Running Down the Old Croton Aqueduct, part III

Running Down the Old Croton Aqueduct, part III

Aqueduct part III
Rockefeller State Park Preserve to Tarrytown, approximately 4.8 miles

IMG_1406(The Archville Bridge.  Full disclosure, I took this photo on our way back)

This is a slightly tricky bit of Aqueduct running, especially when you get into the Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown environs.  But if you buy the map produced by the non-profit Friends of the Croton Aqueduct, you’ll have no problem.  Please spend the $5 and buy the map here!

I ran this section with my friend Sharon on a recent cool, overcast Sunday morning.  Trying to pick up from where we left off last time (Rockwood), we parked in a little area just off Route 9 in Archville (huh where?)

Here’s how you get there:  Driving south on Route 9, just down the hill from Guadelajara restaurant, you may have noticed a bridge over the road.  That’s the Archville bridge (and check out this link for the technical details on this replacement bridge built in 1998.)  Go under the bridge, take the first right where you see a Gothic-y looking stone house and drive about 500 yards along the road.  On your right, you’ll see an informal parking area and likely one or two cars there already.  Once out of your car, you’ll see a gate a little way down the hill.  Go through that gate and start following the trail up the hill.  (This sounds far more complicated than it is.)  You can’t miss the markers:

Look!  We saw a baby deer!

The first interesting site is, as previously mentioned, the Archville bridge, originally built to connect William Rockefeller’s Rockwood estate with his brother John’s Kykuit estate.  (Aw, isn’t that sweet?)  Check out this excellent post from the Croton Friends of the OCA website for more on the history of this bridge.

Then, the next bit is mostly just nice, flat, trail running through Rockefeller State Park.   You pass another Weir and a couple of ventilator shafts before you exit out of the park and cross the dramatically named Gory Brook Road.

Note the “OCA” on the gate!

Next up is the Sleepy Hollow High School runaround — they’ve helpfully posted a sign with directions on how to do this:

There is an interesting building just south of the high school, but I haven’t yet been able to figure out what it is/was.  Here’s a photo of the old pond and estate house above.  Who built this?  Who lived here?  Anyone know?

Now I think this pond was created from damming up a section of Andre Brook.  Why does this merit a mention?  Well, while you can’t see this next site from the Aqueduct trail, I would be remiss if I didn’t point it out because it is so very close.  So follow me on this little historical tangent . . .

Paralleling the trail, down below the Aqueduct on Broadway, is this historical marker:

Maj. John Andre Capture here

I assume this is why the Andre Brook was so named.  Anyway, Major John Andre was trying to broker the surrender of West Point from its commander, General Benedict Arnold.  But Andre was captured on September 23, 1780 at or near this site by “three honest militiamen.”  (Does this imply that honest militiamen were few and far between?)   This is a fairly important event in American history, for if Andre had not been captured, we might all be speaking with British accents, driving on the wrong side of the road and looking at the Queen on our currency.  Seriously, if the British had gained control of West Point and the Hudson Valley, the Revolution might well have been scuttled then and there.  (Major Andre was hanged as a spy within the week and Benedict Arnold escaped to England and his name became a shorthand for traitor.  Personally I think things should have gone the other way around, but that’s another story . . .)

Okay, back to the Aqueduct.  This next bit gets complicated because you have to run down to the sidewalk and along Broadway for a few blocks and then cut back up to the Aqueduct, but the map is very helpful. (Here’s the link again and no I don’t get a cut of map sales!)

Once you’re back on the Aqueduct, the rest of the way is secluded and bucolic — some of it feels like you’re running right through people’s backyards, which you sort of are:


We turned around when we hit Route 119, planning to start here next time.


So, stay tuned, part IV is coming soon!


Running down the Old Croton Aqueduct, Part II

Part II of “Running down the Old Croton Aqueduct”:  From the Croton Dam to Rockwood – 10 miles

I’ve been a little haphazard with my posts lately, but here’s the next installment of my Running Down the Old Croton Aqueduct series.  (Here’s the first one if you have somehow missed it.)

First, I would be remiss if I didn’t give you the link to the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct website.  They’re a non-profit organization who do great work protecting and preserving the OCA.  They have sponsored historical signs all along the Aqueduct, host guided walks, and post interesting information on their website.  Check them out!

