Mary French Rockefeller & Laurance Spelman Rockefeller
Committed Conservationists and Philanthropists
"Concern for the environment and access to parks is not frivolous or peripheral; rather it is central to the welfare of people- body, mind and spirit."
Town and Country magazine
Laurance Spelman Rockefeller married Mary French, granddaughter of Frederick Billings, and came to love the farm and woodlands as though he'd always lived in Woodstock. One of the foremost conservationists and philanthropists of the twentieth century, he combined the ecological philosophy of George Perkins Marsh with the practical conservationist approach of Frederick Billings.
Laurance Rockefeller was the fourth child of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Greene Aldrich. Laurance's grandfather John D. was the head of the Standard Oil Company and one of the country's best-known philanthropists. His father was an enthusiastic supporter of park-building and historic preservation, and the Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, Grand Teton, Acadia, and Redwood National Parks are testimony to his generosity.
From a young age, Laurance demonstrated a fascination with the natural world. Like Frederick Billings before him, he discovered the wonders of the West on trips to the Grand Canyon, the Tetons, Yellowstone and Yosemite. He became a trustee of the New York Zoological Society at the age of twenty-five, and was appointed to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission a few years later.
Then in 1940, Laurance's father, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., established the Jackson Hole Preserve to promote conservation and to protect family land holdings in the Tetons of Wyoming. Laurance became its first president. After he returned from World War II, he began to build upon his father's vision of expanding the national park system by partnering conservation of natural spaces with the provision of tourist accommodation and facilities so that more Americans could experience their country's scenic wonders.
He was almost solely responsible for the creation of Virgin Islands National Park in 1956 and, in 1958, was named chairman of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission. Under his leadership, the Commission devised a visionary management plan for open space and public recreation. Throughout his career as a conservationist, Laurance articulated a comprehensive approach to land stewardship that combined preservation with public access. In 1991, President George H. W. Bush presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal "in recognition of his leadership on behalf of natural resource conservation and historic preservation."
In Woodstock, the Rockefellers saw a community with many natural resources and a remarkable cultural history. After Mary French Rockefeller's mother died in 1951, she and Laurance inherited the Mansion, remodeled it, and modernized the Billings Farm. In June 1983, the Rockefellers formally opened the Billings Farm & Museum.
In 1992, the couple donated the residential property, along with 555 acres of Mount Tom forestland, to the National Park Service, and on June 5, 1998, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park opened. Today, one of the park's most significant roles is to serve as a tribute to the unique people who resided here and their vision for a world in which man lives in cooperation and harmony with nature.