On Sunday, November 16, for the first time in more than 25 years, the entire first floor of the historic General Richard and Janet Livingston Montgomery House will be open to the public. The house is the headquarters of the Chancellor Livingston Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR).
The house, believed to have been built in the 1750s, was gifted to General Montgomery and his wife, Janet Livingston, by Livingston’s grandfather, judge Henry Beekman, upon their marriage in 1773. The house was intended as a temporary residence for the couple while their Rhinebeck estate, Grasmere, was being built. Montgomery was a former British soldier who returned to military service to fight for the Colonies in the Revolutionary War. He was mortally wounded in the Battle of Quebec in 1775, and Janet moved into Grasmere, and eventually into the property that is now known as Montgomery Place.
The house was bought and sold several times until the late 1800s, when the owner wanted to tear down the modest house and build a larger one in its place. Understanding the house’s historic and symbolic significance, the leaders of the Rhinebeck Reformed Church acted quickly to save the building by moving it across town to its current location on Livingston Street in Rhinebeck. “That must have been quite a feat,” says NSDAR member Dorothy Fricker. “You don’t just pick it up and put it on a truck. We suspect that they rolled it on planks across town.” And it’s a good thing that they did: The house is the oldest in the Historic District.
Since 1917, the Montgomery House has undergone several renovations in the interest of historic restoration and preservation. In 1930, the founder of the Chancellor Livingston Chapter of the NSDAR, Helen Reed de Laporte, deeded the house to the chapter. Prior to this, the Victorian Era additions of a dormer and a front porch were removed. From the outside, the building that now functions as the local NSDAR headquarters is hardly recognizable as the same one that stood in its place in 1917.
Following the passing of the house’s longtime caretaker earlier this year, members of the Chapter determined that the part of the house that functions as the caretaker’s quarters was in need of a major overhaul. They raised as much money as they could in a short period of time and got to work immediately. Of the rooms that were renovated, two of them are original to the house. Not only were these rooms in need of some serious cosmetic work, but the walls themselves were also at risk of falling down. “There were holes in the walls, and just by pressing on them you could feel them move,” says Fricker.
In addition to stabilizing the walls, the NSDAR members opted to have the original pine floors gradually and carefully stripped down to the original wood, which was hidden under many layers of paint. While the older rooms were preserved, the kitchen, which was added in the 1930s and remodeled in the 1950s, was gutted and modernized. Fricker said that it was a hard call to make, but in the end, the NSDAR decided that there was nothing to be gained by restoring it to its 1930s look. “If you’re going to have someone living there, you need to have an efficient kitchen.”
And if you’re going to have someone living there, you can’t have curious visitors stopping by daily – which is why the NSDAR is hosting a special Open House from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, November 16. Refreshments will be served and members of the chapter will be present to answer questions at this free event. “The whole focus [of the NSDAR] is to teach history and preserve and foster a spirit of patriotism,” says Fricker. The museum portion of the house, usually available only by appointment, will also be open.
Open House, Sunday, November 16, 1-4 p.m., General Richard & Janet Livingston Montgomery House, 77 Livingston Street, Rhinebeck; (845) 871-1777.