The Croton Aqueduct, Part I

The Croton Aqueduct is a favorite for local runners. It’s actually a 41-mile long narrow, ribbon of a park that stretches from the Croton Dam to mid-Manhattan. Unpaved, flat, protected, and with a gradual downhill incline, it used to bring water from the Croton Reservoir all the way into Manhattan.

It’s really one of the great engineering feats of the 19th century, so I can’t let this opportunity pass without giving you a thumbnail sketch of this marvel.

Now, technically it is known as the “Old Croton Aqueduct,” hence the “OCA” signposts you’ll see periodically along the way. It was built between 1837 and 1842 and was in use until about 1890 when the New Croton Dam and Aqueduct were built.

Finding enough fresh water was a huge problem for 19th century Manhattan, as its population exploded after the Revolutionary War.  Also, despite the fact that the Romans had managed to invent and build sewers in their cities centuries earlier, this vital piece of technological evolution hadn’t made it to the New World and so their sanitation was not really up to snuff in those days.  Yup, early New Yorkers just emptied their chamber pots onto the streets, relieved themselves in cesspools, and had horses fouling the roads, all of which (and more) trickled into the wells, cisterns and underground springs that provided drinking water. Not surprisingly, people were getting sick and dying from all sorts of loathsome diseases that come from imbibing a side of e coli with breakfast – epidemics like yellow fever and cholera were rampant.

So, in 1833, the city engaged Major David Bates Douglas, formerly an engineering professor at West Point, to survey a route and oversee the massive project.  Imagine the bushwhacking his team had to do back then, coming all the way down from Croton on horseback, choosing a route, going through peoples’ farms and estates, making exact measurements, setting spikes. That certainly is a story in itself . . .

Anyway, for reasons I haven’t discovered in my sitting-on-the-couch-and-looking-through-the-Internet research, Douglas was fired in 1837 (and went off to become President of Kenyon College as one does), and an Engineer named John B. Jervis took over. He saw this project through to the end (and got his name on the plaques), building a dam (the Old Croton Dam), digging tunnels,  laying pipe, creating reservoirs, building bridges – when you stop to think about, this was a Herculean effort! And just think — it was all likely done entirely by hand – they might have had some sort of steam shovels/excavators back then, but probably not. Hey, the Irish were much cheaper.

The plan was that the water would come down to the city via the aqueduct and pause in the Receiving Reservoir. That still exists, and you’ve probably seen it if you’ve ever visited Central Park — it’s the body of water in the middle of the park, now called the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. No longer used as part of the water system, it’s just a cool, 1.8 mile jogging track around a manmade lake in the upper middle of Manhattan.

The water then traveled downtown to the Distributing Reservoir located on what is now the site of the New York Public Library — 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. This was a massive structure, Egyptian in both size and design.  Check out this drawing:

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

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

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The Aqueduct began carrying water to the city in June of 1842, and officially opened on October 14, 1842 to great hoopla.

Lydia Maria Child, an author of some renown, wrote about this day: “Oh, who that has not been shut up in the great prison-cell of a city, and made to drink of its brackish springs, can estimate the blessings of the Croton Aqueduct? Clean, sweet, abundant, water!”

(It seems so quaint, her excitement at fresh water, but I bet the citizens of Cape Town, South Africa would echo these emotions today.   As of this writing, they’re about a month away from running out of water.)

Here’s a ribbon that was printed for the “Introduction of the Croton Water” to Manhattan:

Silk Ribbon from Croton Aqueduct Celebration

from the New York Historical Society website — Gift of the Virginia Historical Society

Okay, so this has become less of a thumbnail and more of a straight out history lesson, sorry about that. But can you tell I find the Croton Aqueduct fascinating?  (Here’s an excellent blog post about all of the above, with much more detail and lots of pictures.  Enjoy!)

Tune in next time to read more about the Aqueduct and the running project I’ve been pursuing (on and off) for the past year — to run the length of the Aqueduct.

Here’s the link to part II.

 

 

Lorraine Hansberry Lived in Croton!

Lorraine Hansberry Lived in Croton!

Do you know who she is? Lorraine Hansberry? She was an African-American playwright whose most famous play, “A Raisin in the Sun” opened on Broadway in 1959.

IMG_1112Copy of Playbill from the original Broadway production on display at the the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

If you weren’t forced to read the play in high school or college, you’ve probably run across it somehow — the play was revived in 2014 with Denzel Washington.

IMG_1113Copy of Playbill  from the 2014 revival on display at the the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

There’s also a movie of it out there, starring Sidney Poitier.   It was pretty groundbreaking for its time.

Here’s the cover of the play, with a photo of Lorraine Hansberry taken in Croton-on-Hudson:

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Anyway, today I had one of those moments where the universe creates perfect synchronicity, and it all had to do with Lorraine and Croton and running.

At the first waterstop this morning (the Taconic Road Runners thoughtfully put out water and Gatorade every Saturday morning for the group run ), I asked my friend Fran if she would be up for changing up our route a little to run past what I thought was Lorraine Hansberry’s house. “It’s on Bridge Road,” I said, “Just down the hill from the Danish Home.”

“Bridge Lane,” corrected another woman at the waterstop. “It’s Bridge Lane — I know, because I live there!”

