In the 1950’s Kent Leavitt, who owned Fraleigh Hill Farm in Stanford, became interested in preserving open space and farming in the northeast part of Dutchess County. He formed the Northeast Dutchess Open Space Committee which promoted education and efforts to preserve open space. After Mr. Leavitt’s death in 1973, the Northeast Dutchess Open Space Committee became moribund and essentially disappeared from the public eye.

In 1983 or ‘84 Owen Boyd, the manager of Chauncy Stillman’s Wethersfield Farm, became aware of a long dormant bank account in the name of the Northeast Dutchess Open Space Committee. Mr. Stillman, Mr. Boyd, Leslie Barclay (Mr. Leavitt’s niece and then owner of Fraleigh Hill Farm) and Farnham Collins went to a meeting at the Farm and Home Center to explore the possible revival of the Northeast Dutchess Open Space Committee. Shortly thereafter a potential developer secured options on the Sheldon and Van Benschoten farms on Bangall Amenia Road in Stanford. An article appeared in the New York Times showing the subdivision of the Sheldon farm into house lots. This galvanized Mr. Stillman and others into action. Mr. Stillman advised Mr. Collins that he would buy the Sheldon farm, but it was up to those who cared about open land to buy the van Benschoten farm to keep it out of the developer’s hands. The same developer had secured an option on James Cagney’s farm.

Movement came quickly on two fronts. First, Leslie Barclay and a small group realized a local land conservancy was needed. She arranged for a small group to go to Chadd’s Ford Pennsylvania to meet with George (Frolic) Weymouth, the chairman of the very successful Brandywine Conservancy, and the Brandywine staff to learn all they could about creating a land conservancy. On their return, they solicited two years worth of financial support from a small group of backers and started the legal work to create the Dutchess Land Conservancy (DLC). Until DLC was formally established, Brandywine agreed to hold its funds. One could say that the Brandywine Conservancy midwived Dutchess Land Conservancy.

The second and paralleled effort saw the creation of North Dutchess Properties, a conservation buyer group established to buy threatened property and preserve it with DLC easements. This group purchased the Van Benschoten farm and eventually the Cagney farm. While North Dutchess Properties is no longer in existence, the general model has been used by others including Everett Cook to secure DLC easements on land in Deep Hollow and the former Kinney farm (Millbrook Equestrian Center), and by David Hathaway on some lands along the Millbrook School road (the previous two deals by Millbrook Land Associates).

DLC’s first official Board meeting occurred on May 10, 1985. Founding Board members included Leslie Barclay, Chairman, Farnham Collins, Vice-Chairman, Olivia Brereton-Hall, Secretary, Oakleigh Thorne, Treasurer, Donald Abbott, Jesse Bontecou, Owen Boyd, Bob Dibble, Ham Meserve, Leslie Rollins, Eric Rosenfeld, Peter Sepe, Charlie Shaw, Louis Velletri and Carnes Weeks. Executive Director at that time was Joel Russell. Bob Greig, Gail McEnroe, and John Perotti were appointed to the Board in September. At that meeting it was noted that the incorporation papers were filed and that it would take four to six weeks to be effective. It’s interesting to note that the incorporation papers were officially filed on October 1, 1985, exactly 20 years ago to the date of DLC’s twentieth anniversary celebration at Listening Rock Farm in 2005.

DLC’s first office was in the kitchen of Leslie Barclay’s Fraleigh Hill Farm. Soon thereafter DLC established its first official office in a one-room space with a loft adjacent to the Bangall Country Store, at that time deemed a “large office”. In 1989 the office moved to the much more spatial location in the Village Centre in downtown Stanfordville, and on June 16, 1994 to its existing location on Route 44 in Millbrook, compliments of the Oakleigh Thorne family who have given DLC a long-term lease.

DLC’s budget in 1985 was $70,500, and included one staff. The Conservancy held six Board and six Executive Committee meetings per year on alternating months. The Board consisted of 18 members with six Executive Committee members.

Leslie Barclay placed the DLC’s first conservation easement protecting a large portion of her 500-acre Fraleigh Hill Farm in December of 1985. She preserved the balance of the farm in November of 1987, setting a key example which others have continued to follow to this day. There are now over 8,000 acres of contiguously protected land within the Bangall Amenia/Fraliegh Hill Road area, and over 44,500 acres in total protected by the DLC since its inception.

(Written by Farnham Collins, with minor additions by Joel Russell, and Rebecca Thornton).