Journey’s End Road

Journey’s End Road, Croton-on-Hudson, NY

You know it, you love it, it’s Journey’s End Road! For you Taconic runners, it’s that road you pass that intersects with Blinn Road, near John Hand Park. For everyone else, unless you live on or near it, it’s a road you’ve probably driven by but never really noticed.

A few years ago, I went to a talk given by a local historian about Journey’s End Road, during which he kept mentioning the influence of the war on the area. It took me awhile to realize that he was talking about the Revolutionary War, not some pesky modern conflict.    He also told us that some of the houses still standing today (well, at least parts of them,) date as far back as Colonial times.  In fact, if my reading of Lincoln Diamant’s “Teatown Lake Reservation” is accurate, some or all of this area was part of Stephan’s Van Cortlandt’s original Dutch patent.

So yeah, this area has been settled by Europeans at least since the 1700s, and probably even longer.

Imagine that!

Now, according to an unpublished history by Patrick Persons, a descendent of original settlers, Journey’s End Road and its environs were quite bustling in the 1800s:

“This region south of the reservoir, east of the Croton River and north of New Castle was a bustling community of dairy farms and orchards and families interconnected for generations through marriage, church and proximity.  This particular intersection of roads (or highways, as the old records refer to them) was in many ways a hub of the neighborhood.  Here were the local schoolhouse and the Methodist Church, the Justice of the Peace who attended to the residents’ legal matters and also the location where each year folks came to pay their taxes.“

By the 20th century, many of the farms had been broken up and sold to wealthy actors, writers and industrialists who turned them into elegant country estates. While time has taken the luster of celebrity from most of these names, they were the Lin-Manuel Mirandas, the James Pattersons and the Steve Jobs’ of their time  — you know, the ones you read about in the New York Times today.  (Oh, wait, actually, I think James Patterson lives in Briarcliff.  Anyway . . .)

Some of the early 20th century notables (and subjects of future blog posts) who lived on and around Journey’s End were:

Holbrook Blinn, namer of Blinn Road and a famous actor/producer

Margaret Illington and Major Edward Bowes

Irvin S. Cobb, writer

George Doran, book publisher

Arthur S. Vernay – a very well-respected antiques dealer who specialized in items from England.  You know that house across the street from Teatown?  It’s called “The Croft” and was built by Vernay in 1913.

Dan Hanna, son of Ohio Senator Mark Hanna, and a wealthy real estate/newpaper magnate in his own right (he bought “The Croft” from Arthur Vernay.)

Michael Todd Jr. (son of Michael Todd, one of Liz Taylor’s husbands)

And Barnard College maintained a camp for its students on Journey’s End Road from 1938 to 1998. (DEFINITELY a blog post on this coming soon.  I graduated from Barnard in 1987 and don’t ever remember hearing about this camp.)

But more about Journey’s End Road itself:

You know those two houses you run by at the intersection of Journey’s End and Blinn Road?  The one on the north side is the site of the old schoolhouse, and the one on the south was the Yorktown Methodist Church.  Or maybe it’s the other way around — I’ve seen several maps that contradict each other on this point.  But know that you’re running by buildings that have had many lives.

The church, a simple wooden building, was built in the 1880s, and converted into a single family home by Ruth and Holbrook Blinn in about 1920.

The school was built in about the 1820s, and was active on the site through the 1880s. It was torn down in about 1928 by Ruth Blinn, who built the current house on the schoolhouse foundation after her husband passed away.

Now, indulge me while I take you down a little rabbit hole about the history of the schoolhouse — the above-referenced Patrick Persons did his research so deeply and scrupulously that I’m just going to share some more of what he wrote, verbatim:

“The 1859 Report of the Trustees of School District No. 10 in the Town of Yorktown reveals that there were sixty-four children between the ages of four and twenty-one living in the district.  Of these, thirty-five attended the school, though sporadically; only twelve of them attended for more than four months. Aaron L. Young was their teacher from November 1, 1858 to February 28, 1859 and Mary D. Hunter taught from May 1, 1859 to August 1, 1859. Together, they earned $131. Their school was a frame structure and they had a library with two hundred and sixty volumes.

