Madam C.J. Walker and Irvington’s Villa Lewaro

Madam C.J. Walker and Irvington’s Villa Lewaro

BLOG – Mme. C. J. Walker and Villa Lewaro

Have you ever noticed that snow white mansion on Rt. 9 about a mile north of Mercy College in Irvington? I don’t know how you’d miss it . . .

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I had noticed it for years before I finally found out what it was and, of course, there is quite an interesting story attached to it.  So sit back, enjoy a latte from First Village Coffee in Ossining (shameless plug and no they don’t pay me!) and follow me back in time to 1917 when the New York Times wrote an article about Madam C.J. Walker entitled “Wealthiest Negro Woman’s Suburban Mansion – Estate at Irvington, Overlooking the Hudson and Containing all the Attractions that a Big Fortune Commands.”

It’s strange to me that Madam C.J. Walker is rarely mentioned today.  Even the National Museum of African American History and Culture relegates her to a just small display:

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Perhaps the reason is that she made her fortune selling hair products – pomades, shampoos and hot combs – and many believe that the thrust of their appeal was that they made curly black hair smooth and straight.  Perhaps, but she was, if not an actual millionaire, still the epitome of the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps figure America loves to glorify.  And her hair products business was one of the most long-lived and successful African-American owned businesses to date.

So let’s hear her story . . .

Born in 1867 as Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana, she was the only member of her immediate family who was never a slave.  Her family was still living on the plantation of their former owner, Mr. Burney, in a sharecropper’s shack.  Here is a photo of her birthplace:

MADAM CJ WALKER birthplace(Photo from “On her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker” by A’Lelia Bundles)

It is exactly what I imagined a sharecropper’s shack would look like.

Now, I found the above photo and most of the following information in a fascinating book written by her great, great grand-daughter A’Lelia Bundles, entitled “On her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker.”

(A’Lelia is an interesting figure in her own right, a TV producer for various NBC shows in the 1980s and ‘90s.  And I understand her book was just optioned by Octavia Spencer for a TV series about Madam.)

Sarah Breedlove’s story is Dickensian, if Dickens wrote about African-Americans.  Orphaned at the age of 7, she moved in with her older sister in Vicksburg, Mississippi and worked as a house cleaner, a laundry girl and whatever other menial jobs she could find.  She married at the age of 14 (because Mississippi) and had her only child, Lelia, at the age of 18.  Widowed at 20, she moved around the country (remarrying twice more) until she settled in St. Louis, where her two brothers were successful barbers.  She started selling hair products for what would become her chief rival, Annie Turnbo Malone’s Poro Company.  It’s around this time that she became Madam C.J. Walker, taking the name from her third husband, Charles John Walker.    Madam Walker learned the ropes quickly and branched off to sell her own patented hair growth formula.

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She moved to Colorado, then Pittsburgh, then Indianapolis, opening salons and mail order businesses along the way.  Her business model was very close to the multi-level marketing  format used by companies such as Arbonne, NuSkin, Shaklee and Amway today.  While I’m not saying she invented MLM (she had, after all, sold hair products for another company before she opened her own)  she certainly streamlined and profited from the concept.

As she climbed the ladder, she became involved in philanthropy and activism, perhaps as a business strategy, perhaps altruistically.  But she counted Booker T. Washington and W.E.B DuBois as friends, and was frequently invited to speak at various conventions.

In 1913, she purchased a townhouse in Harlem at 108 West 136thStreet and installed her daughter Lelia there to run the NY operation.

MADAM CJ WALKER 108-110 West 136th Street(Another photo from “On her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker” by A’Lelia Bundles)

In 1916, Madam Walker  purchased a parcel of land in Irvington and hired Vertner Tandy, the first licensed, African-American architect in NYC to design her mansion.

The aforementioned 1917 New York Times article is casually racist as they describe the local reaction:  “On her first visits to inspect her property, the villagers, noting her color, were frankly puzzled.  Later, when it became know that she was the owner of the pretentious dwelling, they could only gasp in astonishment.  ‘Impossible!’ they exclaimed.  ‘No woman of her race could afford such a place.”  Oh 1917, was that when America was great?