Now, generally, I run just a three-mile stretch of the Aqueduct – from the Croton Dam down to GE’s Jack E. Welch campus and then back up to the Dam.  But, as I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve slowly been working my way down the entire length of the Aqueduct.  So far, I’ve gotten about 15 miles down.

I started this project last spring, when a group of my running friends and I ran a 10-mile section from the Croton Dam down to Rockwood, in Rockefeller State Park.

Here’s what we saw:

Starting at Croton Dam (and the Dam deserves a dedicated blog post unto itself – soon!), the first three miles are fairly remote and serene – it’s mostly just you, some trees and the unpaved trail.   (And it’s all a gentle downhill too — sloping thirteen inches for every mile the whole way to the city.)

About a mile south of the Dam, you’ll pass the Egon Ottinger cottage on your right just off the trail (previously blogged about here.)    Also around here, you’ll pass the first of what I believe are 26 remaining ventilator shafts that help mark the miles down to New York City.  These chimney-like structures were built to help keep the aqueduct at atmospheric pressure so the water would keep flowing fresh and swift.

Over the next couple of miles, you’ll cross two roads that are fairly secluded with only the rare car sighting.  (One of those roads, Quaker Bridge Road East, will take you up to Lorraine Hansberry’s Croton home if you’re interested.  See more here.

Once you hit the GE campus, you’ll do a bit of narrow, windy trail running and go underneath Route 9A. (The Aqueduct actually crosses 9A, but obviously you don’t want to do that.)

About four miles in, you get into the Village of Ossining.  Here, you’ll get to run past the Ossining Waste Weir, one of six built to allow drainage if the water level in the aqueduct tunnel rose too high.  There are wonderfully medieval-looking, subterranean hand-cranked metal gates here once used to divert the water – you can go down and see the one in Ossining on special occasions.  Here are some terrific pictures from a local blog, both of the underground portion of the weir and of the trail down to Sleepy Hollow. (I don’t run with my phone, so I have to depend on the kindness of strangers.)

Then, you’ll run over the iconic double arches, which have, at various times, made up Ossining’s logo:

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 8.01.06 PM

Here’s another version:

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 8.01.48 PM


Here’s an excellent local blog with much more detail on and history of the double arches.

Continuing down the Aqueduct, you’ll run through the center of the Village of Ossining, on sidewalks, through Nelson Park, along and across Route 9 until you hit what I consider the next interesting site, located down in Sparta/Scarborough — the birthplace of John L. Worden, the famed Commander of the USS Monitor.   Perhaps you’ve noticed this sign while driving along Route 9?

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 8.10.56 PM

Of course you remember the famous tale of the Monitor and the Merrimac, the first engagement of ironclad steamships during the Civil War that changed naval battle strategy forever.  No?  Well, check out Wikipedia here for more on that story.

Right across the street from the John Worden historical marker is the old Frank Vanderlip estate, formerly called Beechwood and now a fancy condominium complex mostly enclosed by a red brick wall.

To avoid running on Route 9, we crossed over here and went down Scarborough Station Road a bit, before winding left through a quiet suburban neighborhood.  (Fun fact:  I’ve heard that James Patterson, currently one our most prolific and highest earning authors alive today has a house in the area . . .)

Hooking onto River Road, we ran almost all the way back up to Route 9, but turned right at the last possible moment.  (To our left was the Clearview School, formerly the Scarborough School, and originally built by the Vanderlips.)    Here, we turned right onto a thin trail winding through grass and woods leading us into Rockefeller State Park through a back way.  This was familiar territory to all of us, as Rockefeller (aka “Rockies”) is a popular place to run.

This is wonderfully secluded and bucolic, with a combination of narrow and carriage-width trails winding all the way to the foundation of Rockwood Hall where we ended our 10-mile run.

Stay tuned for the next four miles, coming up soon!






Rockwood Hall

Blog – Rockwood Hall

Have you ever wandered through that southern section of Rockefeller State Park that’s kind of behind Phelps Hospital, kind of adjacent to Kendal on the Hudson?  Here’s a map showing its trails that I found on the Interwebs – it seems to have come from “Walkable Westchester” by Jane and Walt Daniels:Rockwood hall trail map
It’s also just off the Croton Aqueduct, as you can see from the above map.

