Running Down the Old Croton Aqueduct, Part VII

Running Down the Old Croton Aqueduct, Part VII

Amsterdam and 163rd Street to 5th Avenue and 42nd Street (NY Public Library)
8.07 miles

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We made it!

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We started exactly where we left off, at the subway station at Amsterdam and 163rd Street.  We headed east, along 161st Street cutting through Sylvan Terrace and taking a brief detour through the grounds of the Morris-Jumel Mansion before we got back on the Aqueduct.

I must digress, though, a give a little bit of history here. IMG_3861

Sylvan Terrace (above) is a delicious bit of the 19th century that’s alive and well right on the border between Hamilton and Washington Heights.  I stumbled upon once, decades ago before the Internet was invented and was utterly mystified.  What was it?  How was it still here?  Just — huh?  It is so unexpected.  According to my good friend Wikipedia, “Sylvan Terrace, located where West 161st Street would normally be, was originally the carriage drive of the Morris estate. In 1882-83 twenty wooden houses, designed by Gilbert R. Robinson Jr., were constructed on the drive. Initially rented out to laborers and working class civil servants, the houses were restored in 1979-81. They are now some of the few remaining framed houses in Manhattan.”  So there you have it.

But if that was the carriage drive, where did it lead?  Well, to what is called today the Morris-Jumel Mansion of course!

IMG_3863Forgive me while I drop some knowledge here, for this is one of my very favorite oases of bald history left in Manhattan.  Originally built in 1765 (before America was born!) by a British officer named Roger Morris, it’s had a storied life.  Roger Morris married Mary Phillipse, a daughter of Frederick Phillipse of Phillipse Manor fame.  Loyalists, the Morrises had to go into hiding during the war and their grand mansion was used as a headquarters by George Washington/the British/the Hessians during the Revolutionary War.  Roger went back to England and Mary cooled it in Yonkers on Dad’s estate until the war was over.  Then they all hightailed it to merrie olde England because, you know, Loyalists weren’t so popular over here then.

After the war it was a popular tavern along the Albany Post Road (hey, we have one of those up here too!  Oh wait, they’re the same road!) A French fellow named Jumel bought it in 1810 and lived here with his wife (and former mistress, so it is said!) Eliza.  After Jumel died in a tragic carriage accident, Eliza married Aaron Burr right here in the parlor.  (Yes, THAT Aaron Burr, co-star of the musical HAMILTON.)  I could go on, but let’s just say that the Daughters of the American Revolution purchased the house in the early 1900s and it’s been a museum more or less ever since.  Do go see it!

We ended up making a loop around the mansion in our search for Edgecombe Avenue and the Aqueduct, and it is really astonishing that this place still stands, more or less intact though smaller in acreage, after 253 years.  Kind of like America, no?  Here’s a view from the back of the mansion – the expanse of lawn and giant trees in the midst of upper Manhattan is almost disorienting:

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Okay, digression done – back to the Aqueduct.

We made our way down the hill on 160st Street to Edgecombe Avenue, where we picked up the Aqueduct on the southern edge of Highbridge Park.  We would be remiss if we did not point out 555 Edgecombe Avenue on the corner, where luminaries such as Count Basie, Paul Robeson and Joe Louis once lived.

Here’s a view of the last bit of bucolic, tree-shaded Aqueduct for a while:

                         Looking north, back up to Highbridge.   Looking south, towards Edgecombe.

Running down Edgecombe, you pass Coogan’s Bluff and the John T. Brush stairway.  Back in the day (1890 – 1963) Coogan’s Bluff overlooked the NY Giants stadium (aka the Polo Grounds) and became a popular nickname for it.  If you couldn’t afford the price of ticket to a game (which, in those days’s probably cost ten cents!) you could watch it from up here.  But the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1957, and the Polo Grounds was demolished in 1963 to make room for the Polo Grounds Towers.  All that’s left of this is the John Brush Stairway that, in its heyday, brought fans from the neighborhood down to the Stadium.