A former student who attended “the old District School at the foot of what was then called Squeelberry Hill – now called Journeys End” shared his memories of the teaching methods of the 1870s.  He relates that in 1871 they had a male teacher who used the McGuffey Readers, Ray’s Practical Arithmetic and Brown’s English Grammar.  For grammar, the students were called to stand in rows and, one at a time, conjugate a given verb in the tense he requested.  This teacher stayed only a year and the following fall was replaced by a young female teacher with a much different teaching style.  She wrote a poem on the classroom blackboard for the students to memorize.  An excerpt follows below:

“I kiss, thou kissest” – don’t start, dear
Indicative plural, “we kiss.”
Clearly to fixe these examples,
Once more o’er the tense let us go:
“I kiss” – dear me, how imprudent!
I kiss, and you answer with, “Oh?”
Now, just at the moment of action,
Present gives way to the past;
You kissed and the verb is imperfect,
So short does your kissing act last.
“If I kiss” is present subjunctive –
I doubt if a kiss is my due –
“May I kiss?” I ask, in potential,
You answer imperative, “Do?”
Pluperfect “had” has no interest
Future with “shall” is for fools;
Perfect “I have” is prosate
I kiss, thou kissest, we kiss, dear,
Now, as we sit, seems so true
That I really think that the “present”
Is the best tense at present – don’t you?

The student claims that grammar improved that year due to the teacher’s clever method. This teacher was also unique in that she would walk home with her students to meet their parents and get to know the students’ ambitions. Another poem she shared with the class that sparked many conversations about their futures was:

I’d like to be a could-be
If I could not be an are.
For a could-be is a may-be
With a chance of touching par.
I’d rather be a has-been
Than a might-have-been by far.
For a might-have-been has never been,
But a has-been was an are.

Okay, if you made it this far, bravo! I think I’ve indulged myself at your expense long enough.  But those are some teaching methods, eh?

Isn’t it amazing the history you can discover if you dig just a little?

Margaret Illington (Or, another famous actress that lived in Ossining.)


Margaret Illington Frohman

So, have you heard of Illington Road? It’s off Route 134, just past the Taconic South Ossining exit. It’s a favorite on the Saturday morning group run of the Taconic Road Runners Club when the reservoir road is too icy or snowy, or just when they want to mix it up a little.

Anyway,  until I started writing about Major Bowes , I had no idea that it was likely named after his wife, Margaret Illington. And that Margaret Illington was another famous actress from the early 1900s who lived in our area. (Jeanne Eagels is the other one I’ve uncovered so far.)

It’s hard to imagine that pre-film and pre-TV era when theater actors were THE entertainment stars, but trust me when I tell you that Margaret Illington was a big, big star. No doubt it didn’t hurt her career one bit to marry Daniel Frohman, one of the big Broadway producers of the time.

So, follow me down a rather winding post to learn more about Illington Road, Margaret Illington and Broadway in the 1900s.

I suppose we should start with Daniel Frohman, her first husband:  A good 25 years older than young Margaret, he, along with his brothers Charles & Gustave, pretty much started the Broadway road touring circuit back in the 1880s.  They also managed and booked shows into many Broadway theaters, one of which, the Lyceum, is still in use today.

I was reminded of all this when I went to see “Fully Committed” last weekend at the Lyceum:

Fully comittted

Now, several years ago, I just happened to visit the Shubert Archives which are housed high above that theater in Daniel Frohman’s old apartment. And on that visit, I was shown the small doorway that opens into the ceiling of the theater through which Frohman used to peek and watch his shows from the comfort of his penthouse. Even better, I read in the “About This Theater” section of the Playbill that “Legend has it that Frohman waved a white handkerchief out the open door to tell his wife, the actress Margaret Illington, that she was overacting.”  (Check out this link for a picture of what I’m talking about.)

Okay, well, first the idea that big Broadway producers had luxurious penthouse offices above their own theaters has always fascinated me. David Belasco had one above the Belasco Theater, as did the Shubert Brothers above the Shubert Theater.

Second, Margaret Illington!!

