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 Duchess Open Space Committee became moribund and essentially disappeared from the public eye.
In the early 1980’s 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. The same developer had secured an option on James Cagney’s farm. This galvanized several local people, who cared deeply about the rural character of this area, into action.
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.
The second and paralleled effort saw the creation of North Dutchess Properties, a group of conservation-minded community members who established the entity 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 in this area to buy and preserve land.
DLC’s first official Board meeting occurred on May 10, 1985 with founding Board members Leslie Barclay, Chairman, Farnham Collins, Vice-Chairman, Olivia Brereton-Hall (now van Melle Kamp), 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 all appointed to the Board in September.