Now, I’ve always heard this part of the Park referred to as Rockwood.  And I’ve always wondered about what looked like an enormous building foundation with a stunning view of the Hudson.  There are also wide trails, remains of Central Park-like stone walls and roadways, and elegant old trees that obviously once surrounded a beautifully designed and manicured estate.

Just a wee bit of online digging gave me some of the story.  I hope you find it as interesting as I do!

Rockwood Hall, so I’ve learned, was the palatial estate belonging to William Avery Rockefeller, Jr.   He was a brother to John Rockefeller, Sr., the founder of Standard Oil and scion of the Rockefeller family we know today.  William was a co-founder of Standard Oil with John Sr., and, by many accounts, a canny businessman.

Born in 1841, he was two years younger than his brother John.  Once they had established themselves as leading businessmen, William began purchasing property in Westchester, soon inspiring John Sr. to do the same.  (He and his son John Jr., soon acquired over 3,000 acres.)

Rockwood Hall was begun in 1886.  An enormous estate (to my mind!) it consisted of over 200 acres, with winding carriage trails and a Gilded Age mansion with 204 rooms.  Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame) designed and laid out the park-like landscape. And this was just one of Rockefeller’s many homes.  Today’s Silicon Valley billionaires have nothing on the Rockefellers!

When William Rockefeller died in 1922 (of pneumonia caught whilst driving with his brother John, so the story goes), Rockwood Hall was turned into a country club.

Here’s a photo of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ parents – Mr. and Mrs.  John V. Bouvier attending a horse show at Rockwood Hall Country Club in 1934:

Mr and Mrs John V. Bouvier III at Rockwood Hall Horse Show

When the country club went bankrupt in 1937 (the Depression was hard even on the horsey set) the Rockefeller family bought it back, and demolished the mansion in 1941.  (I suppose the war might have made it difficult to staff and keep up?)    The Rockefellers donated the land to New York State in 1999 and it became part of Rockefeller State Park.

Here’s a photo of what it looked like back in the day:

Rockwood Hall OLD

“Mr. William Rockefeller is said to have spent Three Million Dollars.”  Indeed!  Let’s see, three million dollars in 1886 dollars is about — yikes!  The online inflation calculator says that’s worth over $75 million dollars today!  Could that possibly be true?

Here’s a link to an informational brochure compiled by the New York Parks Department — it contains a far more exhaustive history than I’ve posted here, plus some pictures of the interior of this glorious mansion.

Here’s what it looks like today (photo courtesy of Rev3 M’s Yelp review of this hike):

Rockwood Hall foundaiton

It’s astonishing to me that it was demolished.  There must be more to this story than I’ve uncovered here, so I’d love to hear from anyone who knows more.

And do take a wander around here some day – there are breathtaking views and shadows of its former glory to be seen throughout.


“Beechwood” — Sex cults, Sojourner Truth, and Frank Vanderlip

BLOG – “Beechwood” – Sex cults, Sojourner Truth, and Frank Vanderlip

Beechwood – today, it’s a 37-unit condominium complex, on the corner of Route 9 and Scarborough Station Road, but  Beechwood has a long and storied history.  First built in 1780, the main building has been added to over the years.  (Supposedly the original fireplace still stands somewhere in there.)

The first interesting connection (to my mind) comes to us from the 1830s, when it was owned by Benjamin and Ann Folger and named “Heartt Place.”  The Folgers got involved with a wackadoodle, self-proclaimed prophet (are there really any other kind?) named Robert Matthews who believed he was the resurrection of the apostle Matthias and named the house Zion Hill.   Wild and crazy doings went on here, with sex and murder and scandal hitting the local papers.  Check out this blog post by Miguel Hernandez for more.

Honestly, it sounds to me like a Charles Manson-like cult, and ironically, one of the victims of the Manson Family Sharon Tate Murders was an Abigail Folger.  Coincidence or curse?

Anyway, another fun fact is that Isabella Baumfree Van Wagener, aka Sojourner Truth, worked as a housekeeper here to the Folgers and the Prophet Matthias.   Yes, THAT Sojourner Truth, the former slave who, in the 19th century, became a well-known abolitionist and fighter for women’s rights. (Her likely-apocryphal “Ain’t I a Woman?”  speech is a favorite of the Common Core Curriculum during Black History month . . .)

