white divider


September 29, 2023

This year (2023) marks the fiftieth anniversary of the incorporation of Hudson River Heritage, our not-for-profit membership organization of which Richard “Dick” Crowley was the primary originator. This provides an occasion for paying special tribute to Dick for his notable contributions to architectural history, historic preservation and land use planning in our neighborhood.

Dick’s parents operated a small boarding school at Crow Hill, where he was raised. Following his graduation from Yale College and its graduate school of architecture and his marriage to Anne Stephan (in time they were to have three daughters) he opened an active architectural practice in Rhinebeck. His attention was increasingly drawn to the splendid, varied but somewhat ignored and sometimes threatened older buildings in the county. After the 1969 publication of the book Landmarks of Dutchess County 1683-1867, Architecture Worth Saving in New York State  by the County Planning Department and the New York State Council on the Arts, Dick Joined forces with Stephanie Mauri, Walter Averill and others to incorporate Dutchess County Landmarks Association; this vehicle led to a successful effort—among others—to stymie plans of the federal and local urban renewal agencies to bulldoze Poughkeepsie’s ante-bellum residential Union Street area—today one of the city’s most appealing, intact and flourishing neighborhoods.

But it was in his own home town in the 1970s and 1980s that Dick’s insights and leadership made the most impact. He served as president of the Rhinebeck Historical Society, was one of the three incorporators of Hudson River Heritage in 1973, serving as president or board member for many years, helped guide the Hudson River Shorelands Task Force into existence and its key role in bringing local planning boards into an active awareness of the need to document and protect historic structures and landscapes, and advised and encouraged Miss Margaret Suckley in the preservation of Wilderstein.

But the truly groundbreaking work came in three parts under the auspices of Hudson River Heritage: first, promoting public and community awareness of the cultural significance of the riverfront properties through publicity and heritage tourism programs; second, sponsoring for three summers student architects and historians recruited by the Historic American Buildings Survey of the National Park Service, to fully document a dozen threatened or deteriorated great houses along the river between The Point (Lydig Hoyt house) in Staatsburg and Rose Hill in Tivoli; third, preparing a district nomination for the riverfront properties between Staatsburg and Germantown for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places (formally listed in 1979). This nomination by Hudson River Heritage was subsequently significantly enlarged and approved by the Secretary of the Interior in 1990 as a National Historic Landmark District—perhaps at that time the nation’s largest and most complex listing in this highest and most exclusive category. In turn, this extraordinary level of nationally significant documentation and recognition persuaded the Towns of Rhinebeck and Red Hook to amend their town planning and zoning ordinances to reflect the public benefit to be derived from ensuring recognition and protection for these historic architectural and landscape resources.

Along the way Dick was helpful to John Delafield at Montgomery Place, and later John’s successor, Historic Hudson Valley; to Marilyn Hatch and her colleagues in the Rhinebeck Village and Town multiple resources district nominations; to the documentation and preservation of St. Margaret’s Home (formerly Mrs. Astor’s Orphanage) in Red Hook; and to the preservation and reuse of the Quitman Parsonage.

In all of these worthy endeavors Dick Crowley’s imagination, intrepid initiative and knowledgeable and persuasive presentation advanced the public benefit. The future of the celebrated resources in this extraordinary National Historic Landmark District is secured through local government planning decisions and it is this that stands as the paramount achievement of Dick Crowley’s avocation in our midst.

A word must be expressed in honor of Anne Crowley, the perfect, patient help-mate of this visionary activist. Anne kept the home fires burning (literally, her productive bread ovens) and helped raise three wonderful girls while never stinting in her support and encouragement for her husband’s commitment to the commonwealth. All honor to them!

Written by Wint Aldrich