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!!!

 

George DeBarbiery — Ossining World War I casualty

George DeBarbiery — Ossining World War I casualty

Driving by, or visiting St. Augustine’s cemetery, have you ever noticed this grave, this statue of a World War I doughboy?

George silhouette

This is one of those little local mysteries I’ve wondered about for years and have only just stumbled across enough information to inspire further research. So sit back, brew yourself a cup of tea, and let’s begin.

I happen to be a World War I history buff – “All Quiet on the Western Front” is seriously one of my favorite books. Plus, I had a great-Uncle who died in 1916 in the Battle of the Somme, so this grave has always intrigued me. All it says on it is “DeBarbiery” and it wasn’t until fairly recently that someone clued me in to the footnote at the base:

George Plaque“Sergt. George De Barbiery, 1890 – 1918, Co. A, 305th Inf’y, Died in France”

So, who was George DeBarbiery? And why did he rate such an elaborate grave?

Well, he was one of Ossining’s own who heard the call and enlisted. A member of Company A of the 305th Infantry who died in France just six weeks before the Great War ended.

Joseph George De Barbiery was born on July 17, 1890 and, according to the 1915 census, George lived with his parents Lorenzo and Louisa at 21 North Highland Avenue. Both of his parents were born in Italy – his father in 1854 and his mother in 1860, and both came to the United States as teenagers. By 1915, they were naturalized US citizens. George was a “natural born citizen” and, it seems, their only child, still living at home at the age of 25 and working as a roofer. By the time he enlisted, in 1917, he’d changed jobs and was a “master doorhanger” for the Chevrolet Auto Works in Tarrytown.

According to his draft registration card (signed by Danbury Brandreth, for you Ossining historians!) he was of medium height and build with dark brown hair and eyes. He was not bald and his Army serial number was 1,696, 987.George De Barbiery Draft card

(Have I mentioned how much I love the Internet??)

He enlisted as a private, was promoted to corporal two months later, shipped over to France in April of 1918, and was promoted to sergeant in August of 1918. He died in September from wounds received in action.

It’s often forgotten that WWI was not a popular war in the US. It began on July 28, 1914, a month after the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austro-Hungary, was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a Yugoslav nationalist. Then all hell broke loose – the Russians mobilized, the Austro-Hungarians declared war on Serbia, the Germans invaded Belgium and Luxembourg and started in on France, which caused Great Britain to get involved, the Ottomans jumped in and — No, wait, don’t doze off, it gets better!

Yet, while Europe was erupting in war of previously unseen scale, the US didn’t get involved until 1917. An attempt to raise a volunteer army was made, but it took the Selective Service Act of 1917, which instituted a draft for all able-bodied men between the ages of 21- 30, to amass enough men to fight.

Anyway, our man George was swept up in that draft, registering on June 5, 1917. I wonder how he felt about it – seems like he had a good job, though he was still living with his parents. His draft card notes that he had served as a “coal passer” in the US Navy for two months at some point, so this wasn’t his first experience with the military. (I just started going down an Internet hole to find more information on this previous service, but have restrained myself as I’d like to post this to the blog some time this year . . .)

On September 10, 1917, he got on a train heading to Camp Upton on Long Island for three months of basic training. (Today that’s the site of the Brookhaven National Laboratory.)

Now, all the rest of the information I’ve found comes from the difficult-to-read-but-fascinating-nonetheless “History of the 305th.” Take a gander here if you have the time.

Irvin Cobb, in the Saturday Evening Post, wrote of these recruits:

“I saw them when they first landed at Camp Upton, furtive, frightened, slow-footed, slack-shouldered, underfed, apprehensive — a huddle of unhappy aliens, speaking in alien tongues, and knowing little of the cause for which they must fight, and possibly caring less. I saw them again three months later, when the snow of the dreadful winter of 1917-1918 was piling high about their wooden barracks down there on wind-swept Long Island. The stoop was beginning to come out of their spines, the shamble out of their gait. They had learned to hold their heads up; had learned to look every man in the eye and tell him to go elsewhere, with a capital H. They knew now that discipline was not punishment, and that the salute was not a mark of servility, but an evidence of mutual self-respect between officer and man. They wore their uniforms with pride. The flag meant something to them and the war meant something to them. Three short, hard months of training had transformed them from a rabble into soldier stuff; from a street mob into the makings of an army; from strangers into Americans. After nine months I have seen them once more in France. For swagger, for snap, for smartness in the drill, for cockiness in the billet, for good-humor on the march, and for dash and spunk and deviltry in the fighting into which just lately they have been sent, our Army can show no better and no more gallant warriors than the lads who mainly make up the rank and file of this particular division.”

Our George was one of those cocky, good-humored men.

(An interesting tangent – Irving Berlin, who was gain later fame as a Broadway composer/lyricist, was a recruit there too, and wrote a revue in 1918 called “Yip, Yip, Yaphank” that featured this song:

Oh_How_I_Hate_to_Get_up_in_the_Morning_1c

Of course, George deBarbiery didn’t get to enjoy the pre-Broadway tryout that took place in Camp Upton in July 1918 because he was already in France at that point.)

George would have trained at Camp Upton from September 1917 – April 1918, when he was shipped over to France. Apparently, that was one of the most brutal winters ever experienced on Long Island: “Many a day was spent indoors on account of the cold, the thermometer at times venturing to twenty below zero. The wind whistled through the chinks of the draughty barracks; the cannon stoves waxed red hot; the thud of rifle butts on the mess hall floor resounded early and late.”

So, the recruits spent much time indoors, singing company songs like these:

I took out ten thousand Insurance,
For bonds I gave fifteen bucks more,
To wifey and mother
I ‘lotted another
Ten dollars, and then furthermore.
I ran up big bills at the Laundromat
And finally payday was there.
I went up for my dough.
But the answer was “NO”
You’ve already drawn more than your share.