“Oh wow, what a coincidence!”  I said, while guzzling icy-cold orange Gatorade.  “Do you happen to know where Lorraine Hansberry’s house is, then? I think I’ve found the address but I’m not sure.”

“Well, funny you should ask – I live in her house.”

I was floored. What? WHAT? No way! I’ve never seen this runner lady before and yet there she was, overhearing my conversation with Fran and living in Lorraine Hansberry’s house!

We chatted for a bit, and then ran off in opposite directions, but we had her blessing to go and take a gander at her house. (To be honest, I’d done a drive by on Friday and snapped this picture with my phone.)

Hansberry House

Now, according to a recent PBS American Masters documentary titled “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart,” Hansberry supposedly called her home in Croton “Chitterling Heights.” All sorts of literati came up from New York City to visit.  (Croton has long been a haven for artists and activists – Lillian Nordica, Isadora Duncan, Gloria Swanson, John Reed, Max Eastman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Lorraine Hansberry are just a few who settled here.  Don’t worry, I’ll be running by their houses and blogging about them too!)

Hansberry and her husband Robert Nemiroff moved to Croton in about 1961. Not only were they both artists (he wrote “Cindy, oh Cindy,” a Top 40 song, among other things.  Here’s his obituary for more), but both were activists, especially dedicated to causes that promoted racial and sexual equality.   Fun fact – in 1964, Hansberry was integral in organizing and participating in one of the first fundraisers in the New York City area for the civil rights movement, held at Croton’s Temple Israel.   (The 1963 Birmingham church bombings catalyzed many on the East Coast.)   She was the MC of the event, and brought in other like-minded celebrities, including Ossie Davis, James Baldwin, and Judy Collins. They raised over $11,000 for organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality – Freedom Summer voter registration project (CORE), the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the NAACP.

Some of the money raised went towards the purchase of a Ford station wagon for the Freedom Riders Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, men who were subsequently murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi. (More info here and here.)

If you’re so inclined, here’s a link to the PBS documentary.  Fast forward to about 1:19 in if you want to learn more about Hansberry’s Croton years and the fate of that Ford station wagon . . .)

Tragically, Hansberry died in 1965 at the age of 34 from pancreatic cancer.  She is buried in Croton-on-Hudson in the Bethel Cemetery.

Hansberry grave

 

 

 

 

 

 

116 Hawkes Avenue – The Corliss Lamont Estate

116 Hawkes Avenue – The Corliss Lamont Estate

BLOG POST:  116 Hawkes Avenue — The Corliss Lamont Estate

Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 7.03.47 PM116 Hawkes Avenue is for sale. 13 bedrooms, 8 baths for $1,999,222.  Check out the link here.

This is also informally known as the “Lamont Estate,” once owned by the progressive activist and intellectual Corliss Lamont. It’s funny – I’ve had a draft of this post simmering for about a year now, ever since I joined the American Civil Liberties Union, but it wasn’t until this “For Sale” sign went up that I was inspired to post.

The realtor is pitching this as a “Wonderful opportunity to develop over 19 acres of rolling property. . .” – GRRR! Like Hawkes Avenue needs any more development right now! (See my blog 87HawkesAvenue.com for more on the topic.)

But the story of Corliss Lamont is one that deserves telling. Something about the idea of sub-dividing this estate makes me feel (irrationally, I admit) like his legacy is somehow being diminished. I mean, he was a deep thinking activist who fought long and hard to protect those liberties enshrined in our Constitution, as well as an intellectual who was forever striving to improve humanity.  His reach was long and his connections were extensive.

I’ll let his website start us off:

Corliss

Corliss Lamont (1902-1995) was a 20th century American hero whose independent thinking challenged prevailing ideas in philosophy, economics, religion, patriotism, world peace and the exercise of our cherished civil liberties.

 Corliss Lamont was born to Wall Street wealth, yet he championed the cause of the working class, and was derided as a “Socialist” and a “traitor to his class.”

 Corliss Lamont’s Humanist belief that earthlings have evolved without supernatural intervention and are responsible for their own survival on this planet caused traditionalists to label him a “godless atheist.”

Okay, first, how ironic is it that that Dr. Andrija Puharich lived right across the street at 87 Hawkes Avenue – a man whose life work involved proving that extraterrestrials have intervened over the centuries to help human beings evolve and survive. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out my blog post on Puharich here.) You have to wonder if Corliss and Andrija ever hung out in the 1960s and ’70s and just rapped until the wee hours  . . .   Can you imagine it?  Boy, would I ever have liked to have been a fly on that wall!

Anyway, let’s unpack the information from Lamont’s website: “Born to Wall Street wealth,” it asserts. Well, yes sir, that is no less than the truth. His father was none other than Thomas Lamont, a partner and later Chairman at J.P. Morgan. In fact, he was the acting head of J.P. Morgan the day the stock market began crashing in 1929, and famously rallied other Wall Street firms to join forces with him and purchase massive amounts of stocks in an attempt to stabilize the market.  Alas, the market was too far gone. (Earlier, in 1910, Thomas Lamont took part in a secret meeting on Jekyll Island to help create the Federal Reserve System. I know, financial history is a snooze, but Frank Vanderlip was there and he lived nearby in Scarborough! Blog post on him to come soon.) Let’s just say money was in the blood.

