Springside’s Rescue and Restoration (1960s to present)
By the mid-twentieth century, Springside was in serious peril. In 1952, it very nearly became the site for a new high school. For the next thirty years, development pressure increased. In early 1968, re-zoning requests for commercial and apartment development galvanized preservationists. Their efforts were rewarded when Springside, with its main buildings still intact, was given National Historic Landmark status in 1969 as the only existing work that with certainty could be attributed to Downing.
A fire later that same year razed the carriage house and stables. Over time, all but one of the original twelve buildings was destroyed by fire, vandalism or neglect, and unchecked secondary plant growth obscured much of Downing’s original composition.
In 1972-73, a developer purchased the former Nelson and Fitzpatrick family parcels after securing a zoning change from single-family to apartments. However, plans that would have devastated the historic site were not approved.
During the next ten years, the site lay dormant and continued to deteriorate. Vandalism took its toll on the Vassar Cottage. In 1976 the State of New York removed the front dormer, entrance, and most of the façade to Albany, where it is on permanent display. (See photos in virtual tour.)
In 1982, despite the landmark designation, new plans to build 191 condominiums on both the Nelson and Springside parcels were eventually approved. Local residents and preservation groups challenged the plan and after a protracted court battle, won an out-of-court settlement in 1984. The developer would be allowed to build condominiums on the Nelson family farmlands. The 19.83-acre historic site containing the original pleasure grounds would be deeded to a newly created nonprofit organization, Springside Landscape Restoration, for the purpose of public education, site restoration, and public access. Unfortunately, the settlement allowed drainage changes and access to the condominiums through the historic site, which led to the destruction of Summit Avenue at the South entrance and the eastern portion of Deer Park.
Springside Landscape Restoration was officially established in 1986 and took title of the site in 1990. The organization continues its work to preserve and restore the site and educate the public about its importance. Only the Gatehouse remains from the original buildings. Many of the pathways and manmade naturalistic features had been overgrown, but through gradual clearing they have become more recognizable. Meanwhile, trees planted a century and a half ago have matured, proving the endurance of Downing's vision.
Today volunteers battle storm damage, tree loss, invasive plant species, vandalism, dumping, urban run-off, erosion, and flooding in an effort to preserve this “great green place.” Though much remains to be done, remarkable progress has been made over the last twenty years. Visitors can once again envision Downing’s skillfully designed outdoor “rooms” from the changing perspective of winding trails and carriage roads, and experience their beauty.