Delafield Family


In this section we explore the agricultural and horticultural landscape of the estate known as Montgomery Place since Janet Livingston Montgomery purchased the property of 242 acres from John Van Benthuysen in 1802. Specifically, our emphasis is on the last two private owners of the estate, John Ross Delafield and John White Delafield, who cultivated apples in the mid- to late twentieth century. Immediately noticeable is the difference between this “estate” and the other family farms explored in this project. Montgomery Place retains the structure of a riverside manor, with a landowner overseeing the property and employees to manage and do the work. Nevertheless, both types of farms in northern Dutchess County face similar circumstances of labor, technological change, and the science of apple growing.

Land Owning

Montgomery Place in the 19th Century

In 1804, Janet Livingston Montgomery (1743-1828)  made an agreement with John McWilliam, the gardener, to plant a garden for a commercial nursery on four to ten acres for selling seeds, shrubs, flower, and trees, namely fruit trees. At this time, Janet also hired a farmer for the estate, which had a cow barn and dairy where the coachhouse is today. These hired positions remained filled through her life at Chateau de Montgomery.

Janet willed the estate to her brother, Edward Livingston (1764-1836), who died shortly after inheriting the property. During his time as owner of Montgomery Place, Edward laid out pleasure walks and bridges across the Saw Kill, creating opportunities for escape into the natural surroundings and treating the land quite differently from his sister who had emphasized farming and the nursery. Edward’s second wife, Louise (1781-1860), inherited the estate on his death and shared the house with her daughter, Coralie [Cora] Livingston Barton (1806-1873) and her husband Thomas P. Barton (1803-1869). Louise replaced Janet’s greenhouses with a newly designed conservatory in 1840, and she hired the famed landscape designer, Andrew Jackson Downing, as a consultant for the landscape and nursery. Louise also had a barn, two sheds, and a corn house constructed on a newly acquired adjacent property.

Cora inherited the estate in 1860 and, like her mother and father, focused on the development of the estate as a Romantic landscape, building follies and focusing work on the expansion of the house. In 1861, Cora hired A.J. Davis to design a gothic-style farmhouse, which still stands today and is discussed by the current farm managers, Doug and Talea Taylor, in an oral history interview.

Talea talks about meeting Fritzie Dorsey who had lived in the farmhouse at Montgomery Place as a child and then as a farm wife.

Doug imagines what it would be like if all the farm families who had lived at the farmhouse could come back. He and Talea talk about how they feel a kinship with the other families who had lived in the farmhouse and raised children there.


From 1873 to 1921, Cora’s “cousins,” Carleton Hunt and Louise Livingston Hunt were granted life tenancy at the estate by Cora. The Hunts primarily stayed at Montgomery Place only during the summer months. Sometime between 1876 and 1879, Louise looked into rehabilitating the mill at Cedar Hill on the property into a butter or cheese factory or a gristmill. She eventually converted the woolen mill into a gristmill, but the choices she explored are evidence of the increasing dairy production that we see at other farms, including at the Fraleigh’s Rose Hill and at Andrew Teator’s farm. The inheritor of the estate, Maturin Livingston Delafield (1836-1917), lived in Riverdale, New York, and arranged for his son, John Ross Delafield, to inherit the estate on his death. During the time the Hunts lived at the estate, the conservatory and formal garden were removed. Louise also tore down the old barn and shed and had the current Gardener’s Cottage erected on the site. [1]

John Ross Delafield

Before John Ross Delafield (1874-1964) inherited Montgomery Place in 1921, he commissioned surveys of the estate to acquaint himself with the property. He and his wife, Violetta White Delafield (1875-1949), spent several years doing work on the house and grounds and moving into Montgomery Place full time in 1927. A year after Violetta passed away, John Ross married his long-time secretary, Elsie Lush Funkhauser.

Throughout the late 1920s, John Ross continued to cultivate the landscape of Montgomery Place in the same manner of ornamental plantings as his predecessors. He hired Cecil Crasper and Augustus Lown to build a new greenhouse and potting shed. John Ross and Violetta also had an ornamental lily pond, a rose garden, an herb garden, and a rock or rough garden installed near the mansion. Both John Ross and Violetta were enthusiastic naturalists, and as described in a history of the estate, “enjoyed exploring their new home, examining the local flora and fauna, identifying the birds in the north and south woods…exploring the remnants of the old walking trails…first described by [A.J.] Downing eighty years earlier.” In fact, John Ross revived many of these trails, even building new ones.