Her story begins in 1879 in Bloomington, Illinois where she was born Maude Ellen Light.  She attended Ohio Wesleyan College then Conway’s Dramatic School in Chicago,  making her way to New York at the age of 18.

(Her stage name, Illington, was said to have been a combination of her hometown of Bloomington, Illinois.  Seems plausible enough: Illington certainly sounds better than Bloominois.)

Playing small roles here and there, she attracted the notice of Daniel Frohman, who cast her in the completely forgotten folly called “Frocks and Frills” that played at Daly’s, a New York theater he just happened to manage. Her career skyrocketed after that, and she appeared in twelve more Broadway shows (and an unknown number of tours) over the next seven years.

But a recurring theme in all the articles I’ve found about her is that she constantly said she was “retiring from the stage.” When she married Daniel Frohman, she declared that her plan was to retire when her show closed.  (Back in those days, a hit show ran weeks, not years, so she didn’t have long to wait.)

However, she went on to star in play after play.  And much of her press discusses her chronic overexertion and exhaustion.

On tour in April, 1907, it was reported that Illington, “Leading woman with John Drew in ‘His House in Order,’ fainted on the stage of the New Grand Theatre to-night, and kept the audience waiting thirty minutes while doctors worked over her. She had a serious case of crying hysteria.”

I wonder if they brought the curtain down while the doctors “worked over her.” And what could they have been doing for thirty minutes allowed her to get back up and finish the show??   And what the heck is “crying hysteria” other than, well, crying hysteria?  I can’t help but put myself in that stage manager’s shoes . . .

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 2.28.52 PM                          She doesn’t look too happy, does she?

By 1908, the New York Times was reporting that “Her Part in ‘The Thief’ Wrecked Her Health and She Will Never Act Again. Daniel Frohman Says So . . . Henceforth, He Says, His Wife Will Be A Hausfrau.”

In February of 1909, Daniel Frohman coolly announced that they were separating, but that “There is no scandal involved in our disagreement; no man or woman figures in it. The arrangement is amicable rather than hostile.”   By June, Margaret had moved to Reno, Nevada to establish the six months of residency needed in those days in order to divorce Daniel Frohman. Yet even there she suffered from attacks of nerves:  “She has adopted a plan of exercise in the hope of regaining her health, and, accompanied by her mother, with whom she lives in seclusion, she frequently takes walks as far as her strength will permit.”

Whatever was her problem???

Finally, on November 15, 1909, the New York Times reported that “Margaret Illington Weds New Husband. Actress Divorced Last Week from Daniel Frohman Now Wife of Edward J. Bowes.”

 In the article, Illington was quoted as saying:

“From the first I told Mr. Frohman that I wanted a home, a domestic life. But he wanted to make a great star out of me. I wanted to stay at home and darn his socks. Always, I wanted domestic life and children. I wanted to lead the life of a normal woman. The stage life might be well for the woman born to it, but it is abnormal. When I found that Mr. Frohman intended to keep me on the stage always, my love died . . . As soon as I am freed I shall settle down with the man whose ideals accord with mine. He is wealthy, but he is a domestic man. We shall have our own little home, and I shall try to forget there is a world. I want the world to forget there ever was a Margaret Illington. What I want is babies, my own little babies to nestle to my heart and call me mother. I have been cheated out of my home and babies for so long that I want all of them I can have. I am hungry for them. Whether I have genius or not, I consider I have the right of any woman to make what she thinks is the most of her life. I have the right to be happy. I am not happy on the stage. I yearned all the time for the simple joys of motherhood.”

There’s a story here we’re not seeing, right? But what could it be?

Because just six months later, the New York Times reported “Back to Stage Goes Miss Illington”  In a show produced by her new husband, our very own Major Edward Bowes of Allapartus Road, she was to tour the country before arriving back on Broadway. She then went on to star in more tours and Broadway plays for the next few years to respectful reviews. Then in 1915, she announced her retirement from the stage again. (She retired more often than Cher had Final Concert Tours!):

“I am having such fun, planting seeds and trees and things at my place near Ossining. We have an apple orchard, which is very lovely when it is bloom, but for the rest of the Summer we want more decoration. So every morning I get on my horse and direct the operations of six or seven Italians in digging up trees from the hillsides.”