In April, the war began in earnest for George and the rest of the 305th:

“An ominous twenty-four-hour leave in which to attend to final business affairs was granted early in April. The advance party of the Division had sailed. On Palm Sunday, it seemed that every woman within a radius of a hundred miles came to see Johnny off; the camp never looked so decorative; tearful wives, mothers and sweethearts were there by the thousands to say “Good-by.” Yet the agony had all to be gone through with again, another week-end. At last, on Sunday morning, the fourteenth, we were told to line up and empty our bedsacks of straw and to pack the barrack bags— more fuss than a bride might have packing her trousseau. Repeated formations; repeated inspections, eliminating this and that. Yet some of the boys carried away enough to stock a country store. Then, in the night, barracks were policed for the last time ere the troops marched silently to the waiting trains — a secret troop movement which all the world could have known about. Not a man was absent from his place, a fact which speaks wonderfully for the spirit and discipline of these New York boys, about to leave home, the most wonderful city and the most wonderful people in the world— about to undertake the most difficult and heartbreaking job of their lives.”

I wonder if Lorenzo and Louisa, George’s parents, made the trip from Ossining to Yaphank to bid their only son goodbye. I know I would have.

Arriving at the docks in Manhattan, George and the rest of the 305th boarded two British troopships bound for Europe – the RMS Cedric and RMS Vauban. An account of that survives in the ever-helpful “History of the 305th”:

“Everybody gotta go below decks! Not to have one last, long, lingering look at the harbor — at Old Girl Liberty, whose shape adorns all our baggage? There was nothing secret about the way we boarded the Cedric and the Vauhan. Despite the fact that when our ferry-boats steamed from Long Island City around the Battery to the piers, the skyscrapers of lower New York waved countless handkerchiefs, and whistles tooted like mad, someone thinks that if we all keep below while the transport steams down the Harbor in broad daylight, no German Secret Service agent will suspect for a moment that American troops are crowded aboard! Oh, well, let’s try to get a thrill out of fooling ourselves even though we fool nobody else. And must even the port-holes be closed up tight? Phew! It’s stuffy enough below decks with ’em open. Just look at what we’ve got to sleep in, row upon row, double tier, scarcely room between those dividing boards for the shoulders to fit in, to say nothing of letting one roll over and be comfortable.

Perhaps it was just as well to preclude the heartaches which a free view of the receding coastline might have produced, to let the men focus at once all their attention upon the inconveniences and novelties of their life aboard ship. There were many of both. Though First Sergeants ate in the main dining-room of the Cedric, the messing accommodations for the men in general were awful — crowded, rushed, confused, smelly and disagreeable, two or three sittings necessary. The fish was particularly discouraging, and fish-day was by no means limited to Friday. Already there was ample proof of the food shortage in England, if the service aboard an English vessel could be accepted as evidence. Many were the arguments and the fist fights precipitated by the insolent little buss-boys and the stewards. Particularly grating were the attempts to sell privileges, extra portions or favors by the crews . . . Nobody was in very good humor those first days, anyhow. The Cedric was greatly overloaded, four thousand troops being jammed in where about eighteen hundred had previously been carried.”

Oh, I could just post the entire account but I will restrain myself. They had excitement but no damage when their convoy was attacked by German U-boats somewhere in the Atlantic. Also, there were a few civilians on the Cedric, the Archbishop of York and the famed explored Sir Ernest Shackleton. How’s that for random and strange facts?

The convoy landed at Dover and the US soldiers were transferred almost immediately across the Channel to Calais. In late April of 1918, the war was looking very grim indeed, and George and his regiment likely had very bad feelings about what was to come:

“Nor were hearts any less sober the next morning when we gathered on the quay for transportation across the Channel. A sentry striding the breakwater looked, oh, so realistic, in his full kit: helmet, gas mask, cartridge belt, rifle and fixed bayonet! He must have come right out of the trenches we had read so much about. Good old Chaplain Browne, too, had straight dope that morning, which he whispered in confidence to some of the officers; that the Germans were breaking through toward the coast; that before night we would be digging somewhere in the support trenches; that the British felt Calais to be doomed, and that we were simply being fed to the slaughter.

Through the rain and the confusion on shore, through a maze of ambulances, all driven by women, the Regiment found its way to Rest Camp No. 6, East, past swarm after swarm of tenacious urchins either selling their sandy chocolate, bitter candies and sugarless cakes, or screaming, “Souvenir Americaine; penny, penn-ee!”

The Regiment, it seems, spent the next couple of months marching around France, being shuffled around until a battle could be found. They finally ended up, it seems, in Lorraine, near the Vosges, where they fell into trenches and participated in a few skirmishes:

“Who will forget the first shell that came over, or the sudden barking of a battery of 75 ‘s seemingly right behind one’s left ear? Who will forget the Cierman aeroplane landing signal which, with indefatigable precision, mounted the sky at periodic intervals during the night? Who will ever forget the first ghostly flares rocketing skyward from numerous points of the German line or the fable of the old, one-legged German on the motorcycle dashing madly from one end of the sector to the other, setting off a bunch of sky-rockets now and then to fool us into thinking there were large bodies of troops opposed to us?”

Our George spent less than five months in France.

While I can’t be sure that the following is exactly how he perished, his regiment was involved in heavy battle on the date listed as his death, September 29, 1918. It seems likely, then, that the account below describes more or less when and where he met his end:

“The moon was rising when the Second Battalion, under command of Captain Eaton, filed out of Le Claon whither it had been withdrawn a few nights before into the woods, past the burning house and popping ammunition dump ignited by shell fire, through La Chalade, with its gaunt spectral church, through Xouveau Cottage, where the last hot meal was due and which was not forthcoming, through the winding bayous and up to the forward lines on the Route Marchand. 

Here’s a map of France noting the area in which George was likely killed:

The Second Battalion was to lead the attack followed in close support by the First Battalion and then the Third. On our left was the 306th Infantry, in column of Battalions also. The Division was to attack in line of regiments.All night the men clung to that steep hillside, or herded into the dugouts awaiting the “zero” hour, while from their midst heavy mortars in the hands of the French played havoc with the German wire. Back on the roads, paralleling the front, the artillery was massed hub to hub. Shortly after midnight their pandemonium broke loose; the steady roar of great guns was deafening terrifying. Jerry must have thought a whole ammunition dump was coming at him.

