Blithewood

30 Campus Road, Annandale-on-Hudson, Dutchess County, New York

Completed in 1901, for Captain Andrew Christian Zabriskie (1853-1916) and his wife Frances Hunter (1866-1951). This stunning Beaux-Arts mansion just north of Rhinebeck was designed by Francis Hoppin and was finished just as he was starting on The Mount for Edith Wharton. It occupies one of the most enviable positions along the Hudson and replaced an older historic home of the same name: Blithewood. The present Blithewood Manor is noted for its stunning Italian walled gardens and stands on an estate of 45-acres with outbuildings, private driveways, lawns and meadows. In 1951, it was gifted to Bard College and since 1987 it has housed the Levy Economics Institute....

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Andrew Christian Zabriskie

Captain Andrew C. Zabriskie, of New York

1853-1916

Frances Hunter

Mrs Frances (Hunter) Zabriskie

1866-1951

The Zabriskies are descended from Albrycht Zaborowski (1638-1711) who left Poland at the end of the Thirty Years War that had decimated central Europe. In 1662, Albrycht settled in New Jersey where he established a large estate and served as a Justice of the Peace for Bergen County. He was the progenitor of a large family who two hundred years later were still prominent in Bergen County, where Captain Zabriskie spent much of his childhood. 

Captain Andrew C. Zabriskie inherited valuable real estate in New York City from both sides of his family. He was a Captain in the 7th Regiment of the N.Y.N.G. for twenty years and after retiring continued to be referred to as "Captain Zabriskie". In 1908, he was nominated as a Democrat to represent Congress but lost by a narrow margin; and, he was also President of the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society. His wife, Frances, was the daughter of Charles F. Hunter, President of the People's Bank of New York. They  kept various townhouses in Manhattan and aside from Blithewood also owned the largest island ("Zabriskie's Island") on Lake Memphramagog in Quebec, where he kept his yacht.

In 1899, Andrew and Frances Zabriskie paid $38,444 for the dilapidated but beautifully situated Blithewood (1836) estate that St. Stephen's College had acquired only two years before from John Bard. Bard had paid $63,000 for the historic house in 1852 but left it abandoned for thirty years after the tragic death of his only son in 1868. The house the Zabriskie's bought was a shadow of its former self and was found in a state beyond repair.

Blithewood II

In 1852, the Bards renamed the "Blithewood" estate "Annandale". But, the Zabriskies preferred the original name and so while the village continues to be called "Annandale," the estate reverted back to the name it was given by Robert and Susan Donaldson in 1835.

Unable to salvage the old house, the Zabriskies demolished the original Blithewood (1836) and started again. They hired the New York architects Hoppin & Koen to design the house seen today: a 42-room Beaux-Arts mansion with walled Italian Gardens overlooking the Hudson. The lead designer of the project was Francis L.V. Hoppin who had trained under the famed trio of McKim, Mead & White. Hoppin is also remembered as the architect of Edith Wharton's The Mount; Ashintully; and, Blithewold etc.

Aside from the new mansion, the Zabriskies also built new barns, a carriage house and greenhouses. The Captain was a well-respected breeder of Ayrshire Cattle and as a hobby he collected "fancy poultry". He extended the estate to 1,000-acres by acquiring neighbouring farms and estates (eg. Miramonte). The property now ran from east of the main highway towards the town of Red Hook with a winding private road towards the village that was interspersed with stone bridges as it criss-crossed along the Sawkill River.

The Gardens

The magnificent Italian walled garden at Blithewood is an intimate, rectangular garden of 15,000 square feet, also designed by Francis Hoppin. The house sits on a bluff 130-feet above the Hudson River and is linked by a central axis to the Italian garden that lies just below it to the west. A straight staircase descends to a balustraded terrace overlooking the garden before descending again to another terrace with its square pool and fountains.

The gardens themselves cover about 20-acres and purposefully follow many of the same lines originally laid out by Andrew Jackson Downing in 1841, when he described Blithewood as, "one of the most charming villa residences in the Union".   

Tragedy & Tales of Haunting

Just as the Bards endured the tragedy of losing their only son, Mrs Zabriskie lost her only daughter. In 1931, her daughter was the widowed Mrs Julia Jones, mother of three. Still distraught four years after losing her husband to septic poisoning in Italy, Julia locked herself in her bathroom in her apartment in Manhattan and while her mother was in the room next door, she threw herself out of the window and plunged 11-storeys to her death.

Some people claim to have seen the ghost of a young girl either in the house or wandering through the gardens of Blithewood. To fit with the apparent apparition, the story of Julia's death is often mis-told, casting her as just a girl when she died, but of course she was in fact a 34-year old woman. To then further exacerbate the spooky tale, it is told that just before she died the Captain had four statues made to represent each three year stage of her twelve years of life.... three still stand on their pedestals, but the fourth - cue gasp - is empty! But, of course Julia wasn't twelve and her father died fifteen years before she did.

Bard College's Levy Economics Institute

In 1951, the Zabriskie's 825-acre estate - then valued at $330,000 - included the mansion house, three large barns, two carriage houses, seven tenant houses, a tennis court and a swimming pool. Only a few weeks after the death of his mother in September, 1951, the Zabriskie's only son, Christian Andrew Zabriskie, donated all this to Bard College. The donation prompted then president James Herbert Case Jr. to remark: “We now have one of the most beautiful campuses in the country with a wide frontage on the Hudson River and a commanding view of the Catskill Mountains.” In 1956, Blithewood was remodelled as a ladies dormitory and from 1987 it has been the Levy Economics Institute.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 22/11/2018 and last updated on 04/01/2020.

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