One of a very few largely intact landscapes by Andrew Jackson Downing in the United States, Springside was the 45-acre ornamental farm and summer estate of Matthew Vassar, the founder of Vassar College. In 1850 Vassar bought a portion of the Allen family farm as a possible rural cemetery site and immediately began improving the property, hiring Downing and his partner, Calvert Vaux.
Springside expresses Downing’s romantic landscape design ideas articulated in his Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening. He believed a formalized, geometric landscape was inappropriate for the rugged Hudson River Valley terrain and promoted instead a scenographic landscape that was naturalistic in design. Natural drainage patterns became streams and fountains and a biomorphic pond, and the network of paths and drives folded around the site’s topography. The grounds integrated a variety of Picturesque landscape features, including meadows and woodlands, hills and dales. Soon after the project began, the rural cemetery venture failed, and Downing and Vaux designed the property as an ornamental farm, building a board-and-batten cottage and barns, an aviary, and an apiary. Vassar lived in the gardener’s cottage until his death in 1868. Now reduced to 22 acres, the only intact structures on the property are the Gate Lodge and its curving sandstone walls, entrance pillars, and iron gate. Springside was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1969.