In 1925, John Ross set up Glynsurd Farm for dairying and built state-of-the-art facilities for milking cows, providing St. Stephens Seminary (now Bard College) and other neighbors with milk. In 1937, he divided the estate into the Mansion Corporation and the Montgomery Place Orchards, Inc., but it wasn’t until after Violetta’s death in 1949 that he began to seriously pursue the cultivation of the orchards as a commercial enterprise. By the late 1950s, John Ross established farm stands along Route 9G, one of which was derived from Violetta’s exhibition in the Dutchess County Fair in 1935 as a “Wayside Stand.” [2]

During and following the World Wars, changes in technology and especially refrigeration allowed for new methods of distributing milk and dairy products. By 1935 the Hudson Valley farmer had to compete with upstate dairying regions who could now send their milk to the city in refrigerated trucks. Most farms in the county were selling in a local market at creameries or possibly even retailing milk individually. Of the Red Hook farms with cows in the mid-1930s, only 38.5% sold milk. Small farms were adversely affected by an outbreak of tuberculosis in the 1920s-30s and new standards of food safety, leading many to leave dairy production to larger industrialized competitors. Other mechanized innovations between 1920-60— such as vacuum-driven milking machines, barn cleaners for manure removal, and pipeline milkers and milking parlors—continued to push small farms out of the dairy business.


In a letter from John Ross to Mr. Raymond Michael of the New York State Highway Department in 1940, John writes that he is “considering filling across a ditch at the side of 9G at Barrytown to make out place for a fruit stand.” This is likely the same fruit stand that stands there today. 

John White Delafield

John White Delafield (1905-1985) inherited the estate on his father’s death in 1964. From his letters pertaining to the orchards in Bard’s archives, John White was rather micro-managerial in his operations of of the farm. He concentrated his efforts on expanding the orchard business through his lifetime, but largely remained in considerable debt in maintaining the commercial apple business.  [3]


Although John Ross Delafield owned the orchard operations, he hired managers to oversee the work of the farm. The first he hired was Louis Dorsey, who managed the farm from 1924-1955. Walter Schreiber worked as the farm superintendent for a short time during 1956. Then, long-time employee of the orchards, John Moore, became the farm manager in 1957, and his wife, Dorothy Moore ran the fruit stand on 9G. The Moores stayed on until Lewis and Elaine Ring became the farm manager and supervisor of the farm stand respectively near the end of John Ross’s life in 1963. During the same year John Moore became the manager of the farm in 1957, John Ross constructed Fox Hill Camp for migrant workers in the orchards. The Rings remained on the Delafield payroll when John White took over the farm and were the managers of Montgomery Place Orchards, Inc. until 1987, after John Dennis (John White’s son) sold the property to Sleepy Hollow Restoration in 1986. Since the Rings left Montgomery Place, Doug and Talea Taylor have been the farm managers of the orchards. [4]

On October 9, 1974, Glenn Suter, Agriculture Statistician in Charge at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reached out to John W. Delafield to participate in a quarterly agriculture labor survey for the autumn season. The survey was concerned with, “the number of agricultural workers employed by [the farm] during the week of October 6-12.” His response revealed: Montgomery Place did not have any livestock or poultry in October 1974; he had ten employees (8 field workers, 1 “other” agriculture worker, and 1 supervisor); seven employees were full-time, working 150 or more days a year; three were part-time, all worked as field workers; and two-thirds of the fieldworkers were migrant workers. [5]

The data in the aforementioned survey suggests Delafield’s involvement in a highly-successful program in the Hudson Valley which pairs up migrant workers from Jamaica to farms in the Hudson Valley. In 1987, Harold Faber profiled several farmers, migrant workers, and other folks in the field of agriculture and pomology:

The Jamaican apple-picking force in the Hudson Valley, which works from August through October, is augmented, however, by about 300 migrant workers from the South, recruited by the state employment service. [6]

The importation of foreign workers to pick apples in New York dates back to 1943, when there was a shortage of farm help because of World War II. It has continued because of the desire of Jamaican workers to come north to earn better wages and the reluctance of Americans to work in farm fields. ''It's a highly successful program,'' said Donald Irwin, a regional labor specialist of the State Department of Labor, based in Kingston, N.Y. The program is also important for the economy of New York State, the second largest apple-growing state in the nation behind Washington, with an annual crop in excess of a billion pounds.