The chill September air was blue with fog and smoke and powder, the dawn just breaking as the silent columns filed up through the steep hillside toward the jumping-off places, ready to go over the top with only raincoats and rations for baggage, armed to the teeth.

This was just what we had all read about long before America got into the war; this was just what the home folks doubtless imagined us to be doing every day. Could anyone who was there ever forget the earnest, picturesque figures with their grim-looking helmets, rifles and bayonets sharply silhouetted against the eastern sky; the anxious consultation of watches: the thrill of the take-off; the labored advance over a No Man’s Land so barren, churned, pitted and snarled as to defy description; the towering billows of rusty, clinging wire; the flaming signal rockets that sprayed the heavens; the choking, blinding smoke and fog and gas that drenched the valley.

Despite the intensity of the shelling, the maze of wire revealed no open avenues and there was difficulty in keeping up with our own rolling barrage as it swept over the ground before us at the rate of a hundred meters in five minutes. Pieces of cloth and flesh staked with the rusty, clinging barbs: a number of men were impaled on stakes cleverly set for that very purpose.

With difficulty, the leading and supporting waves were reformed in line of “gangs” or small combat groups before plunging on into the ravines, there to become lost or separated from their fellows until after climbing to some high point above the sea of fog they might determine again the direction of advance by a consultation of map and compass and a consideration of whatever landmarks rose above the clouds. No concerted resistance was met with until about noon, after three kilometers of wooded terrain had been covered. There, a stubborn machine gun resistance and a heavy shell fire persuaded the Second Battalion, reinforced by companies of the First, to dig in while they spread their panels on the ground to indicate to the Liberty planes overhead the point of farthest advance. At last we were to get some assistance from the air!

Casualties there had been in great numbers from enemy shelling and from lurking snipers; but like North American Indians, we continued to stalk our prey from tree to tree.”

I can only surmise that George deBarbiery met his end somewhere in this battle, perhaps “going over the top” and crossing No Man’s Land to be felled by a sniper’s bullet, or perhaps immolated by a German shell. I just hope he wasn’t one of those unfortunates impaled on a stake.

But this is not quite the end of George’s story – it took three years for his body to be transported back home and buried in St. Augustine’s cemetery. Remember, this was the first time American soldiers had been conscripted to serve in an overseas war, and Americans were not buying General Pershing’s argument that to bury a soldier alongside his comrades where they fell was the greatest glory and honor that the grateful country could bestow upon them. No, as one mother from Brooklyn wrote to the War Department, “My son sacrificed his life to America’s call, and now you must as a duty of yours bring my son back to me.”

Facing this outpouring of feeling, the War Department polled each soldier’s family to find out if they wanted their son’s remains transported home.   Over 46,000 did, and it took over two years and $30 million to recover all the dead.

George deBarbiery was but one of them.

Ossining UFOs, ESP, ELFs and more!

UnknownDr. Andrija Puharich, c. 1949

Did you know that a group of extra-terrestrial beings (who called themselves The Nine) made regular contact with a past owner of 87 Hawkes Avenue through audio cassettes? And that the Russians may have directed Extra Low Frequency (ELF) radio waves to that very address to try and control the mind of its occupant? And that spoon-bender Uri Geller was a frequent guest there? And that a camp of “Space Kids” operated near there in the mid-1970s? And that in 1975, war between Egypt and Israel may well have been averted by this neighbor?

Well, if you’ve ever read any of Dr. Andrija Puharich’s books (and really, why would you have?) you would know all this to true.   Or at least stated in print.

I think now is the appropriate juncture to take the time to note the wild and woolly goings on that were reported to have taken place at 87 Hawkes Avenue in the 1970s. The white house in which Dr. Puharich lived and worked is now sitting vacant, waiting to be demolished to make way for Parth Knolls, a 53-unit rental apartment complex to be built by Anthony P. Beldotti Developers on the site.

Unknown-1Dr. Puharich and Uri Geller, c. 1973

Dr. Andrija Puharich (aka Henry Karel Puharic) lived at 87 Hawkes Avenue from 1961 – 1979. The American-born son of Croatian immigrants, he was born in Chicago in 1918. He joined the Army and they paid for his training at Northwestern Medical School. After graduation, he may or may not have participated in several top secret projects exploring ESP (Extra-Sensory Perception), mind-altering pharmaceuticals and ELF (Extremely Low Frequency radio waves.)  One such project might have been Project Penguin, a Navy undertaking whose purpose was to test individuals said to possess psychic powers. Another was the Stargate Project, a top-secret intelligence project whose focus was on how psychic phenomena could be used in domestic and international spying.

(As an aside, as I was writing this blog post, the CIA declassified a whole bunch of Stargate Project documents involving Puharich. No, seriously, they did. Check out the link here.  I have to wonder, did they know I was researching this? Did their ELF pick up my thoughts? Are the Nine still watching over Ossining? Is my microwave spying on me?? Excuse me while I make myself a tin foil hat.)

(And, as another aside, I wonder if Presidential spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway had heard of some of this recently declassified research when she said “There are many ways to surveil each other now, unfortunately.  There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways. And microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera. So we know that that is just a fact of modern life.”  Who knows, maybe the government DID do some experiments with microwaves and picture-taking?)

But back to Puharich – whatever you think of his research topics, it is undeniable that Puharich made a career of studying the paranormal, attempting to apply traditional scientific research methods to various phenomena to categorize and understand them.   There was Arigo (a Brazilian psychic surgeon who did impossible surgeries and cured impossible diseases with a dull, rusty knife), miscellaneous mediums who served as conduits to the extraterrestrial Nine, and Uri Geller. Along the way, Puharich acquired over fifty patents for items as diverse as miniature hearing aids and methods to use water for fuel.