Here’s a nice little sign that give you all the details.  I like it when there are historical signs:

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And here, just in the name of thoroughness, is a shot of the steps themselves:

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This next bit found us directly on the street as we zigged and zagged to stay as close to the Aqueduct as possible.

The Aqueduct goes underneath buildings as it crosses west from Edgecombe Avenue to Amsterdam Avenue on West 154th.  It is interesting to note that many of the buildings around here, from 155th to 151st streets have odd angles, as they were built to avoid the Aqueduct right-of-way.  In the picture on the right, you can see the undeveloped slice of land under which the Aqueduct runs.  And on the left, you can see the flatiron-esque shape of the brick building bordering it.  (The Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct map calls these “Aqueduct Clues” which I love, because you have to be very aware to notice them.)

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On the corner of Amsterdam and 154th is the gatehouse for Trinity Cemetery, the overflow burial ground for downtown’s Trinity Church.  Home to luminaries such as John James Audubon (sketcher of pretty flowers and birds), Clement Clarke Moore (author of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” and one-time Ossining resident) and John Jacob Astor (scion of the Astor family who made their first fortune selling beaver and old pelts.)  We were tempted to stop and look around, but realized we still had about 7 miles to run and a train schedule to keep, so we keep on.

Running down Amsterdam was actually much faster and easier than we expected.  It being about 10am on a Thursday morning, traffic of all sorts was fairly light.

Here’s an interesting building on the corner of 152nd and Amsterdam.  I have no idea what it was — please write in and tell me if you do!

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Now, I DO know what this next building is, found on Amsterdam between 151st and 152nd — the Joseph Loth & Co. Silk Ribbon Factory:

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If you look really closely, you can just read “Joseph Loth & Co.” spelled out in bricks under the chimney.

Check out this New York Times article from 1986 for more about Joseph Loth and his ribbons.

Next site is City College (141st – 130th Streets) — can you believe how intricate and elegant this public institution of higher learning is?  Founded in 1847 by Townshend Harris to serve all students, regardless of race, religion and wealth, he yearned to create an institution that would “know of no distinction save that of industry, good conduct and intellect.” (This was in direct opposition to the implicit mandate of nearby Columbia University that was, at the time, mostly restricted to the sons of wealthy Protestants.)  The Neo-Gothic portion of the campus was built in the early 1900s and remains impressive today.

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Now did you know that on 126th Street and Amsterdam you can buy your own live poultry?

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This place has been around for as long as I can remember and I’ve always been curious about it, but have never had the courage to go inside.  I mean, can you just take the live birds with you and butcher them in the privacy of your own home?  Or do you watch them butcher them in front of you?  Either way, thinking about this too much makes me want to go full vegan.  (But I’m okay with buying dead chickens and turkeys as long as they are cleanly wrapped in plastic from the supermarket.  I know, hypocrite.)

Here’s our first siting of anything Aqueduct-relevant for a few miles — the circa 1894 119th Street Gatehouse:

Here’s a recent article from the New York Times detailing the city’s plan to turn this landmarked building into a cafe/restaurant.  I love the idea of repurposing old things as long as their history is respected.

Moving on down Amsterdam, we pass the stately campus of Columbia University, no longer restricted to the sons of wealthy Protestants:

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Down three blocks, at 113th Street is the terminus of the brick tunnel of the Aqueduct.  Built in 1874, this Gatehouse marks the spot where the brick tunnel was replaced by piping in the 1860s – 1870s.

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Next up is the divine St. John the Divine, one of the most impressive cathedrals I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a few in my time!)

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We stepped inside for a moment, but there’s an admission fee and none of us had cash, so we just took a quick look at the few stained glass windows we could see and kept going.

Two blocks down, at 107th and Amsterdam, is New York City’s only Youth Hostel, catering to backpackers and bargain-hunting tourists alike.  We noted that the Victorian-looking red brick building had begun life in 1883 as a Residence for Respectable Aged Indigent Females.  We couldn’t help wondering what constituted “Respectable” in those days, and how one would prove respectability.  And can you imagine being turned away because you were not deemed respectable?  New York was a heartless place.