By the mid-1930s most families farming in Red Hook were native born. Of the 200 families surveyed, one or both heads of the family were foreign born in twenty-nine of those families. The majority of these families were formerly fruit growers in Poland or Austria and were especially attracted to the land in Red Hook. The structure of the labor on the farm consisted of the immediate family and maybe one or two hired men, possibly even the parents of the female head of house.

The population in Red Hook steadily decreased over the years from 1890-1930 as the trend to move away from the country to towns and villages concentrated most population growth in New York City, Poughkeepsie, and Beacon. Fifty years prior the labor market was flush with young boys seeking work; however, with increased urban migration, that supply of labor diminished despite the demand. Whereas a farmer in 1900 could afford to hire up to four men, paying their board and a weekly stipend, in 1936, a farmer could barely afford to pay for one or two men a regular $30/month stipend plus board. Unlike other farming communities in Dutchess County, Red Hook had a lower proportion of farm tenants to rent the land because fruit farming required more seasonal labor than dairying, which needed year-round residence.

After World War II the shortage of local farm labor led to an increase in hiring seasonal migrant laborers, most of whom were African Americans from the south. In 1960, the number of migrant, or “interstate,” workers (who were almost exclusively African Americans) in New York State totaled 27,600 people. By the 1970s, and especially after the passage of the H-2A Program in 1976, an increase in guest workers from Jamaica and Haiti began to out number the African American migrant workers.


For the Delafields, in 1956, the total expenses the farm made added up to $26,047.22, including labor. John Ross had five full-time and seasonal workers, John Moore, Walter Scism, Jo Bloomer, George Race and Robert Hayner. Their pay totaled $4,737.38, whereas the migrant labor totaled $6,555.40. Many of these migrant workers owned or worked on farms back at home in Jamaica, but came to America for better pay and salaries; many employees benefited from insurance. The relationship between the farmers and the migrant workers were mutually beneficial: Farmers can get their crops harvested without worrying about not having folks in the local area support them and migrants can find legitimate work for a living wage. [7]

Equipment and Technology

The rapid technological advancement between 1920 and 1990 that was widespread in America benefited farmers that were adopting the changes as quickly as possible. Tractors were one of the main advancements in farming technology. The earliest record of John Ross Delafield owning a tractor is 1938. By the 1930s most tractors had overtaken animal labor. He was also always in contact with the agricultural extension, colleges and companies that provide insecticides and farming equipment. When his crops were hit by codling moths he had made sure that the insecticides that he used were environmentally friendly. The farm was one of the first orchards that used power orchard tree rough-shaping. John W. Delafield had a correspondence with a farming technology company in which he posed to them a challenge of providing him with a specific type of portable sorter.

World War II hindered farmers across the nation economically. To reduce costs, many farms lessened their payrolls and supplemented the missing labor with technology. After the war, tractors increasingly replaced animal labor on farms until by the early 1950s American farming families owned more tractors than they did horses and mules. However, acquiring a new tractor would often cost too much for many families and were not always in supply, and farmers would instead build tractors consisting of various car parts, calling them “doodlebugs.”


John W. Delafield kept a meticulous record of the major farm equipment owned and traded by Montgomery Place from 1938 to 1972. The list contains forty-eight items ranging from John Deere tractors to water pumps for different buildings on the property. Some items, like the pumps, were regularly replaced every ten-or-so years; other items, such as electric heaters, came as a result of technological advancement and saved the Delafield's more money.

From the records of Montgomery Place Orchards, Bard Archives, Stevenson Library, Bard College.


In a letter from Jack Newbald of Robert T. Cochran & Co. to John Ross in 1938, Cochran says, “You ask what type of people consume the greater portion of the apples in this country. To this we would say the middle to poorer classes of people. Our reason for so saying is because these people do not have the many varieties of fruits to chose [sic] from, as in practically all instances apples will sell for less money than grapes, peaches or pears, and in addition the consumer gets greater quantity and better value for his money in purchasing apples than any of the other fruits mentioned… Of course, you realize that we are going through an era of depressed financial situations. With an upturn in general business conditions that would of course be improved buying power for all commodities, apples included.”

This comment seems to be merely speculation, but it is nevertheless an interesting insight into the apple market during this time.  The overarching narrative we gained in looking at the papers of the Delafield’s was that commercial apple farming in the mid-twentieth century was challenging.