Yet, in 1916 she opened on Broadway in “Our Little Wife” to mediocre reviews:  “Miss Illington out of her element”

And in 1917 she appeared in several films produced by Famous Players – Lasky where, interestingly, her first husband Daniel Frohman, was a part owner and producer with Adolf Zukor.   Hmmm . . .

But she really does seem to have finally gotten her wish to retire from the stage – her last Broadway show seems to have been “A Good Bad Woman,” which closed in May 1919.

At some point in here, Major Bowes and Margaret Illington bought property in Ossining.   In 1920, the New York Times reported that she (not Major Bowes, but just her) sold an estate called Dreamlake, “Near Grant’s Corners in the town of Yorktown, and adjoins the estate of Holbrook Blinn . . . The property consists of 123 acres of land and is developed along the lines of an Adirondack camp. There is a main residence of Colonial farmhouse design and numerous outbuildings. One of the most notable features of this property is the thirty-acre lake, which was created by damming up a valley.”

I’d love to know exactly where this was.

The very next year, she bought another estate right next to Dreamlake.

I have no idea if or when Illington Road was named after her, but it seems fairly likely, yes?  (I’d love to hear from anyone who knows more about this.)

She spent the last fifteen years of her life out of the limelight (literally!) and died in 1934, at the age of 55.  Sadly, she never had the babies she said she wanted.  Not sure about the sock darning.

Here’s her New York Times obituary.

She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, next to her second husband Major Edward Bowes.

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John Cheever lived at 197 Cedar Lane (and it’s for sale!)


In addition to being a runner, I’m also a stage manager. I got my Equity card in 1994 on a production of A. R. Gurney’s “A Cheever Evening”, a play that adapted several short stories by John Cheever.

Cheever Playbill

As is so often the case when I do a show, I get obsessed with everything to do with its subject. For this one, I devoured all of Cheever’s work, starting with his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Stories of John Cheever”:

Cheever Stories

Now, you may be asking what the connection is between John Cheever and this blog? Well, his old house is a perfect 1.8 miles from mine, and the “John Cheever” is my go-to short run. I run there, peer at the house through the trees at the top of the driveway and run home. I also like to tap this battered mailbox to mark the official halfway point of my run.


Now, I won’t pretend I moved to Ossining because of John Cheever, but it is a nice little bit of synergy in my life.

Located at 197 Cedar Lane, the house was originally built in 1795. Renovated in the 1920s by architect Eric Gugler (who apparently redesigned the Oval Office for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s), Cheever purchased it in 1961. At the time, he wrote:

The closing; and so I have at last bought a house. Coming home on the train, Mary speaks of the complexity of our lives … and it does seem rich and vast, like the history of China. We move books. To Holy Communion, where I first express my gratitude for safe travels, luck with money, love, and children. I pray that our life in the new house will be peaceful and full. I pray to be absolved of my foolishness and to be returned to the liveliness, the acuteness of feeling, that seems to be my best approach to things.

Cheever wrote some of his most famous works in that house – the short story “The Swimmer” (which became a film starring Burt Lancaster in 1968) and “The Wapshot Scandal,” a novel, just to name a very few.

By the mid-1960s, he was arguably one of the most famous living American writers. In 1964, he appeared on the cover of Time Magazine as “The Ovid of Ossining”, and later that year was also dubbed “The Chekhov of the Suburbs” by the New York Times Book Review.

Born in Massachusetts in 1912, Cheever spent much of his adult life in New York, moving to Westchester in the early 1950s. He rented his first house here, a small cottage in Beechwood, the old Frank Vanderlip estate in Scarborough, moving to the Ossining house from there.

He was an active member of the community – Wikipedia says that he was even a volunteer fireman for the Briarcliff Manor Fire Department. A neighbor of mine remembers seeing him walking along Cedar Lane to eat lunch at the old Highland Diner (now DD’s Diner) on North Highland Avenue where he was a regular.  Several other friends of mine were given autographed books by Cheever himself just because they crossed his path in different ways.