Son Corliss followed in his father’s footsteps to Phillips Exeter Academy and thence to Harvard, but that’s where the similarities end. No doubt Thomas would have welcomed his son to Wall Street, but Corliss had other interests. After Harvard, he studied at Oxford University (where he roomed with Aldous Huxley’s brother Julian), earned a Ph.D from Columbia University, and went on to teach philosophy at various Ivy League universities. Philosophy was also in his blood — his mother, Florence Corliss Lamont, earned an M.A. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1898. She later donated the estate that today houses the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.

Now’s as good a time as any to talk about Corliss’ avowed Socialist/Communist/Marxist leanings. It is true that in Corliss wrote an admiring book about the USSR describing how they had turned their feudal society into a modern one in a remarkably short time. It is also true that in 1937 he helped found a short-lived magazine called the Marxist Quarterly that delved into the theory and practice of socialism and communism. It is further true that he was the Chairman of the group “Friends of the Soviet Union.” But here’s some context on all this: the seeming failure of capitalism in the West, as evidenced by the enduring hardships of the Depression, caused many intellectuals to look positively at the Soviet Union and communism in general in the 1930s and ‘40s.  Worker’s rights and the ideal of a more equitable society was very appealing at the time.  However, Corliss and others gradually became disenchanted with the Soviet Union as stories of Josef Stalin’s brutality and events like the Moscow Trials came to light.

(Another Fun Fact: Corliss was a prolific pamphlet writer and one of them, “Basic Pamphlet 14, The Crime Against Cuba,” was distributed by none other than Lee Harvey Oswald on the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, during the summer of 1963! According to the Corliss Lamont website, the CIA purchased 45 copies of the pamphlet and it was ended up as Exhibit No. 3120 in the Warren Commission Report on JFK’s assassination. Want to know more?   Click on this link.)

Okay, back to the chronology:  In the 1930s, Corliss became director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU.) You must have heard of it — it’s a non-profit organization founded in 1920 to, as their website says, “Defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” They’ve defended the rights of anti-war protesters, striking workers, teachers who teach about evolution (the Scopes Monkey trial anyone?) the Ku Klux Klan, refugees – basically anyone anywhere in the United States whose civil liberties are threatened.

In the 1950s, Corliss (and many others) were hauled in front of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s infamous committee and asked the notorious question “Are you now or have you ever been a Communist?” Refusing to answer, Lamont creatively invoked not the usual Fifth Amendment that protects a citizen from incriminating himself, but the First Amendment that guarantees free speech. He was cited for contempt of Congress and faced prison time. He sued the government and remarkably, after several years, won.   In fact, he successfully sued the government several more times, taking at least two of these cases to the Supreme Court. (Yet another Fun Fact: according to a neighbor, in the 1960s unmarked cars were often seen parked near the driveway entrance to 116 – keeping Corliss under surveillance for his anti-Vietnam war stance, and pro-Cuba leanings, I guess.)

In later years, 116 Hawkes Avenue was the location for anti-war concerts and gatherings – I’m told Pete Seeger played here, along with other like-minded folk artists. His foundation, the Half-Moon, hosted Humanist weddings and events there up until the 1990s.

Corliss Lamont passed away at 116 Hawkes in 1995.

 

 

 

 

Danish Home/Town of Cortlandt Historical Markers

Danish Home/Town of Cortlandt Historical Markers

If you’re a member of the Taconic Road Runners Club, here’s a pretty typical Saturday morning discussion enjoyed at the 1st water stop, over a plastic cup of tepid Gatorade:

“Let’s run across the Dam, then up to Danish and back to the Pumphouse.  That should get us 11 miles and if anyone needs more, they can add on at the end.”

Yeah, that’s pretty inside baseball (to mix a metaphor), so let me explain.  The Taconics have a Saturday long training run every week, rain or shine. We start at the Pumphouse bridge just off Route 129, someone volunteers to put out water and Gatorade, and folks just show up and run anywhere from 6 to 26 miles. (Check out the link here for more details.) The fact that I run with the TRRC pretty regularly is the reason I started this blog.

But this is about area history, not my running habits.

The above-mentioned “Danish” means the Danish Home, a nursing home/assisted living facility nestled off Quaker Bridge Road East, just off Quaker Ridge Road. And that is all I know about it. It even sports a tiny, wee historical marker that I’ve never investigated until now.

Perhaps you’ve seen one of these little sign in your travels through the Town of Cortlandt?  (This one is located right by the Quaker Bridge.)

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Here’s the one installed in front of the Danish Home site:

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For someone who purports to be interested in history, it’s a pretty large oversight that I have not investigated the historical markers dotted around the Ossining History on the Run area. Because, thought they are practically invisible and take a few steps to access, they do exist. They’re part of a virtual tour organized by the Town of Cortlandt and hosted by Otocast, a free app you can download. (See here for the iTunes link and here for the Android link.)  The idea is that you wave your smartphone over the QR code on the marker (oh, did I mention you should also have a QR code reader app installed on your smartphone?) and it will link you to the Otocast app and give you a paragraph of information about the site.