But let’s talk about the extraterrestrials. As far as I can understand, and this comes mostly from reading Puharich’s book Uri: A Journal of the Mystery of Uri Geller, an extraterrestrial group called the Nine first contacted Puharich in 1952 through a medium named Dr. Vinod. They told him that they were the highest minds in the universe and rule over all. Later, through Uri Geller (also a medium for the Nine) Puharich learned that in fact the Hoovians are the direct controllers of Earth and other nearby planetary civilizations, but take their orders from the Nine. (You could call them the bureaucrats of extra-terrestrial government. But don’t confuse them with the Whovians from Dr. Who because they are different!) During the 1970s, a city-sized spaceship called Spectra hovered over the Earth and sent messages from the Hoovians fifty-three thousand light-years away to Geller, who was their emissary on earth.  And intermittently staying with Puharich at 87 Hawkes Avenue.

There’s more to it than that, but it’s all just so out there. Not only did the Nine communicate with Puharich through various mediums and through voices on a self-erasing cassette tape, they also directed the Hoovians to make the occasional visit to Puharich’s property. Below, is a description of an extraterrestrial flyover at 87 Hawkes Avenue from Puharich’s book Uri: A Journal of the Mystery of Uri Geller:

87 Hawkes Avenue, Ossining New York
August 27, 1972

At 1am, a large conch shell levitated and slowly fell to the floor. We waited for a voice to appear on the tape recorder monitor. Finally there came the voice of IS* on the tape at 1:03am as follows:

“We are Nine Principles and forces. The equation is Mi=m0c2/√(1-v2/c2) . . . One of your earth scientists, Einstein, knew about us. Just before he died, he knew the secret. You will carry on the work. Then in centuries, another and another, to keep the data rolling – until man finds infinity.” As the voice said “infinity,” the tape recorder was switched off. . . .Through the north window of my study a brilliant white light suddenly flooded the room. (My house is in a forest – away from any automobile headlights.) The light was very much the quality of moonlight, but much brighter. We rushed to the window, but could not see the source of the light, which was beyond some giant Norway Spruce trees. We rushed outdoors, but the light had disappeared.” (Puharich, 175ff) 

*In the interest of clarity and brevity, Puharich began calling the voices he heard on his audio tapes “Intelligence from the sky.”

I’ve really fallen down a research hole, haven’t I? But they had an EQUATION! And they visited 87 Hawkes Avenue in 1972!  But here’s a photo of some of those Norway Spruce trees that still stand on the property:

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Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was a frequent visitor to 87 Hawkes in the 1970s, and even supposedly wrote a screenplay entitled The Council of Nine, which may or not be preserved on a recently-discovered cache of his floppy disks. (Also, don’t forget that one of the Star Trek series was entitled Deep Space Nine. The connection is so obvious, right?)

I recently spent an interesting afternoon with Andy Puharich, Dr. Puharich’s son. A sensible, sensitive, open-minded fellow, he moved to the Netherlands at the age of five when his parents divorced. However, he told me that he had many happy memories of spending summers here with his Dad – even attending Ossining High School for a year. Whenever he comes to visit his sister, who lives in Westchester, he always likes to stop by 87 Hawkes. He remembered a summer he spent at the Turkey Farm on Spring Valley Road when his father was running the “Space Kids” camp, or a New Age-y place for adolescents whom he believe possessed extra-sensory powers.

It all seems crazy, right? But you know what? As I’ve been researching and writing this, I’ve gone from thinking that Dr. Puharich was a fanatical nutjob to developing a grudging respect for him. Because he really seemed to believe what he was researching. And he did try to use traditional, scientific methods to study the mystical and magical. (He apparently had a Faraday Cage in his lab at 87 Hawkes Avenue!  That sounds legit, right?) To me, there’s something compelling about that kind of dedication and wildly imaginative thinking.

Dr. Puharich moved away from Ossining in 1978 or so, after his house had been severely damaged by arson. Andy told me he fled to Mexico in fear for his life and died penniless in North Carolina in 1995. At the time of his death (from falling down a flight of stairs) he was working on his patented process to split water molecules for fuel.  Check it out here.

He just never seemed to stop.

Just because it interests me, here’s an interview that he supposedly gave to “Reality Hackers Magazine” in 1988. I say supposedly, because “Reality Hackers Magazine” sounds, well, dodgy. But it’s an interesting read . . .

There’s also a documentary film in the works – check out the website here.

So, when you see that the little white house at 87 Hawkes Avenue has been demolished, and the Parth Knolls apartment complex begins rising, remember the history of that site!

IMG_4693Andrija Puharich’s home at 87 Hawkes Avenue

Carrie Chapman Catt — Juniper Ledge

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So, here’s another of those mysterious driveway pillars that I pass by all the time.  This one’s on North State Road, just about opposite the ASPCA.  (This only qualifies for Ossining History on the Run because I pass by it whenever I drive to the gym to run on the treadmill.  That counts, doesn’t it?)  But “Juniper Ledge” has an intriguing, slightly dangerous ring to it, doesn’t it? Yet it’s taken me years to get around to Googling it and now that I have, I’ve fallen down an Internet hole that leads past the League of Women Voters, Prohibition, the Nineteenth Amendment, and Seneca Falls.   Juniper Ledge, you see, was the country home of one of our most dedicated suffragettes, Carrie Chapman Catt.

Hmm, wait, now who exactly was she? She’s up there with Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, right? Ladies whose names get trotted out every March, during Women’s History Month, important historical figures I know I should know but . . . don’t. (As the alumna of a Seven Sisters school, it’s pretty embarrassing for me to admit that I am not at all conversant with the history of those who led the fight for women’s suffrage and rights.)

But now, thanks to this simple driveway pillar, I know all that there is to know about the early feminists and the fight for women’s rights. Okay, no, not true, but I certainly know more than I did.

(As a side note, isn’t it hard to believe that American women have only been allowed to vote for less than one hundred years?   But it’s true – the Nineteenth Amendment wasn’t passed until 1920.)

But I digress. Back to Juniper Ledge (also sometimes called “The Catt House,” which makes me giggle.)

Carrie Chapman Catt (nee Lane) was born in Wisconsin in 1859. Unusually for that time and place, she went to college (Iowa State) and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in 1880. She became a teacher, then a principal, then Superintendent of her Iowa school district. Pretty groundbreaking stuff for the Gilded Age, when women were just supposed to wear bustles and corsets, get married and have babies.

