delicate neoclassical detailing on the exterior, as well as for a unique architectural feature on the front facade--the carved wooden swags of drapery with bowknots and tassels installed between the columns supporting the pediment above the second floor balcony. Several other architectural refinements are used to help convey a feeling of lightness and airiness that make the house seem more elegant and graceful than many of its contemporaries. About one-third of the front facade is glass. The three part windows used on the first and second stories are slightly recessed to accent the central pavilion. Recent technological advances in the manufacture of stronger crown glass enabled the builders to use larger panes of glass and much thinner glazing bars. Another architectural feature worth noting is the closely fitted matched boards on the front facade, in contrast to the overlapping clapboards used on the side and rear elevations. This provided for a smoother surface probably meant to simulate masonry rather than wood on the dress front of the house.
The house was almost lost in the 1950s when it was declared "excess" by the federal government and sold at auction to a demolition contractor for the sum of $35. In a dramatic, last-ditch effort led by Benjamin West Frazier, funds were raised to acquire the remaining portions of the structure, dismantle it, and move it piece-by-piece to its new home in Garrison, New York. It was stored in barns and other vacant buildings until a twenty-six acre tract of land with sweeping views of the Hudson River, West Point and Constitution Island came on the market in Garrison in 1956. An anonymous donation of $50,000 received in June 1956 allowed the newly incorporated Boscobel Restoration, Inc. to acquire the property and begin the restoration. The original anonymous donation of $50,000 received in 1956 for the purchase of the land came from Lila Acheson Wallace, who, with her husband DeWitt Wallace, had co-founded The Reader's Digest. The Wallaces became Boscobel's most prominent and generous patrons. But in addition to her financial backing, Mrs. Wallace served on the board of directors and took a strong personal interest in the restoration. She was particularly influential in the landscaping of the grounds and the furnishing and decorating of the interiors. In 1959, she brought in the Roslyn, Long Island, landscape architectural firm of Innocenti and Webel to provide an appropriate historic setting for the restored house. She also brought in William Kennedy and Benjamin Garber, the interior designers who decorated the offices for The Reader's Digest, to furnish the house. Since both concerns worked for The Reader's Digest Corporation and for Mrs. Wallace personally, they reported to her and her advisors as they proceeded with their plans. The intent of William Kennedy and Benjamin Garber was not to accurately furnish the interiors of Boscobel based upon historical research. Instead, they tried to create elegantly decorated rooms that complimented the beauty of the architecture. The items they selected represented the very best of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries to conform to the taste and standards of States Dyckman as established by his own purchases in London. Because States lived in England for such a long time, they also felt it would be appropriate to The intent of William Kennedy and Benjamin Garber was not to accurately furnish the interiors of Boscobel based upon historical research. Instead, they tried to create elegantly decorated rooms that complimented the beauty of the architecture. The items they selected represented the very best of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries to conform to the taste and standards of States Dyckman as established by his own purchases in London. Because States lived in England for such a long time, they also felt it would be appropriate to furnish the house mainly in eighteenth-century English and European antiques, which they acquired over several years both in America and abroad selecting and assembling appropriate personal and household effects for each room. By the mid-1970s, new information came to light about States Dyckman's original furnishings that led to the decision to totally redo the interiors of the house so they were more historically accurate. Information found in the Dyckman family papers, States Dyckman's recently discovered household inventory of 1806, and from examples of surviving furniture owned by the Dyckman family revealed that contrary to the Kennedy and Garber assemblage of mostly English furnishings, Boscobel was originally furnished with pieces made by New York cabinetmakers of the early nineteenth century. Berry B. Tracy, Curator-in-Charge of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was hired as a consultant to research the new interiors and oversee the installation. Mr. Tracy worked closely with Frederick W. Stanyer, executive director of Boscobel. The English pieces were replaced by an outstanding collection of Federal period furniture made mostly in New York City. The reproduction carpets, paint colors, wallpaper, fabrics and window treatments used were all based upon documented period examples. The objective of the reinterpretation was to restore the house to the way it would have looked while Elizabeth Dyckman lived in the house from 1808 until her death in 1823. When the house reopened to the public in June 1977, after six months of intense restoration work, Boscobel was featured in a cover article by Rita Reif in the Home Section of The New York Times on July 21, 1977. The headline read, "The Tour de Force Of Redecorating Boscobel."
Today, Boscobel is considered to be one of the nation's leading historic house museums. It features an important collection of decorative arts from the Federal period with high-style furniture by Duncan Phyfe and other recognized New York cabinetmakers of the day. Many of States Dyckman's original purchases of English china, silver, glass and part of his library have also survived and are on exhibit in the mansion. I was so fortunate to be given a tour by the acting curator Judith Pavelock, she was generous with her time and I was enthralled with the amazing history of this beautiful house. Bosobel is, as all historic house museums, a challenge to fund and operate, from what I experienced, the Dyckeman’s would be so pleased with the stewardship of the staff. I urge you to visit and support this American treasure, it is so worth the effort and if you are a student American Decorative Arts it is a must. much of the above text was taken from a history written by Charles T. Lyle. www.boscobel.org

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