It’s a nice concept, I suppose, but the fact of the matter is that a) You need a smartphone b) You need to have downloaded the above-mentioned apps, and c) You need to actually SEE these practically camouflaged signs. Of course, you can follow the tour online through the app, but the sites are not really ordered in a logical fashion, so it’s a bit tedious to figure out what and where the site is located. Give me those old fashioned Historical Register signs!!

Needless to say, these are my excuses for not having investigated this site before. But, better late than never.

So, let’s talk about the Danish Home, a retirement residence located at 1065 Quaker Bridge Road East in Croton-on-Hudson. According to the Otocast app, which links to Danishhome.org, the Danish Home is the “Former home of financier J.M. Kaplan. The Danish Home moved to its present location, in Croton-on-Hudson, NY, in 1954 . . . The picturesque buildings were modeled after the farmsteads of Europe.”

Hmm, okay. But who was J.M. Kaplan? Well, here’s a 1987 New York Times obituary about Jacob Merrill Kaplan that tells the story of his interesting life.

The Danish Home website also gives a pretty thorough accounting:

“The present-day Danish Home was originally part of the vast holdings of the Purdy family.  Francis Purdy was born in Yorkshire, England.  He came to this country in 1632 and acquired land in Fairfield, Connecticut and in Westchester County.  He died in 1653.  The Purdy family scattered far and wide. 

 Many descendants still live in Westchester County, one branch moved to Long Island, and one “Loyalist” branch of the family moved to Canada after the War of Independence.  In the 1920s, the Danish Home property was owned by Frederick Purdy.  In the period 1930-31, Jacob Merrill Kaplan (1891-1987) purchased a large parcel, including “The Old Purdy House” on Quaker Ridge Road.

J.M. Kaplan was a successful New York businessman.  He is credited with saving the grape juice industry by creating the National Grape Cooperative Association, Inc.  In 1956 he sold the Welch Grape Juice Company – where he held a controlling interest – to the Association.  In 1945, Mr. Kaplan established the J. M. Kaplan Fund, which was a major donor to the New School in Manhattan (where Mr. Kaplan served as board chairman for twenty years), Carnegie Hall (which he helped save), and numerous environmental and humanitarian causes.  He was also a supporter of the progressive Hessian Hill School in the Mt. Airy section of Croton, established in 1927 by Elizabeth Moos.

In 1934, the Kaplan family started building a classical farm on the property, while still residing in “The Old Purdy House.”  The architect, Alfred Gray, designed the buildings in the style of the chateaus of Normandy, France.  As it turned out, the building also resembles a traditional Danish farm with four attached buildings surrounding a central courtyard and an arched entrance.  From 1934-1938 the buildings were solely used for agricultural purposes, housing horses, cows, sheep, pigs and chickens.  The present Room 6 was a separate building used as a manure shed.  Farm machinery was stored in the east wing, where three impressive arches formed the entrances.

In 1938 the family converted the building into a residential home.  The cow shed became the dining room and the horse barn the living room, elegantly finished with a cathedral ceiling, parquet floors and oak-panels.  The manure shed was converted into a studio for Mrs. Kaplan, who was an artist.  The fountain in the cobblestone courtyard was imported from France, some of the stones came from Belgium, and some interior materials were from Germany.  A caretaker’s apartment had been established earlier on the second floor, above the entrance.

The gardener’s cottage used to have a large attached green house, the foundation of which is still visible.  There was a large vegetable garden next to the cottage, and an orchard was established in the meadow sloping down to the barn.

The Kaplan family split up the property and sold it in 1942.  The parcel, which was to become The Danish Home, changed ownership several times, until, in 1948, the Ramble Hill Resort Club, owned by Mr. Gualtorio Ullman, took over the approx. 50-acre property.  Mr. Ullman ran the establishment for six years as an exclusive holiday retreat and reception hall with horse riding, a tennis court and a swimming pool on the grounds.  Some of the stables and barns were converted into bedrooms to house the guests.  Reportedly, the resort also played host to Jewish refugees in the late 1940s.  However, the place turned out to be unprofitable, and Mr. Ullman sold it to the Danish Home for $180,000.”

And there you go. All you ever wanted or needed to know about the Danish Home.

I think my work here is done.

 

 

 

Glendale Racetrack

Glendale Racetrack

Did you know that there was a harness racetrack near the corner of Glendale and Spring Valley Roads?  I heard about it in passing a while ago, but was never exactly sure where it would have been located.  However, I figured it would have been set far back from today’s road and on private property, so I fought my inclination to bushwhack back there and see what I could find.  Plus, it was active in about the 1850 – 70s, so there’s probably not much left to see now.

Still, I’ve had this post simmering for a while now, but someone sent me this image of an old handbill they found on the Internets, so I just had to get serious about writing it up:

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If you have $1250 lying around, this poster might even still be for sale.  Check out the link here.

Imagine —  “The Trot of the Season”!!  Right here in Ossining (or is it New Castle?)!  A $2000 purse!  And a “Beautiful Shady Picnic Area”!