SOJOURNER TRUTH An albumen silver print from c. 1870 by Randall Studios

SOJOURNER TRUTH An albumen silver print from c. 1870 by Randall Studios

We can be fairly certain that she really did live here because Benjamin Folger implicated her in the murder of one Elijah Pierson, a follower of Matthias and resident of Zion Hill, who mysteriously died after eating blackberries.  But though accused of murder, she went to court and sued Benjamin Folger for libel and, amazingly, won.  So there are plenty of primary and secondary sources to corroborate this story.

There should be a plaque here commemorating the fact that she lived here, don’t you think?  Let’s start a GoFundMe!!

Okay, moving on – the next occupant of this property who interests me is Frank Vanderlip — probably one of the most influential residents of Westchester you’ve never heard of.  Vanderlip, you see, lived here from 1905 – 1937 and was President of City Bank, once the largest bank in America.  He was also one of the creators of the Federal Reserve System, an Assistant Secretary to the U.S. Treasury, and a founder of the first Montessori school in America.


Frank Vanderlip

So, where exactly is this place?  This storied Beechwood?  Well, running (or driving) south along Route 9, just past Sparta Cemetery and the Scarborough Church, you may have noticed a very long, red brick wall.  And the middle of this wall is broken by a gate bordered by two Ionic columns half-sunk into the ground.   That’s the old entrance to Beechwood.  Those columns were brought up here by Frank Vanderlip when the headquarters of the National City Bank at 55 Wall Street underwent some renovations.  (Wikipedia tells me that “55 Wall Street was being remodeled and the columns were re-spaced, with two left over.”)


South of the Vanderlip estate is the Clearview School.  This was originally known as the Scarborough School, founded in 1913 by Frank Vanderlip and his wife Narcissa and billed as the first Montessori School in America.

But back to Frank Vanderlip.  I mentioned that he helped create the Federal Reserve System. But because the history of monetary policy in the United States is pretty damn dull (to me), and you can just go to Wikipedia to read about the Federal Reserve System if you so desire, let me instead give you a cocktail recipe that comes from Frank Vanderlip’s autobiography entitled “From Farm Boy to Financier.”

First, know that Vanderlip had his own private train car that would collect him at the Scarborough station and whisk him to Grand Central station.  Nice, right?

Vanderlip writes that

On hot days, after a train ride from the city, from the Scarborough station I would walk, invariably, up the steep hill – not a short climb – to the lower fringe of the wide lawn.  After further hill-climbing, when I was in front of the house, beneath a tree as big as Charter Oak, I would be met by a man who used to be a London Omnibus driver.  For 16 years after 1910, Saunders was our butler.  When he met me on those hot days, he would have for me, in a tall and frosty glass, a fluid white and crinkly as lamb’s wool.  He called it a “Ramos Fizz” and he would assure me that for taking the curse off a stuffy day, it was the finest drink that could be concocted . . . If there was concealed in it a jigger of gin, that was entirely the fault of Saunders; I swear I never said gin to him in all the years of our association. (Vanderlip, 222)

Remember, Prohibition was the law of the land from 1920 to 1933, hence the coy reference to the surprise gin in his cocktail.

Here’s the recipe for the above  “Ramos Fizz” (note, I haven’t tried it yet . . .):

Juice of half a lime
Two teaspoons powdered sugar
2 oz cream
Vichy water
Jigger of gin

Cream AND Lime?  Blecch.  No wonder the result is “crinkly as lamb’s wool”!  Still, I will make it come summer.  Hmm, I wonder what sort of glass one should serve this in?

The Croton Aqueduct, Part I

The Croton Aqueduct is a favorite for local runners. It’s actually a 41-mile long narrow, ribbon of a park that stretches from the Croton Dam to mid-Manhattan. Unpaved, flat, protected, and with a gradual downhill incline, it used to bring water from the Croton Reservoir all the way into Manhattan.

It’s really one of the great engineering feats of the 19th century, so I can’t let this opportunity pass without giving you a thumbnail sketch of this marvel.

Now, technically it is known as the “Old Croton Aqueduct,” hence the “OCA” signposts you’ll see periodically along the way. It was built between 1837 and 1842 and was in use until about 1890 when the New Croton Dam and Aqueduct were built.

