Welcome to the Day Book!

This site chronicles the history and ongoing restoration of the Dr. Oliver Bronson House & Estate in Hudson, NY; a National Historic Landmark.  First built as a Federal style residence for Samuel Plumb in 1812, the house and grounds were reinvented by architect Alexander Jackson Davis into a fully realized early Picturesque landscape for Dr. Bronson and his family in two successive remodeling campaigns dating to 1839 and 1849.  The decade spanned by house’s transformation captures a seminal decade in the development of the Hudson Valley Picturesque, which, during the 1840s and 1850s, became the dominant national style.  Davis’s 1839 alterations to the house, the projecting eaves, decorative brackets, and trelliswork veranda, is the earliest surviving example of the “Hudson River Bracketed” style, of which Davis is the acknowledged creator.  The 1839 landscape design incorporated plant material from Davis’s “collaborator in the picturesque” Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852) and built upon Davis’s pioneering contemporaneous work at Blithewood for Dr. Bronson’s brother-in-law Robert Donaldson (1800-1872). Davis’s 1849 work reflects his maturation as the leading country house architect of his generation and shows much greater sophistication in both spatial planning and architectural detailing.

It is a special place with a special history.  Unlike other surviving A.J. Davis Hudson River villas such as Montgomery Place, Lyndhurst, and Locust Grove (all National Historic Landmarks), the Dr. Oliver Bronson House is comparatively unknown due to its twentieth century history in which the estate was absorbed into the grounds of a penal institution: the New York Training School for Girls; a progressive era reform school for female juvenile delinquents.  Used for many years as the superintendent’s house, the Dr. Oliver Bronson House was abandoned in the early 1970s and suffered many years of unchecked neglect.   Beginning in 1997, Historic Hudson began a sustained program of advocacy for the house leading to the property’s designation as a National Historic Landmark in 2003 and the acquisition of the house and a small portion of the grounds through a long-term lease with New York State in 2008.

Why a Day Book?

Ok, so why a “Day book?”  Why not a journal, diary, or simple blog?   We chose “Day book” rather “blog” for this website to identify with the way A.J. Davis organized and represented his professional world.   Largely self-taught (his formal education ended at sixteen), Davis had a lifelong habit of keeping diaries, journals, and scrapbooks filled with literary quotations, notes on the plays and operas he attended (he was an inveterate theatre-goer),and architectural sketches.  Davis’s Day Book and Office Journal form an invaluable daily record of his professional life.  The drawing below is taken from Davis’s office Journal.  In his characteristic fashion, A.J. Davis recorded the project number, the year, the client, and the fee, all accompanied by a quickly rendered but precise ink drawing of the plan and elevation.   In this case, Davis was paid $30 for nine drawings and specifications for the new west elevation addition of 1849.

A.J. Davis. office Journal entry, September 17, 1849. Avery Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

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