In the 1970s, Cheever taught writing to inmates at Sing Sing, using that experience as a springboard to write “Falconer,” a novel that came out in 1977 to great fanfare.  (Rumor has it that some inmates were annoyed by that, though, feeling he only volunteered to teach them in order to use their life stories in his own work.)

In 1979 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Cheever was a complicated man — a depressive and an alcoholic who struggled with his bisexuality. Yet he still managed to write regularly and productively. His daughter Susan wrote about this in-depth in her memoir “Home Before Dark,” which is definitely worth reading if you have any interest at all in Cheever.

Fittingly, the Reading Room at the Ossining Public Library is named after him. Read Library Trustee Bob Minzesheimer’s thumbnail bio of Cheever here.

John Cheever passed away in 1982, and his widow Mary remained in the Cedar Lane house until her death in 2014. A poet, essayist, and historian in her own right, she is perhaps best known for her excellent local history of our area called “The Changing Landscape: A History of Briarcliff Manor – Scarborough.”  (You can find it in the Ossining library or buy it here.) 

Last summer, just after Mary Cheever passed away at the age of 95, the house came on the market.

I couldn’t help myself, I HAD to go see it.

It was an amazing time capsule both of Mary Cheever’s widowhood and, just a little bit, of John Cheever’s life. At the time, the house was still completely furnished — everything comfortably worn, looking like it had been purchased new in 1961 and never replaced. Magazines were stacked on side tables, books filled the built-in bookcases, and I could imagine John Cheever padding into the room in his slippers to take one off the shelf, a glass of scotch tinkling in the other hand. An old manual typewriter sat uncovered on a small wooden table near a window, as if Cheever was just taking a short break before sitting down to write some more.

A double height porch covers the front of the house, the second story of which is screened in and would be a lovely place to sleep on a hot summer night. But the general layout is strange and old, with very low ceilings, small windows with shutters, and fireplaces throughout. But the house and grounds lend themselves to entertaining, and the Cheevers were said to give great parties.  Susan Cheever describes them as “the kind of party that Jay Gatsby should have had. Every writer imaginable was at the house, including Robert Penn Warren, Saul Bellow and John Updike. I still remember Ralph Ellison playing Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” on the alto recorder.”

Oh yeah, I can see all that and then some!

At some point, the Cheevers built an attached writing studio – sadly, it is not at all in keeping with the rustic Dutch Colonial feel, looking more like a mindless 1980s liberal arts college building plunked up against an elegant, historical structure.

The house sits on several acres of land that was once so very carefully landscaped, it is said, that the shrubs bloomed red, white and blue by July 4.

I think the property will require a great deal of love and money to bring it back to its former glory. Now owned by the bank, the asking price has dropped to a bargain basement one of $340K. Check out the listing and slideshow here.   (Thanks Valerie Cascione!)

As far as I know, the house is not listed on the National Historical Register, which means there’s a very real chance this building will be bulldozed by the next owner. But shouldn’t it be saved so that the legacy of one America’s great writers can be preserved for future generations? Imagine the John Cheever Artist’s Retreat right here in Ossining!




Major Bowes, 1930s Radio King

Have you ever noticed how many plaques you can find in stone gateways in this area?  I’ve see these ones all within about three miles of each other:Bowes
At the corner of Allapartus and Spring Valley Roads.


On Spring Valley Road


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On Cedar Lane 

Well, settle in, because I’m going to tell you the story of BOWES.  (I’ll save the other two for later posts.)

My regular-I-just-need-to-get-out-and-run run goes right past this particular plaque.  What does “Bowes” mean, I wonder each time I pass it.  Then I just keep running and forget about it until next time.

Now, thanks to writing this blog, I’ve finally taken the time to research it and discovered that it’s the ghost of the Ossining estate called “Laurel Hill” once owned by Major Edward Bowes.

Bowes was best-known as a radio star who hosted an American Idol/Gong Show-type of talent show called “The Major Bowes Amateur Hour” in the 1930s and 1940s  (You can buy CDs of it here.)

Major Bowes at NBC

His Sunday night show was tremendously popular – according to a December 1, 1935  article in the New York Times, its popularity was “reported to be the highest ever attained since telephone surveys in 40 key cities was first tabulated.”