It’s so strange to think of this spot supporting what must have been quite a sizable event (remember, $2000 in 1853 dollars is about $58,000 today!) because now this is a very secluded, quiet area.  I can’t imagine hordes of people descending here for gambling and horse racing.  But obviously they did.

For those of you in the know, of course you’ll recognize Flora Temple — why she’s the horse mentioned in the song “Camptown Races”:

Camptown ladies sing this song,
Doo-da, Doo-da
The Camptown racetrack’s five miles long
Oh, doo-da day

Goin’ to run all night
Goin’ to run all day
I bet my money on a bob-tailed nag
Somebody bet on the bay

So, we weren’t the Camptown Races, and I don’t know if the Glendale track was five miles long, but old Flora Temple is in the Hall of Fame in the Harness Racing Museum located in Goshen, NY.  (I know, right?  This is a thing?)   According to their website:  “When Flora Temple had raced her last race in 1861, she had appeared in 112 events, won 95 of them, and raced to wagon in record time of 2:19 3/4 at Kalamazoo, Michigan at the age of fourteen. She became a national favorite and her docked tail inspired a famous folk-song refrain ‘bet my money on the bob-tailed mare.'”

And she was right here!!!

Take a look at this 1867 map from DeBeer’s Atlas.  See Glendale Park circled in red?  That’s where the race track was.

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Sadly, I’ve been told there’s apparently no sign of the racetrack anymore — “flooded by beavers,” is the story, so there you go.

But still, I’m trying to imagine that Wednesday in June, 1853, when Flora Temple raced Highland Maid for a $2,000 purse.  First, who would have been free to carouse at a racetrack in the middle of week?  Not likely the farmers in the neighborhood, who were busy growing things like peas, potatoes, barley, buckwheat, flax, apples and hops, not to mention raising dairy cattle for cheese and milk and butter.  (Check out the agricultural census from 1850 for this very area!)  Who, then, would have filled this bucolic corner with wagons and buggies, and have had cash lining their pockets and a burning desire to put it all down on a horse race?  I see women in bonnets, full skirts and and lace gloves, gossiping around a wooden stand selling cold lemonade, with ice sawed from the Hudson over the previous winter and stored in nearby stone icehouse.  Perhaps they are talking about the absence of the new First Lady, Jane Pierce, from the White House due to the tragic death of her 11-year old son Benjamin in a freak train accident.  (“I heard that both the President and the First Lady witnessed his head bounce down the aisle after their car derailed and plunged down an embankment outside of Boston.”)  Nearby, men in high collars and black frock coats are indulging in cider and beer and talking of politics:

“How about this new President, Franklin Pierce?  Gotta be an improvement on Millard Fillmore — that man was so dull and incompetent that even his own party wouldn’t nominate him again!”

“But d’you think this unknown Pierce can really deliver peace and prosperity like he promised? They all say that.  And what about war between the states?  Is the danger really over?”

“And can this slavery issue just fade away?  I’m so sick of hearing about it,”  said with a furtive glance to the black men hauling ice and tending to the meat roasting on spits.

The “refreshments” promised were likely an assortment of local delicacies, like freshly shucked oysters, clam broth and pea soup.   The smell of roasting meat must have filled the air, and the tables groaned with thick cuts of cornbread accompanied by jugs of maple syrup, bowls of mashed turnips and potatoes, spring peas in butter sauce, boiled spinach with slices of hard boiled egg on top, succotash and apple sauce.  On the dessert table, spice cakes and sugar cookies, pound cakes and strawberries for a few cents a plate.  But the most popular item of all would have been the vanilla ice cream from the hand cranked ice cream machine, and topped with stewed raspberries.

Perhaps.  Who’s to say for sure?

But who built the racetrack?  Who owned it?  Who came to watch the races, and from whence did they come?

I have no clue.  To be honest, I haven’t dug that deep into this specific site, save to find it on a map.  So, if anyone has any further information to add to this story, please comment below!

The Hunterbrook Rock Shelter

The Hunterbrook Rock Shelter

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I ran my first half-marathon eleven years ago, a race sponsored by the now-defunct MORE Magazine involving two soul-killing loops around Central Park. I ran it with my friend Lynette, and, as I recall, we did almost all of our training on a 4.5 mile loop around a section of the Croton reservoir off Route 129. We’d say “Hunterbrook tomorrow at 8am?” and would meet, rain or shine, in the tiny parking area at the top of Hunterbrook Road. We’d keep the reservoir on our left until we hit 129 again, then cross the bridge to complete the circle back to our cars. Fairly flat and generally shaded, it was a perfect introduction to training. When we needed to up our distance, we just did a second and (only once!) a third loop.

This, too, was the beginning of my habit of running by something unusual, wondering what it was in the moment, and then forgetting about it until the next time.

Here’s an inside view of that first unusual thing:

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It always looked like the mouth of a cave to me, but of course I never stopped running to investigate it. (Find the exact location of this odd group of boulders here

In the intervening years, I’ve mostly stopped running there.   So it was only recently, just by chance, that the answer to this mystery found me, in the form of a flyer for a talk being given by the Yorktown Historical Society on the “Hunterbrook Rock Shelter.” The flyer featured a photo of those very boulders I’d wondered about years ago and I immediately, unaccountably, recognized them.