Finding enough fresh water was a huge problem for 19th century Manhattan, as its population exploded after the Revolutionary War.  Also, despite the fact that the Romans had managed to invent and build sewers in their cities centuries earlier, this vital piece of technological evolution hadn’t made it to the New World and so their sanitation was not really up to snuff in those days.  Yup, early New Yorkers just emptied their chamber pots onto the streets, relieved themselves in cesspools, and had horses fouling the roads, all of which (and more) trickled into the wells, cisterns and underground springs that provided drinking water. Not surprisingly, people were getting sick and dying from all sorts of loathsome diseases that come from imbibing a side of e coli with breakfast – epidemics like yellow fever and cholera were rampant.

So, in 1833, the city engaged Major David Bates Douglas, formerly an engineering professor at West Point, to survey a route and oversee the massive project.  Imagine the bushwhacking his team had to do back then, coming all the way down from Croton on horseback, choosing a route, going through peoples’ farms and estates, making exact measurements, setting spikes. That certainly is a story in itself . . .

Anyway, for reasons I haven’t discovered in my sitting-on-the-couch-and-looking-through-the-Internet research, Douglas was fired in 1837 (and went off to become President of Kenyon College as one does), and an Engineer named John B. Jervis took over. He saw this project through to the end (and got his name on the plaques), building a dam (the Old Croton Dam), digging tunnels,  laying pipe, creating reservoirs, building bridges – when you stop to think about, this was a Herculean effort! And just think — it was all likely done entirely by hand – they might have had some sort of steam shovels/excavators back then, but probably not. Hey, the Irish were much cheaper.

The plan was that the water would come down to the city via the aqueduct and pause in the Receiving Reservoir. That still exists, and you’ve probably seen it if you’ve ever visited Central Park — it’s the body of water in the middle of the park, now called the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. No longer used as part of the water system, it’s just a cool, 1.8 mile jogging track around a manmade lake in the upper middle of Manhattan.

The water then traveled downtown to the Distributing Reservoir located on what is now the site of the New York Public Library — 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. This was a massive structure, Egyptian in both size and design.  Check out this drawing:


And this photograph (not precisely sure what year this would have been, but likely circa 1895 – 1901):

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Fun fact: you can even see remnants of these reservoir walls embedded in the Library building today!  Lookie here:


The Aqueduct began carrying water to the city in June of 1842, and officially opened on October 14, 1842 to great hoopla.

Lydia Maria Child, an author of some renown, wrote about this day: “Oh, who that has not been shut up in the great prison-cell of a city, and made to drink of its brackish springs, can estimate the blessings of the Croton Aqueduct? Clean, sweet, abundant, water!”

(It seems so quaint, her excitement at fresh water, but I bet the citizens of Cape Town, South Africa would echo these emotions today.   As of this writing, they’re about a month away from running out of water.)

Here’s a ribbon that was printed for the “Introduction of the Croton Water” to Manhattan:

Silk Ribbon from Croton Aqueduct Celebration

from the New York Historical Society website — Gift of the Virginia Historical Society

Okay, so this has become less of a thumbnail and more of a straight out history lesson, sorry about that. But can you tell I find the Croton Aqueduct fascinating?  (Here’s an excellent blog post about all of the above, with much more detail and lots of pictures.  Enjoy!)

Tune in next time to read more about the Aqueduct and the running project I’ve been pursuing (on and off) for the past year — to run the length of the Aqueduct.



Lorraine Hansberry Lived in Croton!

Lorraine Hansberry Lived in Croton!

Do you know who she is? Lorraine Hansberry? She was an African-American playwright whose most famous play, “A Raisin in the Sun” opened on Broadway in 1959.

IMG_1112Copy of Playbill from the original Broadway production on display at the the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

If you weren’t forced to read the play in high school or college, you’ve probably run across it somehow — the play was revived in 2014 with Denzel Washington.

IMG_1113Copy of Playbill  from the 2014 revival on display at the the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

There’s also a movie of it out there, starring Sidney Poitier.   It was pretty groundbreaking for its time.

Here’s the cover of the play, with a photo of Lorraine Hansberry taken in Croton-on-Hudson:


Anyway, today I had one of those moments where the universe creates perfect synchronicity, and it all had to do with Lorraine and Croton and running.

At the first waterstop this morning (the Taconic Road Runners thoughtfully put out water and Gatorade every Saturday morning for the group run ), I asked my friend Fran if she would be up for changing up our route a little to run past what I thought was Lorraine Hansberry’s house. “It’s on Bridge Road,” I said, “Just down the hill from the Danish Home.”