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The next Aqueduct clues we found were embedded into the sidewalk just as you enter Central Park at 85th Street:

It’s funny to think that I grew up right near here and probably walked over these manhole covers many times without realizing it.  Perhaps that partially explains my fascination with the Aqueduct?

Now we’re closing in on the first of three reservoirs that held what Lydia Maria Child, an author of some renown, gushed about in 1842: “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!”

Only one reservoir still exists today, the one now called the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir (in honor of her efforts to save this and other historical sites around Manhattan):

But, if you know where to look, you can see the remains of the other two reservoirs.  The first was located on what is now the Great Lawn, just south of the Jackie Onassis reservoir.

Here’s what it originally looked like, as noted on Oscar Hinrich’s 1875 map of Central Park:

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You can see it was smaller and much more geometric compared to the pond-like reservoir to the north.  Originally called the York Hill Reservoir, it was completed in 1842 and featured 38 foot high walls that were 20 feet thick at the base.

We found the remains of the stone walls at the northern end, abutting the NYC Park Police station:

And then to the south, just barely peeking out of the ground right in front of the Delacorte Theatre:

Crossing Central Park, we ran straight down 5th Avenue all the way to 42nd Street.  Unsurprisingly, there are no indications of anything Aqueduct along this dense, built up section of Manhattan.

But, when you get to the New York Public Library, if you ask the nice lady at the Information desk, she might take you to the staircase down to the basement that features  the remains of the original reservoir that stood here and received the first blessings of the Croton Aqueduct on October 14, 1842.

First, here are a couple of shots of the reservoir in its glory:

And here’s what’s left:

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Pretty cool that they repurposed it for the foundation of the library, no?

So there you have it.  A 41-mile engineering marvel that changed the lives of millions, hidden beneath our feet.  I hope you have a chance to walk over some part of this piece of American history some day.  And, as always, if I’ve left something out, or gotten something wrong, please leave me a comment!

Running Down the Old Croton Aqueduct part VI

Running Down the Old Croton Aqueduct part VI

Here’s the link to parts IV & V

Yonkers – Amsterdam and 163rd Street, Manhattan
12.25 miles

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We had hoped to make it all the way to down to 42nd Street & 5th Avenue where the Old Croton Aqueduct once disgorged itself into the reservoir there, but we ran out of steam.  (And cell phone battery power!)  You’ll note the squiggly bit in the middle, just south of Van Cortlandt Park?  That’s where we got rather lost and probably added a couple of miles to our route.

This part of the Aqueduct, while fairly well-marked in places, is difficult to follow.  Part of this is due to the fact that the Mosholu and the Major Deegan cut across it, but part of it just due to the fact that you’re running through streets and it’s tricky to look at your map.

We started in Yonkers on a clear, windy morning (it happened to be the morning of the Yonkers marathon, too, so people kept cheering us on even though we were way off course!)

Here’s where we ended our last post:

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And here’s where we began today:

img_3778.jpgYup, it’s the same place!  The few miles are a secluded trail that I definitely would not run alone. It’s well-marked, but . . .

And the trail is littered with trash both big and small . . .

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There’s a little bit of running along a road, but you can duck into Tibbetts Brook Park and keep following this lovely, bucolic trail, peopled by runners from Fordham University and Holy Ghost Prep (is that for real?)

When you cross the border from Westchester into New York City, you’ll see a fancy carved stone indicating said border, and the first of several informational signs.

It really is hard to believe that you’re in a city!

There’s another old Weir, unused for decades now (the Old Croton Aqueduct was taken out of service by 1965 when the New Croton Aqueduct was completed.)  But it had a good run, regulating the water going to the city for over a hundred years.

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Running through Van Cortlandt Park was lovely, even though we were close enough to the Mosholu to see an accident and traffic jam at one point.  There’s a section of the Aqueduct that you can’t run over, so we kept following the trail south, which just seemed logical, when we really should have taken another route.