Described as “a prehistoric site in our backyard which illuminates the science of archaeology and the deep past in the Lower Hudson Valley.  In 1976, Roberta Wingerson of MALFA (Museum and Laboratory For Archaeology) excavated a small cave of glacially tumbled boulders in Yorktown, not far from the Croton Dam. Her discoveries shed light on stone tool types as an indicator of culture and age, the local landscape of thousands years ago and the importance of small scale explorations by trained avocational archaeologists.”

A prehistoric site? In Westchester? The land of SUVs and Round-up and private SAT tutors? How very interesting.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to the talk, but I rode my bike out there the very next day to finally investigate the boulders. I poked around inside, even though there’s really not much room inside there to poke. I took a stick and moved some leaves aside in front of the boulders hoping to find an arrowhead or something. I sat on one of the rocks and thought about eating a Paleo bar.

At home, I did some light Googling and almost immediately came upon Roberta Wingerson’s 1976 article on the dig.  (Scroll ahead to page 19.)

And oh, I really hate to tell you this, but the article really could not be more boring.

There. I said it. It’s my dirty little secret – pre-history is just too old for me. I simply don’t find it all that engaging and Roberta Wingerson’s careful, methodical article keenly highlighted this blind spot of mine. She meticulously and thoroughly described the site (except that the map coordinates are wrong, so don’t try to use them!) and the precise method of excavation. She exhaustively discusses the stratigraphy and the soil zones and the “scattergram of artifacts.” She hypothesizes about the direction of the Ice Age-era glacier that left these boulders. She tells of the faint remains of campfires found about two feet down – “charcoal smears and lithic debris scattered onto the hard-packed surface into which were dug five hearths.”

I found myself trying to get excited about these hearths — “Feature No.1: a hearth, basin-shaped, 16 – 22 in. by 4 in. deep, almost completely ringed with stones, with burned earth on the bottom.” Well now, that is a little interesting. People made that hearth, then they burned wood in there. To cook. Or to keep themselves warm. Yup, that’s probably what it was for.

Ms. Wingerson includes several pages of photographs showing all the different types of arrowheads found in and around the shelter. Arrowheads that have been systematically identified, classified and named, indicating a sophisticated field of study I know nothing about. There’s a Madison-like point, a Lackawaxen expanded stem point, Beekman triangles, a dwindle-stemmed point – well, you get the idea.  (See page 21 of her article if you’re really keen on arrowheads.)

The fact of the matter is that I simply don’t know enough about pre-history – that is, 10,000 BC – 1,000AD – to let it capture my imagination. In my limited study of this era, it seems that all we know about these Archaic peoples is gleaned from their leavings – fragments of pottery, or rocks chipped into points, or even the occasional skeleton.

Wingerson’s article, though comprehensive, gives us no concrete information about the actual PEOPLE who left all those arrowheads and hearths. All she can do is theorize that they were nomadic, that they were likely “post-Paleo hunters following game herds migrating through the valley,” who grubbed for wild turnip and dandelions, maybe ate some oysters and mussels while sheltering under the boulders, and moved on.

However, they remain just shadows – the only tangible evidence we have of them is what they left behind. There’s just nothing there there. These spectral nomadic peoples – what did they look like? What did they wear? How did they eat their nuts and berries and oysters? Did they just huddle miserably around their smoky fires, hungry and cold, dying young of starvation or untreatable diseases, or were they a cohesive, proud, strong people who told intricate stories and sang songs?  How were they related to the Wappingers and the Algonquins who greeted Henry Hudson in 1609?  So many, too many, unknowns about these ciphers who wandered through today’s towns and villages and camped and hunted on what are now backyards and parks and highways and malls.

But, even as I tell you this doesn’t interest me much, I still was able to fall down an Internet hole and find out about other pre-historic digs that took place in the area. Digs that show fairly conclusively that our very own section of Westchester has been inhabited for at least the last 10,000 years. (Check out this link that mentions the Piping Rock dig from the 1970s – it’s now the site of Eagle Bay condominiums in Ossining!)

We “modern” humans have done so much to shape and craft this world in which we live.     Coming up against actual evidence of ancient peoples who lived before me, perhaps literally right where I live, makes me stop and think for a minute.  I go outside and squint my eyes to try and imagine what all this looked like before the houses and the roads and the electric lines and reservoirs. I try to hear the birds chirping and the leaves rustling without that constant background hum of airplanes and lawn mowers and cars.  I think about living with so few things that I could strap them on my back and walk for miles.  Eating only the food I could find or catch.  Looking to streams and lakes and rivers for my drinking water.  Being grateful to find shelter under rocks and ledges,

Several years ago, I met a Native American artist who told me that he got antsy when he spend too much time indoors. The straight lines and flat, hard surfaces gave him a headache, he said.  “In nature, you see, there are no straight lines.”

Go outside and look around — he’s right.  Nothing is exactly straight or plumb.   But I know that I feel more comfortable within the lines, both physically and historically.  I want facts and documents and pictures to clarify and outline the past.  I want to know that this happened then and it happened exactly here and this person was involved.  Trying to piece a story together from wood crumbs and rock dust seems empty and dull. And unreliable.

But really, there are no straight lines in history except for the ones we put there.