She did marry, though, twice. In 1880, she married husband #1, Leo Chapman, a reporter, who died of typhoid fever within a couple of years. In 1885, she married husband #2,  George Catt, a wealthy engineer and fellow Iowa State alum. He apparently was quite supportive of her involvement in the fight for women’s rights. So she threw herself into the fray.

Based in Iowa, she led the Iowa Women’s Suffrage Association from 1890 – 1892, then started – wait, I’m sorry, I’m dragging you down this hole too. You probably just want to hear about Juniper Ledge on North State Road, right?

Okay, so Juniper Ledge is listed on the National Historical Register because of Catt’s residence, but she really only lived there from 1919 – 1928. With her partner Mary Garret Hay (Mr. Catt having died in 1905.)

The story goes that the estate was named Juniper Ledge because of its abundance of juniper trees (not sure if Catt named it so.)  And, as we all know, juniper berries are the main ingredient in gin.   In a New York Times article from 1921, she asserted that she bought Juniper Ledge to keep the juniper berries from “wet” use. (She and Hay served their guests coffee and orangeade.)

(I suppose I should mention that many of the suffragettes were also big on Prohibition.  We won’t hold that against them, though.  Things were different then. Did you know that Ossining had about 50 active saloons at the turn of the 20th Century. It’s true. Dana White, the Ossining Village Historian told me so. So yeah, maybe there was a good reason for the anti-booze crusade.)

Anyway, while still living in Iowa, Catt came to the attention of Susan B. Anthony, the Grande Dame of suffragettes (so grande that she was awarded with her own US coin! Only minted for about three years though, due to its poor design and the opposition of Big Vending, but I am getting way off topic here.)

Long story short, Catt succeeded Susan B. Anthony as President of the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1900, and was its President when the Nineteenth Amendment was passed. Catt then started the League of Women Voters to supply women with information to help them make informed voting decisions.

According to another New York Times article, this one from 1927, Juniper Ledge was quite impressive: “The estate is one of the show places of Northern Westchester, and includes sixteen acres of extensively developed land fronting on two roads. The residence, on a knoll overlooking the countryside, is a modern house of English architecture containing fourteen rooms and three baths. A gardener’s cottage, stables, a garage and a greenhouse are also on the property.”  Catt affixed brass plaques with the names of famous suffragettes to fourteen trees – and some of those plaques are now in the archives at Harvard.

Catt sold Juniper Ledge in 1927 to a “Manhattan banker” (according to the NYT) and purchased a home at 120 Paine Avenue in New Rochelle. Sadly, her companion Mary Garret Hay died shortly after they moved. (Here’s Hay’s obituary.)

Catt lived on, staying active right up until her death in 1947. She and Hay are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. The inscription on their joint tombstone reads, “Here lie two, united in friendship for thirty-eight years through constant service to a great cause.” (Here’s Catt’s obituary.  It makes me tired just to read about all the things she accomplished.)

So, the next time you drive on North State Road, keep an eye out for that old driveway pillar and know that a very influential and historical woman once lived up there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Fonda Shot – John Lennon writes song about it

January 7, 1951
Rock Hill, 235 Cedar Lane, Ossining, New York

“Peter Fonda, 10-year-old son of Henry Fonda, actor, was reported in a fair condition tonight in Ossining Hospital after having accidentally shot himself yesterday with a .22 caliber pistol. The accident occurred on the Rock Hill estate of Rush H. Kress, retired chain store executive.”  New York Times, 1/7/1951

No really, it’s true! That headline is more than just click bait – Peter Fonda really WAS shot (in 1951) on the premises of the Kress Estate in Ossining. And John Lennon DID write a write a song about it (in 1965), though he changed the pronoun to “She.”

Perhaps you know the song, “She said, she said” off the album Revolver:

She said, “I know what it’s like to be dead.
I know what it is to be sad.”
And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born . . .

 Let me back up a bit. What we know today as Cedar Lane Park (at 235 Cedar Lane) was formerly known as Rock Hill, owned by Rush H. Kress. You may have heard of the S.H. Kress stores – a chain of five and dime stores like Woolworth’s and Kresge’s? Well, S. H. was Samuel Kress, Rush’s older brother. A lifelong bachelor, he ran the company with the help of his two brothers, Rush and Claude. By 1929, the Kress brothers were so wealthy, and had such an extensive art collection, that they founded the Kress Foundation to “Promote the moral, physical and mental welfare and progress of the human race.” Grandiose, no? But the brothers, Samuel and Rush especially, collected Renaissance and Baroque art on a grand scale.   Today, if you go to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, you will find 2,493 pieces of art donated by them, not to mention about another thousand donated to museums around the country.

So deep was Samuel’s reverence for art, he gave money to Mussolini to restore Italian landmarks damaged by World War I.  (Following that tradition, Rush paid to restore the St. Georg Church in Nuremberg-Kraftshof in the 1950s, where many Kress ancestors were buried.  It’s nice to have money.)

The Kress stores were known for their unique architecture.  According to the National Building Museum, “Samuel H. Kress… envisioned his stores as works of public art that would contribute to the cityscape.  To distinguish his stores from those of his competitors, namely F.W. Woolworth Co. and S.S. Kresge Co., he hired staff architects. Kress achieved retail branding success not merely through standardized signage and graphics, but through distinctive architecture and efficient design. Regardless of their style, from elaborate Gothic Revival to streamlined Art Deco, Kress stores were designed to be integral parts of their business districts and helped define Main Street America.”

Kress stores certainly defined Main Street America in the 1960s when they refused to serve African-Americans at its lunch counters.  (To be fair, they were not the only national chains to do so.)

Many of the buildings still stand today, re-purposed and placed on the National Historic Register.

Okay, but what’s the connection to Cedar Lane Park, Peter Fonda and John Lennon?   Right, sorry, sorry, I got lost down the Internet.

In 1916, Rush Kress bought the 72-acre Rock Hill estate from General Edwin A. McAlpin, President of D. H. McAlpin & Co. (later called the American Tobacco Corporation) and Proprietor of the Rock Hill Poultry Farm:

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That’s a nice looking cock!