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(Note to self, next time follow the arrow north to the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail South.)

We parallel the golf course, waving to some intrepid golfers out on a 45* morning, and found ourselves on Van Cortlandt Park South Avenue.  This is where we took a little unscheduled tour of the Kingsbridge area of the Bronx.  We finally found our way to the Jerome Park Reservoir and made it back onto the Aqueduct.  Here are a couple of gatehouses for the reservoir.

And here is another historical marker:

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After that, the trail and the Aqueduct stay together, marvelously straight and true through the Bronx.  There’s an interesting bit near Fordham University where the Aqueduct cuts between buildings, and features custom-made manhole covers!

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A bit off the Aqueduct, right at the intersection between Kingsbridge Road and Grand Concourse is the site of Edgar Allan Poe’s cottage, where he lived from the 1840s until his death:

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Poe’s wife Virginia died in this very cottage in 1847 (but not on this very site, as the cottage was moved to its current location in the early 1900s.)  Supposedly Poe wrote one his last poems, “Annabel Lee” here in in 1849, a poem likely about his wife Virginia.   (Note to self, go back and recite “Annabel Lee” here next time.)  Poe also enjoyed the (newly finished!) Aqueduct, taking long walks along it to clear his mind for writing.

I feel I would be remiss if I did not warn you that the Aqueduct Avenue section is dodgy at best.  I am not easily shocked, but running past a fellow in the midst of shooting up right there in the park was a gritty piece of reality.

Aqueduct Avenue turns into Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and thence into University Avenue.  Following that, running along sidewalks and taking some turns here and there, you’ll make it to the High Bridge, only recently renovated and re-opened to the public.  As the historical marker tells you, built in 1848 it’s the oldest bridge in New York.  You can read more details here on Wikipedia.

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I was stoked to make it here, as I’ve wanted to walk over the High Bridge since it re-opened.

There are some interesting historical medallions inset into the bridge, and I used the last of my cell phone battery juice to photograph them:

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After crossing the High Bridge, we decided that we’d run enough.  So, we hopped on the subway at Amsterdam and 163rd.  Recently renovated, this is one of the nicest NYC subway stations I’ve ever been in!

Stay tuned for the next and last leg of our Aqueduct journey where we will run from Amsterdam and 163rd down to the New York Public Library on 42nd Street & 5th Avenue.

Here’s the link to part VII, the final leg of our journey.

Running Down the Old Croton Aqueduct parts IV & V

Running Down the Old Croton Aqueduct  parts IV & V

Here’s the link to part III

Tarrytown to Hastings-on-Hudson (4 miles) and Hastings to Yonkers (4.6 miles)

img_1402.jpgStopping point from the last section (Rockefeller State Park to Tarrytown)

Tarrytown to Hastings:

Full disclosure — this post is a bit of a cheat, because we ran the Tarrytown to Hastings section way back in May 2018, but I never got around to posting about it specifically.  So I’m combining both sections here.

The first section, Tarrytown to Hastings, is chock full of history, so sit back, relax and enjoy the trip!

Starting in Tarrytown, we started about a block down the street (Rt. 119) from where we ended the last time.  Parking at the Doubletree Hotel, just off Broadway, we followed the sidewalk south across the Thruway ramp and easily saw the OCA signage to our right. (I’d say you can’t miss it, but that’s always a dicey thing to promise.) Almost right away, the first sight you see is financier Jay Gould’s Gothic Revival mansion, Lyndhurst.  It’s really quite fun to run across the expansive lawn with the mansion in the background – you feel rather like a trespasser.  (Check out the Lyndhurst site here.)

Next up is Washington Irving’s home, “Sunnyside,” – you won’t actually pass by it close enough to see it, but know that it’s nearby and look out for Rip Van Winkle!

