Those of you who attended our recent Country Seats Tour on October 13th had the special opportunity to visit Edgewater, Richard Jenrette’s home in our historic district. Richard passed away this spring and Wint Aldrich, one of our founders, wrote the following tribute to him. We want to share that tribute with you, our members and friends.
Richard H. Jenrette died at 89 on April 22 in Roper House, his magnificent restored residence on Charleston’s Battery. Dick’s success as a game-changing investment banker on Wall Street was legendary in American business. It wasn’t until he purchased Edgewater at Barrytown from Gore Vidal in 1969 and subsequently restored that great colonnaded villa, however, that he became a figure of importance to us at Hudson River Heritage. Already an informed enthusiast for the classical American architecture, art and furniture of the first half of the 19th century, he had by then become a discriminating collector and avid preservationist. Dick went on to hold two of the most prestigious posts in the field: Chair of the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (appointed by President Carter) and Chair of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Dick Jenrette’s splendid, meticulous restoration and refurnishing of Edgewater and its grounds constituted in itself a landmark endeavor, and over the nearly half-century of his ownership he generously hosted H.R.H. and other like-minded groups there. But it was surely his leadership in 1986 and thereafter, along with Laurance S. Rockefeller and J. Dennis Delafield, in bringing Montgomery Place into what we all believed would be its permanent, matchless stewardship, restoration and public enjoyment in the hands of Historic Hudson Valley, Inc., that Dick made his greatest contribution to the heritage of this Valley. Montgomery Place was and remains the finest romantic era country seat in America, but it is also a masterwork by Alexander Jackson Davis, who had made improvements to Edgewater and whose genius had long commanded Dick’s fervent admiration.
The later history of the abuse and neglect of Montgomery Place, long after Dick had spearheaded funding its purchase, restoration and endowment and had served as Chair, was for him a source of profound dismay for the remainder of his life. He welcomed the creation of the activist Community Coalition for Montgomery Place and the supporting role of H.R.H. in circulating the Coalition’s periodic updates. More recently he shared with H.R.H. the hope that in Bard College’s ownership that extraordinary landmark will once again become a restored, interpreted and widely known and loved site regularly visited by the public.
Meanwhile Edgewater, his acknowledged favorite home (where Dick’s ashes are interred), will pass to his Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, joining a half-dozen other exceptional houses that in time will be accessible to the public.
Bravo, Dick Jenrette, for your signal service to America’s cultural heritage. Your extraordinary commitment to Edgewater and Montgomery Place conferred honor on our community and will enhance the quality of life for us all throughout the years to come.