Perhaps you’ve seen this sign? It’s just off the Croton Aqueduct and you’ll pass it if you walk up from the parking lot in Croton Gorge Park.
It came to my attention when I saw the following email on a neighborhood Google group:
Can anyone tell me what that house off of the aqueduct trail is? Does someone live there full time? How do they get there if the dam is closed! Do they have an actual address? They have a sign up that says @Crotongorgeous. I walk past it with my dogs all the time. Thanks!
WHAT house, I thought? I run here at least once a week and had no idea what this was about. So I went off to do a little exploring. And yes, I’d passed it many times but had somehow completely ignored it. It’s about a mile south of the Dam and down a little ways off the Aqueduct, but you will see it if you’re looking for it. From the Aqueduct, it looks like a snug little stone cottage (which is exactly what it is.) But who lived here? Who LIVES here?
Well, arguably, its most famous inhabitant was a man named Egon Ottinger, who lived here up until 1992. According to a delightful article published that year in the New York Times, Egon lived here right until he passed away at the age of 93, still splitting his own wood, patching his own clothes and wearing his late wife’s glasses because his broke. (Reading between the delightful lines, one might assume he was a bit of a hoarder too.) Even more interesting is the fact that Egon left a $20 million dollar estate, earned from a career working in the shipping insurance business and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos. A frugal, simple man, he left the bulk of his estate to the Inwood Canoe Club, the YMCA, Teatown and other wholesome, outdoorsy organizations. And oh, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think there might even be an Ottinger Wing at the Croton Library.
A neighbor who knew him told me the following: “If you write this up, I think it’s important to add that he donated to colleges with work-study programs because he believed in the importance of work experience. He had not attended college, and I’m not sure how far his secondary education extended, but he rose to be the top executive of an insurance company.
One of my fondest memories of him was the contraption that he build to haul firewood up his steps. It was the bowl of a wheelbarrow bolted to his old wooden skis, and a rope to pull it up.
I would frequently catch him doing things he shouldn’t be doing, like standing high up on a ladder clipping the vines off his wall. When I, at least 30 years younger, offered to do it, he said to me, “Oh no, it’s too dangerous.”
What an idyllic, otherworldly place to live, tucked just next to the Aqueduct and at the end of a gravel road up from Croton Gorge Park! Apparently, the cottage was built about 1930 or so and the Ottinger’s purchased the property on May 1, 1946 for $26,500. At least initially, the property was known as “The Hemlocks.”
And then there’s this stone tablet I photographed from a distance:
Upon Egon’s passing, the property became part of Croton Gorge Park and is now occupied by a Park employee.
The world is a better place because of people like Ottinger!