“Bridge Lane,” corrected another woman at the waterstop. “It’s Bridge Lane — I know, because I live there!”

“Oh wow, what a coincidence!”  I said, while guzzling icy-cold orange Gatorade.  “Do you happen to know where Lorraine Hansberry’s house is, then? I think I’ve found the address but I’m not sure.”

“Well, funny you should ask – I live in her house.”

I was floored. What? WHAT? No way! I’ve never seen this runner lady before and yet there she was, overhearing my conversation with Fran and living in Lorraine Hansberry’s house!

We chatted for a bit, and then ran off in opposite directions, but we had her blessing to go and take a gander at her house. (To be honest, I’d done a drive by on Friday and snapped this picture with my phone.)

Hansberry House

Now, according to a recent PBS American Masters documentary titled “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart,” Hansberry supposedly called her home in Croton “Chitterling Heights.” All sorts of literati came up from New York City to visit.  (Croton has long been a haven for artists and activists – Lillian Nordica, Isadora Duncan, Gloria Swanson, John Reed, Max Eastman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Lorraine Hansberry are just a few who settled here.  Don’t worry, I’ll be running by their houses and blogging about them too!)

Hansberry and her husband Robert Nemiroff moved to Croton in about 1961. Not only were they both artists (he wrote “Cindy, oh Cindy,” a Top 40 song, among other things.  Here’s his obituary for more), but both were activists, especially dedicated to causes that promoted racial and sexual equality.   Fun fact – in 1964, Hansberry was integral in organizing and participating in one of the first fundraisers in the New York City area for the civil rights movement, held at Croton’s Temple Israel.   (The 1963 Birmingham church bombings catalyzed many on the East Coast.)   She was the MC of the event, and brought in other like-minded celebrities, including Ossie Davis, James Baldwin, and Judy Collins. They raised over $11,000 for organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality – Freedom Summer voter registration project (CORE), the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the NAACP.

Some of the money raised went towards the purchase of a Ford station wagon for the Freedom Riders Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, men who were subsequently murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi. (More info here and here.)

If you’re so inclined, here’s a link to the PBS documentary.  Fast forward to about 1:19 in if you want to learn more about Hansberry’s Croton years and the fate of that Ford station wagon . . .)

Tragically, Hansberry died in 1965 at the age of 34 from pancreatic cancer.  She is buried in Croton-on-Hudson in the Bethel Cemetery.

Hansberry grave







116 Hawkes Avenue – The Corliss Lamont Estate

116 Hawkes Avenue – The Corliss Lamont Estate

BLOG POST:  116 Hawkes Avenue — The Corliss Lamont Estate

Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 7.03.47 PM116 Hawkes Avenue is for sale. 13 bedrooms, 8 baths for $1,999,222.  Check out the link here.

This is also informally known as the “Lamont Estate,” once owned by the progressive activist and intellectual Corliss Lamont. It’s funny – I’ve had a draft of this post simmering for about a year now, ever since I joined the American Civil Liberties Union, but it wasn’t until this “For Sale” sign went up that I was inspired to post.

The realtor is pitching this as a “Wonderful opportunity to develop over 19 acres of rolling property. . .” – GRRR! Like Hawkes Avenue needs any more development right now! (See my blog for more on the topic.)

But the story of Corliss Lamont is one that deserves telling. Something about the idea of sub-dividing this estate makes me feel (irrationally, I admit) like his legacy is somehow being diminished. I mean, he was a deep thinking activist who fought long and hard to protect those liberties enshrined in our Constitution, as well as an intellectual who was forever striving to improve humanity.  His reach was long and his connections were extensive.

I’ll let his website start us off:


Corliss Lamont (1902-1995) was a 20th century American hero whose independent thinking challenged prevailing ideas in philosophy, economics, religion, patriotism, world peace and the exercise of our cherished civil liberties.

 Corliss Lamont was born to Wall Street wealth, yet he championed the cause of the working class, and was derided as a “Socialist” and a “traitor to his class.”

 Corliss Lamont’s Humanist belief that earthlings have evolved without supernatural intervention and are responsible for their own survival on this planet caused traditionalists to label him a “godless atheist.”

