Brandywine Estate, Briarcliff Manor – UPDATED 4/2/2019

Brandywine Estate, Briarcliff Manor – UPDATED 4/2/2019

Here’s a classic History on the Run post – this is a place I have been running by for years, wondered about, and promptly forgotten about before I even got home.

But this past week, while helping my friend Kim knock out a long run for her Ironman training (!!), we ran past this gate in Briarcliff Manor:

Brandywine main gate 2

Can you see the “Brandywine” carved into the left pillar?  Anyway, this is located at 620 Sleepy Hollow Road in Briarcliff Manor, NY and is currently the site of the Briarcliff Manor Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care:

Briarcliff Manor Center

This time I remembered to look it up when I got home.  The Internet was remarkably opaque, but luckily I own a copy of Mary Cheever’s excellent and exhaustive book, “The Changing Landscape,” which details the history of this fine estate (and that of many others in the area.)

So, let’s explore, shall we?

Originally built in 1909 by Isaac Newton Spiegelberg and called Miramont Court, the estate included a 49-room Tudor-style mansion, outbuildings, a 75-foot water tower, and 20 acres of extensively landscaped land.

Here’s what it looks like today:

Brandywine Main House

**UPDATE (4/2/2019):  An intrepid local historian found my blog and sent me the photos (below) of the interior.

According to Mary Cheever, a visitor in 1910 would see

A courtyard around the façade of the house.  From the porte-cochere, an entryway leads directly into the “great hall,” which is wood-pannelled, with a large fireplace and, set into the ceiling in terra cotta, the initials of the Spiegelbergs, I.N.S and S.F.S (Stella Friedlander.)

(Note that the house was heavily renovated in the 1930s, so much of what Cheever describes has been removed.

To the right is the Music Room, in which there was a stage with a piano on it; an organ; a big window with seats cushioned in red velvet; a small balcony in the back; and, seated on an overhang around the ceiling, child-sized . . . cherubs with their feet crossed, looking down.  Many concerts and theatricals took place . . . here.  (Cheever 107)

Brandywine 12

Here’s the exterior of the above piano room:

Music Room?

Here are some more photos — considering the building has been vacant for quite some time, it’s amazing how intact it still is!

The following pictures must be of rooms upstairs:

Brandywine 8

I’m not exactly sure what/where the following is a photo of, but it looks like a ceiling of some sort:

Brandywine 11

Such craftsmanship, no?

Here’s more from Mary Cheever on the grounds in that pre-World War I time:

Many plants were imported for the gardens, most from Japan, because the local nurseries were comparatively undeveloped at the time.  The house had a grand view – from the lawn and tennis courts in the foreground, across the gardens, a vineyard, a pond and a strip of woodland, to the Hudson River and the hills of Rockland County in the distance. On fine afternoons, Stella Spiegelberg took tea in a treehouse in the garden.  She had to climb up steep steps into the treehouse, but there was a dumbwaiter to convey the tea and accompanying delicacies to her there. (Cheever 108)

Alas, there’s no sign of the treehouse with its dumbwaiter today . . . Such a shame how dilapidated this once-grand mansion has become!

The original owner, Isaac Spiegelberg, was an interesting character.  Born in the US in 1859, he received his engineering training in Europe.  He spent some years working for the St. Gotthard Railway in Switzerland – here’s a cool stock postcard photo of a engineering marvel of a bridge in the alps:

amsteg-and-st-gotthard-railway-switzerland-g3atcb

Spiegelberg returned to the US to continue in the railroad business out West, eventually transitioning into stock brokering, and ultimately purchasing a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1886. Considering that so many of the movers and shakers of the banking world had summer estates up here, it’s no wonder the Spiegelbergs moved up here, to socialize with the Rockefellers, Vanderlips and Astors.

After Isaac Spiegelberg died in 1927, the estate was sold to Mrs. Ethel Barksdale, a sister of Pierre Du Pont.  The Barksdales “bought more land, built a studio (some of the family were artists), a greenhouse, some kennels, remodeled the interior . . . and named the estate Brandywine. (Cheever 109) ”  The Barksdales lived there only until 1931, (thanks stock market crash?) after which the property was sold to the Edward Walker Hardens.

Edward Harden was a newspaperman responsible for some of the great scoops at the turn of the century. In 1898, he was one of the first to report on Admiral Dewey’s triumph at the Battle of Manila Bay, during the Spanish-American War.  (What? Huh?  No real clue, except that Wikipedia tells me that this was “one of the most decisive naval battles in history and marked the end of the Spanish colonial period in Philippine history.”)  Harden was married to Frank Vanderlip’s sister Ruth, and by the time the Hardens moved to Westchester, Edward had, like so many others at the time it seems, left his previous career to work on Wall Street, purchasing a seat on the NYSE.

The Hardens bought and sold several significant properties in the area (like the building on Main Street, Tarrytown that now houses the Tarrytown public school administration offices) before purchasing Brandywine and a large parcel of land adjacent to it. (Side note: Harden gave some of this adjacent land, at 710 Long Hill Road West, to his niece Narcissa Vanderlip and her husband Julian Street. Here’s a photo of the house they lived in, designed by Wallace Harrison in 1939, one of the first contemporary-style houses in the area:

710 Long Hill Drive West

And in another interesting twist, the land right across the street from the Brandywine gate, was sold to FDR’s daughter Anna and her husband Curtis Dahl. Today that parcel is called Sleepy Hill.  Here’s a picture of the gate:

IMG_4365

But back to Brandywine – the Hardens never occupied the Speigelberg’s Tudor, instead building a stone mansion in florid Italian Renaissance style some distance away in “The Wilderness.”  They filled their house by importing full rooms from Europe (as one did in those post-WWI days), authentic Belgian blocks from Belgium, and crates of antique furniture.  According to Kay Courreges, the daughter of the estate manager, the Hardens had a full time “cabinetmaker and upholsterer” in the basement of the mansion to alter and maintain these antiques.  That detail says it all to me about the opulent life they lived.

Both Edward and his wife Ruth lived well into their 80s and are buried next to each other in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

At some point, the massive property was sold, and in 1986, The Wilderness was purchased by a developer who built 116 houses on the old estate and called the development Rosecliff.

Here’s a NYT article from April 4, 1986 detailing this part of the story.

And here’s a photo of the Harden’s manor house today, the “Clubhouse” at Rosecliff:

Rosecliff

At some other point, a nursing home set up shop in the old Tudor house on the Brandywine section of the estate.  A more modern building has been built for this purpose and, as pictured above, the Spiegelberg house is now surrounded by chain link fence and unoccupied. There was a fire in 2012 in a garage on the property, but other than destroying the garage, there were no casualties.

Brandywine is apparently on the market as of August 2018.  Here’s a properly video:

Running down the Old Croton Aqueduct, Part II

Link to Aqueduct part I

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.

Here’s the link to part III.

 

 

 

 

 

“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?