'Our Time at Foxhollow FarM'
10.1.16 Rhinebeck, NY
"My love of old houses began when I was a child. I grew up in northern Louisiana, and made constant trips to the local town library to check out books about the plantations along the Mississippi River. I would borrow the same books time after time. When I arrived in Baton Rouge in 1975 to start college at Louisiana State University, I couldn’t wait to drive along the levee of the Mississippi River and visit these magnificent houses I had known by heart from photographs. I was obsessed by them, and still am."
Text by David Byars, Author and Deputy Managing Editor at Vogue.
Photos Courtesy of Dows Collection
Publisher: Excelsior Editions/ SUNY Press
After moving to Manhattan in 1982, I began visiting the estates along the Hudson River. Many years later, in 2007, I moved up the Hudson River to Riverdale, in the Bronx, next to an estuary named Spuyten Duyvil Creek. (Its name is thought to come from Old Dutch, meaning, “spout of the devil,” a description of the wild currents in that part of the Lower Hudson.)
The larger views and the great old estates seemed to beckon one north and I began to wander up the river, to explore. One day I found myself at a party held by Hudson River Heritage at The Locusts, the delightful 1941 villa built for Helen Huntington Hull in Staatsburg. The event — and the house — left a lasting impression on me.
Shortly afterward, I joined the nonprofit preservation organization and became a board member. In 2009, the president, knowing my job at Vogue included working with imagery, showed me the family photo albums of a local landowner, Tracy Dows, that had been bequeathed to Hudson River Heritage by the Dowses’ youngest daughter, Deborah, upon her death in 1994.
In the early 1900s, Tracy Dows had combined land parcels in Rhinebeck and built an impressive estate for is family. He had also been a pioneer in the new medium of photography, joined New York City’s Camera Club and eventually became quite accomplished. I was mesmerized. The collection was a treasure trove of historical and social images spanning thirty years in the life of a vivacious and socially engaged family. I knew right away that the material would make for a fascinating book.
I set about researching and organizing the photographs, a process that was at once endless, deeply rewarding, and rife with discoveries. As well as documenting local life in detail, from civic endeavors to social gatherings, Dowses’ photographs captured the family’s enthusiastic taste for traveling across the country and to Europe by land, sea, and aboard their yacht, the Mohican. The images tell the story of life on a gentleman’s farm on the Hudson River — its houses and stables, and all the children, friends, and families who passed through it. Prominent lawyers, socialites, doctors, suffragettes, and even presidents made their way into the albums. It was my goal to put together a portrait of the regional history, the architecture, and the fabric of a privileged life in the early twentieth century.
The Hudson Valley, with its fertile grounds and expansive river views, became a bucolic escape for Gilded Age New Yorkers and a place where they could build their country houses. When Tracy married Alice Townsend Olin in 1903, they chose Harrie T. Lindeberg (who had trained as Stanford White’s assistant at McKim, Mead & White) to design their Rhinebeck estate, and the prestigious Olmsted Brothers for the rural plantings along its rolling hills. The Dowses raised their three children there and led a busy social life of tennis tournaments, horseback riding, weddings, dinners, and dances with Hudson Valley neighbors such as the Roosevelts and the Astors. Tracy Dows devoted himself largely to the pursuit of agricultural and municipal affairs at home and in the Rhinebeck community. Olin Dows, Tracy and Alice’s son, became a notable painter active in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration.
Preparing Our Time at Foxhollow Farm gave me a vivid sense of the daily life of this remarkable family from a bygone era, and I very much hope others who read it will feel the same. — David Byars