 

Spring Valley Mine

Spring Valley Mine

Running along Spring Valley Road, I’ve always been intrigued by the big mound that’s at the corner of Spring Valley and Glendale. Do you know the one I mean?

IMG_4766

But, as is so often the case with these curious and intriguing sites I run by (and really, the whole reason I started this blog), I wonder about them in the moment,  but immediately forget about them as soon as I’ve passed.  In this case, however, someone else had noticed this mound and casually mentioned that the mound was the tailings of a silver mine from the 1800s. Wait, what? A mine? A SILVER mine? Right in our neighborhood? And when in the 1800s was it worked?  By whom?

Then, more recently, in the course of hearings for the expansion of the Sunshine Home, folks started protesting about proposed digging and blasting that would take place right above this mine. (Check out this link for more details.)   Hmm, so the mine extends from Glendale almost down to Cedar Lane Park?

One local affirmed that there is indeed a mine behind the houses on Spring Valley Road.  He told me that there was an entrance on his property, and years ago he’d poked around inside the first chamber.  Then the ceiling was about 5 feet high. However, now it’s filled with sand and mud with a constant stream of water running out of it — he said he’d even rigged up a pipe to take advantage of the mine to water his garden. He also told me that he had a neighbor who had been born there in the 1920s and told stories of swimming in the mine with his brother. Ah, yes, the good old days before the kiddies were tied to their tablets and screens!

But what was the story of this mine? Was there really silver in there? Who discovered it? How much was dug out, who did the mining – oh, so many questions!

First, mining was, if not a big business in Ossining, at least fairly well established. According to this New York Times article from 1856, a productive silver mine was located  “A few rods north of the State Prison, the entrance being only a few feet from the river and on a level with the railroad. It consists of a perpendicular shaft 130 feet in depth, having as many as nine chambers or galleries branching off in various directions, and severally of 80 to 100 feet in length.”

According to this same article, silver was first found at that site in 1770. Here the reporter gets quite purple with his prose, describing how “A fisherman found near the mouth of the present shaft what proved to be a lump of silver cropping out from a limestone rock. He subsequently tried to explore further by means of a powder blast but, unfortunately, his hopes themselves were blasted . . . and the poor fisherman received no other reward than that what beneficent Nature kindly bestowed, by silvering o’er his head with age.”

Ouch, New York Times! Who knew they were so punny back in the day?

I only share this story in such detail because I think the tone of it is pretty amusing and it shows that mining, specifically silver mining, was a going concern in the area since before the Revolutionary War. The article goes on to say that the ore retrieved from that particular mine there was turned into bars of silver bullion nine to twelve inches in length.  That’s a lot of silver!  However, many, if not all of the investors were members of the British Army, so the War put a stop to mining operations.   (Sorry Redcoats!)  It wasn’t until the 1850s that mining recommenced, when patent medicine maker Benjamin Brandreth decided to try to restart the mine.

Here’s an interesting article link and a photo of the now-blocked up mine shaft.  (I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this from the train.)

Copper and lead had also been discovered in the nearby Kemey’s Cove area in the 1820s.  Called the Sparta Mine, it was excavated by the Westchester Copper Mine Company who   brought miners over from Cornwall, England to work the site.  Funny how much of Ossining seems to have been settled by people coming from far away — England, Portugal, Italy, South America, just to name a few.  But I digress . . .

Okay, these are quite nice stories, I hear you saying, but you’ve fallen into an Internet hole.  What do they have to do with a mine all the way across town on Spring Valley Road?  Well, I thought it interesting to think of Ossining, Sing Sing then, being a mining town.  Plus, it lends credence to the idea that mines were not uncommon back then.

So back to Spring Valley . . .

The Westchester County Historical Society has a photo of our Spring Valley Mine – well, at least a photo of the mine opening:

n0496

They describe it as the “Old Silver mine on Rose property on corner of Spring Valley Road and Glendale.”  I think this is located at the bottom of that mound mentioned earlier.

Gray Williams, the Town of New Castle historian, has established that a Mr. Williams (a relative perhaps?) owned property with a silver mine at #31 Spring Valley Road in the 1850s and it seems that the mines were noted between 1850-1862 on local maps.

Further research led me to another local historian who has made an exhaustive search of Westchester County records, and sheds a bit more light on this specific area.

He’s traced land ownership back to 1784, when a Lewis Miller received property in Mount Pleasant (now Ossining) from the Forfeiture committee. (I can only assume that this means the land had previously been owned by Loyalists, was seized by New York State after the Revolutionary War and auctioned off. Check out this informative article from the New York Public Library site for more information on how that all went down.)

Now, the following is pretty dry — I’m reproducing what amounts to a chain of title in rather excruciating detail because I think it clarifies the location of the Spring Valley Mine, or at the very least establishes that a mine did indeed exist.   Feel free to skip ahead . . .

Lewis Miller died in 1831 and his will instructed his executors to sell his real estate only after the death of his wife. (Considerate fellow, no?)  His legatees were told to use money from the estate to support Henry Hunter, “a colored man.” Hannah Miller, Lewis’ widow, died in 1854. Henry Hunter lived in the house on the property until his death in 1864.  (I wonder if Henry Hunter was a slave or a freeman like his neighbors up the road, the Heady family.)