Her home became known as “Villa Lewaro,”  supposedly so named by Enrico Caruso, a frequent guest.  He is said to have cobbled the name out of Madam’s daughter’s:  LElia WAlker RObinson.  Even if that’s apocryphal, I like it, and say it’s true.

The house and grounds were lush and luxurious.  According to A’Lelia Bundle’s book:

“With imported Japanese Prayer Trees and flowering shrubs and perennials timed to bloom continuously from early spring to late fall, Madam Walker’s Italian gardener intended to create a setting as magnificent as that of any of the surrounding estates with their formal gardens and impeccably tended grounds. . .  From the curved balcony outside her sleeping porch, Madam Walker could see the NJ Palisades looking above the Hudson River like a fortress . . . Her airy boudoir – which caught the early sun through French doors – was designed for pure indulgence with its twelve-piece Louis XVI chamber suite of ivory-enameled mahogany arrayed upon a nearly wall-to-wall hand-woven Aubusson carpet.  On warm mornings, her housekeeper served breakfast downstairs outside her first floor dining room on the upper level of a two-tiered terrace.  At night, yachting parties were known to beam their searchlights across those terraces, illuminating the crochet-like balustrades that dramatically latticed the rear of the house.”

Fabulous, no?

Madam Walker was quoted as saying that she had built her house “to convince members of [my]race of the wealth of business possibilities within the race and point to young Negroes what a lone woman accomplished and to inspire them to do big things.”

Madam_CJ_Walker_face_circa_1914(Another photo from “On her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker” by A’Lelia Bundles)

Madam C.J. Walker in her prime

Sadly, she only enjoyed her home for a year or so before succumbing to kidney disease in 1919, at the age of 52. Villa Lewaro stayed in the family until 1931 when I assume that the Depression made it untenable for Lelia Walker to maintain. It was apparently then the  Anne E. Poth Home for Convalescent and Aged Members of the Companions of the Forest in America (thanks Wikipedia!) and in 1976 it was designated an Historic Landmark.   It has been in private hands since the 1980s.  What I wouldn’t give to see the inside!!

Wolf Hollow

One road that I run along frequently is Glendale Road.  And over the years, I’ve been tantalized by stories about this road from fellow runners and local historians – stories that include Revolutionary War-era tortures, the Leatherman, British raids, money and silver hidden in caves and wells – well, let me just get into it all.

First of all, Glendale began as a meandering farm road, mostly lined by working farms.   It was straightened into its current state in 1930 (probably a CCC project — thanks FDR!)  but if you look carefully as you run along, you can still see the old roads on either side – they’re mostly overgrown, but there are some stone walls that give you a sense of how comparatively hilly and windy Glendale Road would have been back in the day.   Here’s a survey of a portion of Glendale with the old road clearly marked:

Old Glendale Road 2

Now, there are quite a few old homes and estates along Glendale – the old schoolhouse, and the old church from the mid-1800s still stand and both are private homes.  (More on those another time.)  But stop and try to imagine what this area would have looked like 150 years ago:  farms, no trees, a working mine and a very popular racetrack.  So different from today’s bucolic, wooded wonderland.

So let’s fall through a portal into that time by way of 75 Glendale Road, aka Wolf Hollow.  Owner Carole Herbin generously invited me to visit and gave me an extensive history of the place.  It’s one of the oldest houses on Glendale, built in the mid-1700s.  While it’s been well-maintained and renovated to include all the needed amenities (gorgeous kitchen, master suite, etc.) it still retains its unique charming history with stone fire places, cast iron gates and original leaded glass windows.  Who knows, there might even be a ghost or two!

Let’s go back to 1776, the start of our glorious, triumphant revolution, when the Colonials threw off the shackles of England.  When they told crazy, porphyria-suffering George III that they were dissolving all connections and would form a more perfect union and govern themselves.

Now, during the Revolution, this particular corner of Westchester was oddly ignored.  But, while there were no battles fought here, the farmers in the area were constantly trying to “protect their crops from those thieves who sprang up often under the guide of patriotism to maraud wherever they believed property could be stolen with safety to themselves.”  (Ossining Citizen Register, 8/6/1935)

The British held Manhattan and environs slightly north of the island – the Colonials held Peekskill and north.  But the area in between, the Ossining History on the Run area if you will, was a sort of no-man’s land.  It seems that both sides, British and Colonials, were equally likely to be rummaging through the farms here.