(Ossining history sidebar:  McCalpin married Anne Brandreth, daughter of Benjamin Brandreth, maker of Brandreth’s Vegetable Pills.  They were married at Trinity Church in Ossining and lived in Hillside House, now known as the Victoria Home.  Not quite sure where the chicken farm fits in, though.)

But back to Rush Kress — he divided his time between his apartment at 225 West 86th Street (aka the Belnord), Rock Hill, and traveling overseas to acquire the afore-mentioned art.

Under Rush’s guidance,  Rock Hill was transformed from a Blue Ribbon Poultry Farm into an elegant estate with lavishly sculpted grounds, greenhouses, cottages and a grand manor house.

Here’s a view from the Cedar Lane gate, circa 1930, looking over the pond:

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Here’s that same view today:

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Hard to believe this is the same property, no?

Here’s a shot of the Cedar Lane gate, also circa 1930:

1920s winter photo Rock Hill

And here’s that view today:

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If you scramble up the hill on the far side of the pond, you’ll come across the ruins of two large, old greenhouses.  Built by the American-Moniger company, they were the height of greenhouse fashion.  Here are a couple of photos from the 1950s (courtesy of grandson Rush Kress via Steven Worthy’s Facebook page “Save the Kress Buildings at Cedar Lane Park“):

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Virginia Watkins Kress, former Broadway showgirl and 2nd wife of Rush H. Kress, with her mother and one of her children during the 1950s at Rock Hill Estate.  A student of art at the University of Arizona (where the family wintered) she was apparently very influential when it came time to distribute the fabulous Kress collection of Renaissance and Baroque art to nearly 100 institutions across the US.

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And here’s one more:

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Handyman George Francis Dean with one of the Kress children.

It was in the colorful 1950s that Peter Fonda was driven down from his home in Greenwich, Connecticut, along with one of Rush Kress’ grandsons, Anthony Abry and another boy.  Peter’s father Henry was honeymooning in the Virgin Islands with his new wife Susan, and his mother, Frances, had committed suicide six months earlier.  Seems like the three boys were on their own . . . After Peter shot himself that unsupervised winter afternoon, he was driven to the Ossining Hospital by the Kress family chauffeur.  (Good God, could you imagine that drive??)    He was operated on by Dr. Charles Sweet (also the Sing Sing prison doctor) and it was touch and go there for a few days.

Fast forward fifteen or so years, when the Beatles are dropping acid in Benedict Canyon:

Regarding “She Said She Said,” John remembers:  “That was written after an acid trip in L.A. during a break in The Beatles tour where we were having fun with The Byrds and lots of girls.  Peter Fonda came in when we were on acid and he kept coming up to me and sitting next to me and whispering, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead.’   We didn’t want to hear about that!  We were on an acid trip, and the sun was shining, and the girls were dancing (some from Playboy, I believe) and the whole thing was really beautiful and Sixties.  And this guy – who I didn’t really know, he hadn’t made ‘Easy Rider’ or anything – kept coming over, wearing shades, saying, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead,’ and we kept leaving him, because he was so boring.  It was scary, when you’re flying high: ‘Don’t tell me about it.  I don’t want to know what it’s like to be dead!’”  George recalls:  “I don’t know how, but Peter Fonda was there.  He kept saying, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead, because I shot myself.’  He’d accidentally shot himself at some time and he was showing us his bullet wound.  He was very uncool.”

Unless he shot himself more than once (and it was the ’60s after all, so who knows) he was probably talking about that day at Rock Hill.  And John Lennon turned it into a song.

In 1959, Rush Kress sold Rock Hill to the 52 Association, a philanthropic organization that provided “recreational facilities for veterans of both world wars and the Korean conflict.”  At the time, it was reported that the estate “overlooks the Hudson River, consists of thirty-seven buildings, eleven of which are residences . . . The property also includes two lakes, a swimming pool, a tennis court and barbecue pits.”

Sometime in the 1990s, the Town of Ossining acquired it for a park.  If you walk around the pond today, you can still see some decaying wooden lifeguard chairs around the perimeter, no doubt left over from the 52 Association days.

And if you bushwhack around the rest of the property, you can see all sorts of ruins slowly being erased by the unchecked vines and trees.

Hard to believe it all once looked like this:

1920s fountain, south of Lakeview cottage

 

 

 

Elda Castle

My training for this year’s NYC marathon officially starts this week.

It’s not my first marathon, nor even my first NYC marathon, so this year I’m going to try and finish in a particular time, not just hope to finish without soiling myself. Now, I’m not at all fast, but to hit the time I want, I know I need to incorporate more than just a lot of running into my training. I’ll need to do horrible things like Yasso 800s, tempo runs and hill repeats. Sounds like great fun in the heat of summer, right?

Blah blah blah, I know this is all boring to you non-runners, but I promise there’s a point to all this, because it’s those hill repeats that inspire today’s post . . .

The hill of choice for me is Allapartus Road, which is a narrow, windy road that connects Spring Valley Road up to Rt. 134/Croton Dam Road. As you run up it, you pass the Lutheran retreat on your left (once owned by Major Edward Bowes) and on your right, if you know exactly where to peek through the trees, an abandoned castle once known as Elda.

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Wait, what? A castle? There’s an abandoned castle right in our midst? (Maybe abandoned is the wrong word because apparently someone owns this castle. And if you try to get close enough to see it, you’ll probably be trespassing. So don’t do that, okay?)

Just know that at the crest of Allapartus, there’s a stone castle that was built by David Abercrombie, of Abercrombie & Fitch fame.

According to the NYC Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, the castle “was built in 1927 as the Elda Estate. The 60-acre estate included the large main house, a house barn, three small residences, a bathhouse and a large pond. The estate was carved from a W.W. Law property between 1911 and 1927. [The main house is] a massive, multi-level building based on the English Cottage style constructed of both cut granite and live rock (also granite.) The house is reminiscent of a Medieval Castle and designed to look in part like a ruin. The house features a number of intersecting gables as well as a section with a hipped roof and some areas that are not covered at all. The house features a number of arched doorways, arched windows, curved staircases, exposed stone chimneys, and vaulted spaced and covered masonry. Other features include an open patio with a fireplace, a covered patio with a hipped roof and other medieval inspired elements.”