Though no record of land purchase exists, in 1864, a 40 ¼ acre plot was sold to Josiah Lewis by the executors of the estate of Lewis Miller.[Liber 536, p.91] The property was described as being approximately 158 feet from the road, and near the mouth of a silver mine.  The red outline of the map below shows the boundaries of this parcel:

map

Basically, it looks like it encompassed what are today the Cedar Lane Park and Sunshine Home parcels.

Josiah Miller kept this property until 1893 when he sold it to Harry R. Miller of New York City. [Liber 1307, p.389] Harry Miller defaulted on his mortgage and the land was sold at auction to George H. Fowler in 1898. [Liber 1491, p.58] Fowler sold to Edwin McAlpin in 1905; McAlpin sold to Edgar VanEtten in 1912 and VanEtten to Russ H. Kress in 1917. (Russ Kress’ property was featured in this blog post.)

Then, there are three smaller properties along Spring Valley Road on the map above labeled R.E. Robinson, S. Lewis and J.B. Carpenter that make up the original property of William Edwards, who purchased it in 1856 from Martin W. Sanford. [Liber 360, p. 186.]  The names are hard to read, but you can take my word for it.

William Edwards sold the portion of the Edwards land labeled J.B. Carpenter, which borders the original Lewis Miller property near the location of the silver mine, to his daughter Elizabeth Ann Smith in 1879. [Liber 965, p. 366]   Neither of these deeds mention a silver mine, but in 1846 when Sanford bought the property from Richard Palmer, the deed refers to the same corner as being “near a mine hole.” [Liber 188, p. 134] When Palmer bought the land in 1843 from John Smith, the deed says that the tree at the corner is “a few feet south of the old mine.” [Liber 104, p. 213] Smith bought the land from John R. Swift in 1840, with the same wording regarding the mine in the deed. [Liber 92, p. 349] In 1837, John H. Hammond to John R. Swift – same language. [liber 72, p.107] 1833, Hammond buys from Henry Hunter (same Henry Hunter from above)[Liber 51, p. 179] 1828, Lewis Miller and Hannah, his wife sell to Henry Hunter, “a colored man” for $40 the approximately four acres of land, the western corner described as being “near the mouth of the mine hole.” [Liber 34, p.415]  This part is a little confusing to me, because earlier it was noted that Lewis Miller’s 1831 will instructed that Henry Hunter should be supported by Miller’s estate.  But I suppose they could have sold him a bit of land AND helped support him.  (Interestingly, the 1817 New York State Gradual Emancipation Act decreed that all slaves born before 1799, were to be freed by 1827.)  Perhaps this was Lewis and Hannah Miller’s way of emancipating and helping out a former slave?

But okay, okay, enough.   You get the picture.  There definitely was a mine (and probably some slaves too) in the neighborhood.

Sadly, I’ve not been able to uncover any information about the mine itself, just that it existed.  I don’t even know what was mined there, or when it was active.  I can only surmise, based on the comments from the titles and deeds listed above, that the mine was discovered and worked sometime before 1828, as that is the first mention of a mine or a mine hole.  But nowhere is there a mention of an active mine, and I’ve hit a dead end in my research.  (If anyone else knows more, please comment!)

Now, just to throw some confusion into our story, I discovered another New York Times article, this one from May of 1894, that seems to describe two mines in this general area:

NYT 3

Hmm, where could this road over “Long Hill” to Yorktown be?  Is this our Spring Valley mine?

The article goes on to describe another mine in the area:

NYT 2

Now, according to an old map I own (c. 1890s?), there was indeed an old church located at the corner of what is now Spring Valley Road and Blinn Farm Road.  Are there ruins of an old mine here, too?

Map 1890

This article is certainly clouding the issue of exactly where and what kind of mine(s) we are discussing.  However, my confidence in the reliability of this article is rather shattered by the last paragraph of the article:

NYT 1

Am I reading this right?  It is almost as if this reporter is suggesting that since no records exist of these mines, they must have been built BEFORE the Native American settlers, by some “Race whose history is unknown to us.”  You don’t just think, anonymous 19th century New York Times reporter, that there are records somewhere, but you were just unable to find them?

But hey, why not assume that these mines were constructed by some unknown race?  Who knows, maybe the Nine were digging mines here long before Andrija Puharich moved here and communicated with them via cassette tape?  (Inside joke.  Check out this blog link for more info.)

However, as mentioned before, New Castle historian Gray Williams found that the existence of mines in this area were noted on maps from the 1850s.  And the various titles of the properties in question consistently refer to a mine or mine holes.  So many people seemed to be aware of these mines.  The only conclusion I can draw about the above article is that this New York Times reporter from 1894 didn’t research this very well.  Plus, I think it’s been fairly well-established for quite a while that Native Americans resided here for at least 3,000 years before Henry Hudson showed up in the 1600s.

This is turning out to be a rather unsatisfying post — I feel as if I’ve uncovered a lot of details, but ultimately don’t really know any more than when I started.  Which was that there was a mine of some sort that operated at some point in the 1800s along some section of Spring Valley Road.

If anyone reading this has anything to add, please write a comment!!!