In 1779, Col. Aaron Burr was put in charge of the Colonials of Westchester county – yes, THAT Aaron Burr, now best known as the antagonist of “Hamilton.”  As long as Burr was in charge, there was little looting in our neighborhood.  Even so, people in this area took to hiding their farm produce and personal items.  And by this, I mean stuff like cows and wheat and cash and clocks.  According to a 1935 article in the Ossining Citizen Register, one intrepid farmer resorted to hiding valuables in “the tavern in Scarsdale where a saber cut discernible today is said to have been made by a British officer who was attempting to force his entrance in the parlor of the building.  The Scarsdale Library door shows this cut today.”  (Anyone know if this is still true??)

So now we get to the legend of Benjamin Tillotson, a former owner of 75 Glendale Road.  He was a very prosperous farmer whose land stretched from the Croton River to Millwood.  (Stop and try to imagine that.  How much would that be worth today, is all I can think.)

He was a patriot who supported the Revolution and, as such, was often harassed by the Tories.  Because of this, he got very sneaky, and would hide his hogs in nearby caves and his wife would hide her bread in a secret box under the kitchen floor.   But he was outsmarted on one famous occasion.  The story goes that he had sold some animal – maybe an ox, maybe a horse, who really knows? – and had hidden the money in a cooperage block (oh, did I mention he also was a barrel maker? So this cooperage block thing was a barrel making accoutrement.) Whatever it is – because even with the Google I can’t quite envision this story —  he figured the money wouldn’t be found.  So when the Tories came for his money, he denied having it on the premises.  But they knew he was lying and got so angry that they, supposedly, hung him up by his thumbs from an apple tree next to his house that flowered until this very century.  “So near did this persecution come to causing his death that his wife, who knew the secret of the hiding-place, unable to endure the sight of her husband’s agony, revealed the place.  The cooperage block was split open and the money immediately stolen.”  (Ossining Citizen Register)

Imagine that.  Redcoats torturing our neighbors!

I got a little obsessed with the idea of caves in the area where 18th century locals hid their hogs and silver, and took a little bushwhack of a hike.  (Just follow the blue trail/Catamount Hill Loop from the Cliffdale Farm entrance on Teatown Road.)  Supposedly the Leatherman was known to stop in these caves.  While I saw large rocks bordering ravines, I couldn’t really find anything that seemed big enough for a person (or a cow) to hide in.  Of course, there’s a lot of private property around here, so I couldn’t investigate too thoroughly.  But I did convince myself that I found some arrowheads:

Arrowheads

Okay, maybe not.

On a side note, in the basement of the house at Wolf Hollow are the remains of a old jail, supposedly used to hold prisoners until the circuit court went into session.  This system involved having judges “ride the circuit” — actually travel between individual towns to hear cases, so that the average citizen didn’t have to travel long distances to receive justice.  Wikipedia tells me that this was begun by Henry II in England in the 12th century.   In the American version, the judges travelled on horseback or via stagecoach accompanied by lawyers to hear cases.  Abraham Lincoln spent some time doing this in Illinois.  Here are some photos:

This is more or less a free-standing stone structure built right into the middle of the basement.  Sure looks like a prison cell to me!

Another interesting character who lived at this site is Julie Campbell Tatham, author of Trixie Belden series (think of a mid-1940s version of Nancy Drew.)  Trixie (short for Beatrice) was a teenage girl who lived on Crabapple Farm just outside “Sleepyside-on-Hudson.”  Adventures ensue when she and her best friend Honey Wheeler (a lonely rich girl) band together to solve mysteries.

Trixie Belden

(I don’t know about you, but that house looks kind of familiar . . .)

History is fascinating, isn’t it?

 

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:

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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:

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

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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:

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Here’s another version:

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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?

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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.

440px-Frank_A._Vanderlip

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.”)

Entranceway_to_Beechwood

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
Ice
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:

Depósito_Croton

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

Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 9.47.59 AM

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

Vestiges_of_Croton_Distributing_Reservoir_embedded_in_the_foundation_of_the_New_York_Public_Library

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.