Here’s the open patio:

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Here are some pictures of tiles that are inset into this gazebo:

Here are the tiles above the outdoor fireplace — they look like Henry Hudson’s Half-Moon, don’t they?

Elda Halfmoon tiles?

And here’s another open patio/courtyard (opinions differ on whether the castle was built like this, or whether a post-Abercrombie owner removed the roof on this part. The outline of a roof in the stone work makes me think this area was meant to be enclosed.)

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And here’s a photo that really gives the Medieval flavor of the place:249croton1

According to David Abercrombie’s obituary, the castle also “affords a view of the Hudson Valley and Long Island Sound.”  I guess that’s possible, if you stand on the very top of that tower.

Anyway, why was it called Elda, and who was David Abercrombie?

Well, Elda was an acronym for Elizabeth, Lucy, David, and Abbott, Abercrombie’s four children.

And David Abercrombie himself was a surveyor, civil engineer, and general all-around outdoorsman. Born in Baltimore in 1867, he began working for railroad and mining companies surveying land across America, living the outdoor life in rough camps and mining towns.

In 1892 he opened up Abercrombie Co., a top-drawer camping, fishing and hunting gear boutique at 36 South Street in downtown Manhattan. Financier Ezra Fitch was one of his best customers and, in 1900, Fitch bought a share of the store, renaming it — you guessed it —  “Abercrombie & Fitch.”Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 3.18.05 PM

(I’d love to know what the well-dressed prospector wore circa 1905! And what are outing garments?  Oh my!)

In those early days, Abercrombie & Fitch outfitted some of the most famous explorers of the day – like Arctic explorer Admiral Richard Byrd, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and Amelia Earhardt.  A far cry from today’s Abercrombie & Fitch that outfits teenagers with bikinis, perfumes and polo shirts.

During World War I, Abercrombie was commissioned as a Major in the Quartermaster corps and was in charge of packing and shipping all sorts of supplies to our boys overseas.  It seems that he basically invented compression packing, and figured out how to squeeze 20 cubic feet of material into 4 cubic feet.  (See this 1942 letter from wife Lucy Abercrombie to the New York Times extolling her husband’s skill in packing.)

At some point in the 1920s, the Abercrombies bought the estate’s land from Briarcliff Manor founder Walter Law.  Abercrombie’s wife Lucy supposedly designed the castle, and it was built using stone from the area.  No doubt the Abercrombies invited neighbors like Major Bowes, Margaret Illington, and maybe even Jeanne Eagels to their housewarming party!

According to an article written by Miguel Hernandez, Abercrombie was very active in local society.  He founded the Dirt Trails Association, which created a public bridle path through many of the adjoining estates in the area, all marked with “DTA.” (Funny that the initials for the Dirt Trail Association are the same as for David T. Abercrombie.  Coincidence?  I wonder.)

He had a firing range built on the property and allowed local police officers to use it freely for target practice (he was Police Commissioner of New Castle at one time.)  His estate was designated as a Reserve Officers Contact Camp and was used by groups like the Veteran Corps of Artillery and the Military Society of the War of 1812.  (Did they do re-enactments back then??)  He also encouraged the priests and brothers of Maryknoll to use his pond.  (I suppose it’s not that long a trek from Maryknoll to Elda, if you take the trails.)

Today, you can pretend to be a Maryknoll missionary and hike along part of the old estate grounds to the pond:

Park in the lot for New Castle’s Sunny Ridge Preserve (on Rt. 134/Croton Dam Road near Grace Lane.)

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Follow the white-blazed trail for about 5 minutes

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until you see a little trail lead off into the brush to your right.  Bushwhack along that trail a little bit until it opens up and you come to a pond down the hill to your left:

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There’s a small stone building on the edge of the pond (you have to look really hard at this picture to see it):

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Walk around the edge of the pond to go inside and take dramatic, shadowy photos:

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(I’ve no idea what the stone house was used for — perhaps a pump house of some kind?)

Walk past the stone house up a scrabbly hill – wait, first look back and see again how delightful this site is, and imagine the Abercrombie family enjoying this cool, shady spot on a blazing summer day.

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At the top of the hill, you’ll come across the ruins of an old stone toilet building,

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On top of the toilet, you find the ruins of an old stone fireplace:

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I imagine these are the ruins of the bathhouse mentioned earlier, in which one could enjoy hot cocoa in front of a roaring fire after a brisk morning swim.  Or perhaps to toast marshmallows in after a sunset dip?

Walk a little further past the toilet, the fireplace and the pond, along the path strewn with branches and fallen trees . . .

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and you’ll come across the driveway to the castle. Whatever you do, don’t take a left and walk up the driveway to the castle. Like I said earlier, it’s private property.

Here’s a photo of the great room in the castle, in its heyday:

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And here are some random photos of the castle today that I’ve lifted off the Internet:

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Check out these built-in bookshelves with hand-carved figurines:

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Close-up of bookshelf holding figurine:

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I’ve read somewhere that parts of the castle were shipped over from Scotland, and if you look closely at the beams, you can see the numbers carved into them for easy reassembly.  Not sure if that’s true, but it makes for an interesting story.

However, it does seem like the castle has been rather cursed.

In 1929, Abercrombie’s 30-year old daughter Lucy died horribly from burns she received while “engaged in a task on a preparation for waterproofing canvas compounded from a secret formula developed by her father many years ago.” A formula that involved powdered paraffin and gasoline.  And a formula that, as far as I can tell, blew up in her face and enveloped her in flames.  The New York Times article on this unhappy accident is opaque on whether the accident occurred at Elda or at some other Ossining location.  But still.

Soon after, in August 1931, David Abercrombie passed away from rheumatic fever at the relatively young age of 64. At the time, the castle had still not quite been completed.

In 1937, the Abercrombie’s oldest son David died from a horse kick on his Wyoming dude ranch.