After crossing two streets, you’ll see a carousel-like octagonal structure – the Armour-Stiner (Octagon) House:

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Built in 1860, it is apparently the only octagonal, domed, colonnaded private home that looks rather like a Roman temple ever built.  The theory went that octagonal homes offered more light, air and space.  Guess not.  But do check out this website that gives a far more detailed history of the house, and shares delightful stories that involve a Finnish explorer, a female pirate, a poet and a ghost.

Next up is Villa Lewaro, Madam CJ Walker’s estate.  Read my blog post here for more on that story.

Just a half-mile or so further on is the Nevis Estate, now owned by Columbia University and home to the Columbia-Nevis laboratories.  There’s a solid brick mansion with white columns on the right side of the trail that was built by Colonel James Hamilton III, son of Alexander Hamilton, in 1835.  (Nevis, of course, was the Caribbean island where Hamilton père was born.  For more information, please download Hamilton the musical.)

Mercy College is next, and a good spot to find water and a bathroom.

Finally, about a mile south from Mercy, at 15 Walnut Street, Dobbs Ferry, is the Aqueduct Keeper’s house.  Headquarters for the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park and an historic site in its own right, it’s an interesting stop. Check out their website here for hours and exhibits.

Another ¼ mile or so gets you to Villard Avenue where we stopped and turned around many months ago.

Fast forward to a clear, slightly humid Saturday morning in September 2018 when we parked on Villard Avenue and headed south to Yonkers before turning back to our car.

The Aqueduct heads down through residential areas, crossing streets every thousand feet or so.IMG_3519

You’re treated to some lovely views along the way, both down the streets to the river:

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and through the trees across the river to the Palisades:

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The first really exciting place (to me) is the Untermeyer Gardens Conservancy:

IMG_3522 View  from the Aqueduct just past dawn . . .

The country home of Samuel Untermyer from 1899 – 1940, the recently (and impeccably!) restored park features impressive gardens, sculptures and outbuildings.  The main park entry is on North Broadway, but you can get in through this gate adjacent to the Aqueduct.  (Definitely going back here to browse through the gardens!)  Samuel Untermyer, BTW, was a famous corporate lawyer, the first one, in fact, to earn a fee of one million dollars on a single case!  He became an aggressive trustbuster in his prime, which makes me like him all the more.

The trail is lined with elegant old houses:

But the way is mostly cool, shaded and soft grassy trails:

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Here’s another weir, a structure built directly over the aqueduct that functioned as little dams to allow the flowing water to be diverted, slowed or sped up.  This one, like the others, was probably built in the 1880s and was closed in 1965 when the aqueduct was decommissioned.  (Yes, folks, NYC no longer gets its water through an early 19th century brick tunnel.)  Unlike the Ossining Weir which you can visit, this one is sealed up tight, no chance of getting inside and looking around.  (In case you were curious.)

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Another couple of interesting sites you’ll pass, but that are easy to miss from the Aqueduct, is the back side of the Lenoir Preserve, , a nature center created by combining Lenoir and Ardenwold, two golden age estates.  A little further south is Alder Manor, the former country estate of William Boyce Thompson, a tycoon who made his fortune in mines and money.  Built by the famed architectural firm of Carrere & Hastings, the Thompson family lived there until the 1950s, when their property was inherited by the Archdiocese of New York and became the Mary Elizabeth Seton High School.  Declared a National Historic Site in 1982, much of the land has been subdivided and developed and today the mansion is owned by the Tara Circle.  It’s apparently in dire need of repair, so in order to raise funds, the mansion is rented out for events and movie shoots.  According to Wikipedia, “Mona Lisa Smile” and “A Beautiful Mind” were shot here.

One last place of interest is an old stone building that stretches for about a hundred feet along the Aqueduct somewhere around either the Lenoir Preserve or Alder Manor.

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I clambered over poison ivy to take this shot through one of the shattered, but still barred, windows.  Looks like an old stable to me — what do you think?

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In Yonkers, the Aqueduct gets a bit difficult to follow as development has cut it into piecemeal bits.  But here we are at the intersection of North Broadway and Ashburton.  We plan to start here next time and run all the way down to the city.

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Here’s the link to part VI

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 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?