In a letter from John White Delafield to Dr. Forshey at the N.Y. Experimental Station in Highland N.Y. we get an account of the struggles that John White was having with the farm. It has been made clear from other letter correspondences to a number of people that the farm was struggling financially with managing its yield. The letter, dated April 21, 1972, begins with John White asking for advice from Dr. Forshey:

We have an immediate problem on which I would appreciate advice from yourself or anyone on your staff who might wish to deal with it: Like all other apple growers we cannot beat the costs of growing, transportation and storage unless both the condition and the size of the fruit is large enough. Size seems to be an unproportionate selling advantage.

Letter to Dr. Forshey at the N.Y. Experimental Station (North Road, Highland, N.Y. 12528) written April 21, 1972 from John White Delafield at Montgomery Place Orchards

Letter to Dr. Forshey at the N.Y. Experimental Station (North Road, Highland, N.Y. 12528) written April 21, 1972 from John White Delafield at Montgomery Place Orchards. From Montgomery Place Orchards Collection, Bard Archives, Stevenson Library, Bard College.

John White talked about how Lew Ring (farm manager from 1963-1987) grew the apples and his success with the condition of the apples, but also his struggle with size. In 1971, John White had Lew Ring try using “chemicals vigorously to keep the crop per tree down, hoping that this would help build the average size of the harvested crop higher.” The outcome of these efforts is underwhelming. John White mentioned Mr. Thomson’s orchard that he was renting at the time and how in it he deduced that “Red Delicious are abnormally subject to chemical thinning” and that completely eliminated the production of  any Red Delicious apples on the orchard. Additionally, Lew Ring found that “pollinators do not mature and arrive on schedule”.

The conclusion of the letter is John White asking for help, “Who is right -- at least in theory if not in practice -- and how can we guard against such costly failures in the future? I would deeply appreciate a phone call if your Agency has any thoughts for this year”. The implications of the letter are simple: commercial apple farming was difficult and John White was not having good luck. Other correspondences make it apparent that there was also a lot of financial struggles going on.

In another letter from Franklin P. Hart to John White in 1971, Hart says, interestingly, “larger sized apples brought a higher price. This is true in most seasons. Only in light crop years when there is a big percent of large apples due [sic] the medium sizes bring higher prices.” It is evident that John White wanted bigger apples because they generally do better at market.

It is evident from the farm records which years were more successful than others for the farm in terms of yield. In 1972, the farm produced 17,958 bushels of apples, which was far too many for the farm to handle financially, leading to the farm producing lower yields in the following years.

According to Elaine Ring, the farm stand operator, the farm made $4,678.00 in apples from the farm stand and $3,275.50 from pick your own in 1978. The farm made $6,099.00 in apples from the farm stand and $3,626.50 from pick your own in 1979. In 1978, the apples at the stand were selling for about $6.83 per bushel, whereas the pick your own were selling for about $4.90 per bushel.

The farm appears to have been doing quite well in the late 1970s, particularly 1979 through 1981. John White used the radio to advertise for the fruit stand and pick-your-own, suggesting in one letter to Lewis and Elaine Ring that the “blitzes” be frequent through the day and only 10 seconds:

Peach lovers - just to remind you - this August Montgomery Place Orchards will be selling again this year their own orchard grown, special, juicy, daily-picked peaches. At The Stand on Rt 9G two miles north of the Rhinecliff Bridge.

That said, the 90-acre orchard was primarily apples (60 acres) concentrated mostly on two varieties: Red Delicious and Northern Spy. However, records show that, in 1979, the farm was also selling Greening, McIntosh, Cortland, Golden Delicious, Winesap, Rome, and Ciders. Despite this progress, the farm was eventually sold in 1986 by John White’s son, John Dennis, after his death.


[1] Jacquetta M. Haley, Montgomery Place: A History of Place and People (Preliminary Training Manual, Historic Hudson Valley, 1988), 3-39; Jaquetta M. Haley, Montgomery Place Chronologies Relating to the Development of the House, the Estate and Biographical Information Relating to the Owners, (Historic Hudson Valley, 1988), 22-46.

[2] Haley, A History of Place and People, 100-111; Haley, Montgomery Place Chronologies, 47-53.

[3] Haley, A History of Place and People, 112-115.

[4] Haley, Montgomery Place Chronologies, 52-53.

[5] Montgomery Place Orchards Collection, Bard Archives, Stevenson Library, Bard College.

[6] Harold Faber, "From New York to Jamaica: Call for Apple Pickers," New York Times (September 6, 1987).

[7] Montgomery Place Orchards Collection, Bard Archives.