The Place

View over Cruger 's Island

Wilhelm Heine (1827-1885), "View Over Cruger's Island," 1853, oil sketch on board.  From the Rokeby collection, image courtesy of Historic Red Hook.  

The Bard Campus is about 550 acres, bounded on the west by the Hudson River and the blue Catskills beyond.  It lies on a ridge above the river, which lowers into the fertile farmland and suburban development to the east.  The Saw Kill Creek and Montgomery Place historic site lie just beyond the southern boundary, while to the north, the campus adjoins the Tivoli Bays state wildlife preserve. 

It is part of the Hudson River Heritage District, which stretches twenty miles along the east shore of the river.  The heritage district nomination described the area “a designed landscape situated in one the world’s most renowned natural environments, which inspired generations of artists, architects, landscape gardeners, conservationists and their patrons.”  It encompasses some forty historic countryseats with their pleasure grounds, farms, and villages—and Bard College.   

The image that serves as our frontispiece depicts the land and some of its people during the mid-19th century—just before the founding of the college.  It is an oil sketch commissioned by John Church Cruger to memorialize his land—Cruger’s Island—before its tranquility was shattered by the arrival of the Hudson River Railroad in 1851.  Painted from what is today the Bard campus, we see a bucolic scene of farm workers—black as well as white—loading hay into a cart drawn by a team of oxen.  Sailing ships ply the river, but no steamships, perhaps in deference to Cruger’s wish to depict a vanishing era.  

The era may have vanished, but the place endures. The work of students participating in Bard’s public history practicum, Before Bard: A Sense of Place, shows us how.

Thomson Danz curated “Muhheakantuck and the People,"which tells the story of the Native Americans who occupied the land before contact with Europeans.   The first recorded “owner” of the land was Pieter Schuyler, who held royal “patent” to the entire present town of Red Hook from 1688 to 1724.

Jonian Rafti’s exhibit, “Annandale Abuzz!” tells the story of the early Dutch and English settlers who came looking to exploit the land’s resources.  Their employees, tenant farmers, and enslaved Africans, cleared and planted the land and operated mills, which shipped wheat and lumber on the river north to Albany and south to New York City.

Laila Iravani’s “Pleasure Grounds: Great Estates and the Aristocrats of Annandale” is an exhibition that tells of the people and the architecture of the three estates that became the Bard campus. By the turn of the 19th century heirs of Robert Livingston and his wife Alida Schuyler  and their associates had made their fortunes and now looked to the land for its picturesque and inspirational beauty.

Charles McFarlane's "Growing in Annandale" tells the agricultural history of Bard and its surrounding lands. From the vibrant farm communities, rooted in the history of the Hudson Valley, to Bard’s own working farm, agriculture has always been an important part of the story of Bard.

Augusta Klein's exhibit, "Clio's Sisters: Women Who Made History in and Around Bard," begins in the 17th and continues to the 20th century, tracing the life and work of women who left their mark on the land and the people of this area. 

Bennett Torres's "Hudson Valley Sublime: Romanticism and Development" examines how the strong tradition of American Romantic art and architecture affected not only the region's past, but also informed residents'  more recent land-use and economic development policies.