Okay, first, how ironic is it that that Dr. Andrija Puharich lived right across the street at 87 Hawkes Avenue – a man whose life work involved proving that extraterrestrials have intervened over the centuries to help human beings evolve and survive. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out my blog post on Puharich here.) You have to wonder if Corliss and Andrija ever hung out in the 1960s and ’70s and just rapped until the wee hours  . . .   Can you imagine it?  Boy, would I ever have liked to have been a fly on that wall!

Anyway, let’s unpack the information from Lamont’s website: “Born to Wall Street wealth,” it asserts. Well, yes sir, that is no less than the truth. His father was none other than Thomas Lamont, a partner and later Chairman at J.P. Morgan. In fact, he was the acting head of J.P. Morgan the day the stock market began crashing in 1929, and famously rallied other Wall Street firms to join forces with him and purchase massive amounts of stocks in an attempt to stabilize the market.  Alas, the market was too far gone. (Earlier, in 1910, Thomas Lamont took part in a secret meeting on Jekyll Island to help create the Federal Reserve System. I know, financial history is a snooze, but Frank Vanderlip was there and he lived nearby in Scarborough! Blog post on him to come soon.) Let’s just say money was in the blood.

Son Corliss followed in his father’s footsteps to Phillips Exeter Academy and thence to Harvard, but that’s where the similarities end. No doubt Thomas would have welcomed his son to Wall Street, but Corliss had other interests. After Harvard, he studied at Oxford University (where he roomed with Aldous Huxley’s brother Julian), earned a Ph.D from Columbia University, and went on to teach philosophy at various Ivy League universities. Philosophy was also in his blood — his mother, Florence Corliss Lamont, earned an M.A. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1898. She later donated the estate that today houses the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.

Now’s as good a time as any to talk about Corliss’ avowed Socialist/Communist/Marxist leanings. It is true that in Corliss wrote an admiring book about the USSR describing how they had turned their feudal society into a modern one in a remarkably short time. It is also true that in 1937 he helped found a short-lived magazine called the Marxist Quarterly that delved into the theory and practice of socialism and communism. It is further true that he was the Chairman of the group “Friends of the Soviet Union.” But here’s some context on all this: the seeming failure of capitalism in the West, as evidenced by the enduring hardships of the Depression, caused many intellectuals to look positively at the Soviet Union and communism in general in the 1930s and ‘40s.  Worker’s rights and the ideal of a more equitable society was very appealing at the time.  However, Corliss and others gradually became disenchanted with the Soviet Union as stories of Josef Stalin’s brutality and events like the Moscow Trials came to light.

(Another Fun Fact: Corliss was a prolific pamphlet writer and one of them, “Basic Pamphlet 14, The Crime Against Cuba,” was distributed by none other than Lee Harvey Oswald on the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, during the summer of 1963! According to the Corliss Lamont website, the CIA purchased 45 copies of the pamphlet and it was ended up as Exhibit No. 3120 in the Warren Commission Report on JFK’s assassination. Want to know more?   Click on this link.)

Okay, back to the chronology:  In the 1930s, Corliss became director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU.) You must have heard of it — it’s a non-profit organization founded in 1920 to, as their website says, “Defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” They’ve defended the rights of anti-war protesters, striking workers, teachers who teach about evolution (the Scopes Monkey trial anyone?) the Ku Klux Klan, refugees – basically anyone anywhere in the United States whose civil liberties are threatened.

In the 1950s, Corliss (and many others) were hauled in front of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s infamous committee and asked the notorious question “Are you now or have you ever been a Communist?” Refusing to answer, Lamont creatively invoked not the usual Fifth Amendment that protects a citizen from incriminating himself, but the First Amendment that guarantees free speech. He was cited for contempt of Congress and faced prison time. He sued the government and remarkably, after several years, won.   In fact, he successfully sued the government several more times, taking at least two of these cases to the Supreme Court. (Yet another Fun Fact: according to a neighbor, in the 1960s unmarked cars were often seen parked near the driveway entrance to 116 – keeping Corliss under surveillance for his anti-Vietnam war stance, and pro-Cuba leanings, I guess.)

In later years, 116 Hawkes Avenue was the location for anti-war concerts and gatherings – I’m told Pete Seeger played here, along with other like-minded folk artists. His foundation, the Half-Moon, hosted Humanist weddings and events there up until the 1990s.

Corliss Lamont passed away at 116 Hawkes in 1995.