The format is something we’re very familiar with now, but at the time it was ground-breaking —  amateurs came from all over the country to audition and the lucky few appeared on Major Bowes’ show.   The gimmick of the show was in its audience participation — the performances on the show were voted on via telephone for each episode.   Many of the winners then went on to tour the dying vaudeville circuit in “Major Bowes’ Amateur Hours” units for a pittance and thence into obscurity.

The show began in 1934 and ran until the early 1940s, when wartime restrictions on telephone usage cut into Bowes’ reliance on the audience vote.  Soon after, the show went off the air.

His New York Times obituary noted that:

“The possibility of success attracted ambitious amateurs from all over the country, from one-man bands to singers, from tap dancers to harmonica viruosi.”  The pilgrimage soon became too popular, and in 1935 the Emergency Relief Bureau put up the storm signals disclosing that each week more than 300 penniless would-be radio amateurs were stranded in this city. Major Bowes stemmed the cityward trek by establishing quarter-annual auditions in the hinterlands, winners of which were brought to New York.”

A few contestants did go on to fame and fortune, like opera singers Beverly Sills & Lily Pons.  Others on that short list include Robert Merrill, Redd Foxx & Glady Knight.   Frank Sinatra made an appearance in September of 1935, singing with a group called the Hoboken Four.  They received over 40,000 phone calls, the most of any act in the history of the show up until then.  (They then went on to make a couple of short films for Major Bowes, one called “The Big Minstrel Act” in which they all wore blackface.  Things were different back then . . .)

By 1937, according to a US Treasury Department report to Congress detailing the salaries of  the 15,000 wealthiest Americans, Major Bowes was making $427,817 from his radio show and its spin-offs.  (The man with the highest salary was movie producer Louis B. Mayer, with $1,161,753. But our very own Major Edward Bowes was sixth on the list – behind the likes of Frederic March and Greta Garbo, among others.)  Just FYI, Bowes’ salary equals about $7.2 million in 2016 dollars.

But radio wasn’t his first, or even second, successful career.  No, Bowes got his start in San Francisco real estate, apparently amassing quite a personal fortune which was decimated by the 1906 earthquake.  But he bounced back quickly, finding opportunity in the rubble, and then moved to New York where he ventured into theatrical real estate and producing.  By the 1920s, he was managing director of the Capitol Theater, one of the first movie palaces in New York City.

It was then that he started insisting on be addressed as “Major” Bowes, a rank he apparently attained in the US Army Reserves.

“The Original Amateur Hour” grew out of his interest in the Capitol Theater. In the early days of radio, as a promotion feature for the theatre, Bowes started a Sunday noon hour broadcast over local radio station WHN. By 1934, the idea of the Amateur Hour had evolved and the program was presented nationally as “The Major Bowes Amateur Hour.”

In the middle of the Depression, Major Bowes did very well for himself.   In addition to his princely salary, I found stories on the Internet about his 61-ton yacht called the Edmar, which he donated to the US Navy in 1940.  Then there was the story of his “specially built car with a dining space for six persons” that had been burgled in its garage on West 53rd Street in 1941, and various gold rimmed glassware, gold cutlery and gold corkscrews were stolen, in addition to a fox fur automobile robe. My, my!   An art connoisseur, his collection was sold at auction after his death, to the tune of $121,399, not to mention the Andrea del Sartos and El Grecos he had previously donated to the Catholic Church.  A former real estate man, he also amassed quite a real estate portfolio, the details of which didn’t really interest me enough to Google, but you should feel free to.

Major Bowes married the actress (and Daniel Frohman’s ex-wife) Margaret Illington in 1910 (more on her in a future post.) At some point, they purchased Laurel Hill and it became famous for its 14,000 laurel bushes and large, old trees.  At its height, it boasted a main house of ten rooms, several guest houses and a swimming pool. Sadly, the main house was destroyed by fire in 1937.  I suppose Bowes did some rebuilding, because in 1940, he donated his estate to the Lutheran Church for use as a retreat and it is still in use today.  (See link.)

Bowes died at the age of 72, and it was reported that his last rites were performed by none other than Francis Cardinal Spellman.  Widowed in 1934, he had no children, and left most of his money to the Catholic Church.