Soon after (I’m guessing,) Mrs. Lucy Abercrombie moved out of the castle and in with her oldest daughter Elizabeth in Millbrook, NY.  Apparently, the castle sat empty until 1947 when the Centro Research Laboratories bought Elda from the Abercrombie estate. After a two-year zoning fight between the neighbors and Centro, “a new by-pass entrance was constructed into the estate, away from the privately-owned houses, built on the estate frontage on Croton Dam Road.”  I guess that’s when they built that driveway you shouldn’t walk on that leads from the castle to Rt. 134/Croton Dam Road.  The Centro laboratory was involved in working on “industrial applications of resins and plastics.”  No wonder the neighbors were fighting it!  Would you want that stuff in your neighborhood?  Hmm, I wonder how that parcel is zoned now . . .

It might have been during this time that the roof was blown off the now-open courtyard section of the castle.  Or it might not.  No one really seems to know.  (I’ve also heard the rumor that part of the Manhattan Project was housed there during WWII.  I don’t really believe it though.)

In the 1960s, Dr. N.J. Harrick of Harrick Scientific lived in the castle and apparently tried to rescue it from complete ruin.  There are some really interesting comments here from people who knew of/owned this property in the 1960s – 70s.  Apparently it’s been beset by vandals since the 1930s, and has been damaged and repaired many times over the years.

In the 1990s, the Half Moon Foundation of the Humanist Society purchased it to use for events and weddings.  (The Humanist Society was founded by Corliss Lamont, another local resident and subject of a future blog post.)  By then, it seems that the 60-acre estate had shrunk down to about 14-acres.

After they sold it, though, it seems the castle really fell into disrepair. Now, so I’ve heard, all the windows have been shattered by rocks, and all the rooms have been graffiti’d and are knee deep in garbage and broken glass. Apparently, the property was sold in 2011 for $3.75 million but the state of the buildings continue to deteriorate.

Isn’t it a shame to know that something so cool is just disintegrating in our midst?

Barnard College Camp on Journey’s End Road

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Did you know that Barnard College maintained a camp on Journey’s End Road from 1933 until 1991?  Not I, even though I graduated from Barnard in 1987!

So, follow me back through time to learn more about this well-kept secret . . .

On February 19, 1933, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran this tiny story:

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According to the Barnard College archive,  the College was able to pay the Depression-era price of $9,000 for the above 10 acres of land thanks to a gift from the Alumnae Association:

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(Snort! I love the boilerplate language above: “Know all men by these present . . .”  Ha!  It’s a women’s college, with money all coming from alumnae, presented at an alumnae luncheon!  Oh English language, why so binary?)

A simple log cabin was built by the Adirondack Log Cabin Company, and the camp officially opened on October 15, 1933.

Check out these cool photos of the cabin being built:

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Able to sleep 10 – 15 students in two bunkrooms, everything about the camp was rustic in the extreme.  The only heat came from wood stoves and a stone fireplace, with all firewood chopped by the students:

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I did not expect this when I applied to Barnard!

and carried to the cabin:

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Hey, winter is FUN!

All food was cooked by students over fire pits:

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 Mmm, Yum! I love squirrel

or on a stove that was probably old-fashioned even then:

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Ooh, lovely, this kettle should be boiling in just under an hour!

Every drop of water was hauled by students from an outdoor pump:

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                        Why am I always the one elected to do this?

And with no running water in the cabin, bathing took place in a nearby lake (when it wasn’t frozen, I assume,) and outhouses were the only waste facilities.

Sounds kind of delightful in the Spring and Fall, doesn’t it?  However, these hardy Barnard women enjoyed the cabin year round!

Later on, three campsites with shelters were added for the truly stalwart who found the whole cabin experience too soft:

camp_hemlock50    We don’t need no stinking walls!

The Administration was thrilled with their new camp, the fruition of a ten-year quest.

(I could go on to document the previous incarnations of the Barnard Camp, which dated back to 1917 and World War I.  With able-bodied men being sent overseas to fight, the shortage of male farm workers affected food production.   So Dr. Ida Ogilvie, a Barnard geology professor, formed a chapter of the “Women’s Land Army” on her Bedford Hills farm.  Barnard students, dubbed “Farmerettes,” spent weekends in the fresh country air tilling the soil and harvesting crops.  Later, other outdoorsy weekend retreats were held at a farmhouse in Ossining, and at the Bear Mountain Inn.  But I’ll stop here before your eyes completely glaze over.)

On Oct. 6, 1933, a special “Camp Supplement” issue of the school newspaper, the Barnard Bulletin, was published, which sang the praises of the new retreat: “Strangely and fittingly enough,” wrote Professor Agnes Wayman in the lead article, “The road that passes the property and ends at a private lake is called ‘Journey’s End,’ and so, the trail has led us to our journey’s end.”

How poetic!

Professor Wayman went on to say that “Camp now deliberately reaches out for the book-worm, the bridge fiend, the indoor girl, the weak sister…each may find friends and activities and peace and quiet and ‘unlax’ in her own way. Camp is the place for the student who wants a change from city life, for the student who wants to get away from It.”

The “bridge fiend?” In college? Goodness gracious me! Times have changed, no?  And I’d hate to be a “weak sister” in that wood-chopping, water-carrying, outhouse-using milieu. But, still, doesn’t it look rather idyllic in the pictures?  (Despite the possible squirrel-grilling.)  In fact, I wouldn’t at all mind  “unlaxing” there for only $5 a weekend!

Sadly, interest for the healthy outdoor life began to dwindle after World War II, and by 1961 a Barnard Camp Report noted that “Past reports have attempted to analyze the limited use of the camp. School pressures; absence of cohesive groups who socialize together; travel time, cost, and difficulty; lack of inside plumbing and adequate heating are valid explanations. The changing nature of the student, as several students have pointed out, accounts in part for their not participating in the experiences that the camp offers. Apparently few are interested in spending a weekend of group living with girls, especially when there are chores and some discomfort.”

Harumpf.  Those soft baby boomers.

Because look how cozy it seemed:

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And see what fun they had!

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Can you believe it only cost $1.30 to take the train up to Ossining from NYC?

In December 1968, an editorial in the Barnard Bulletin bemoaned the fact that “People have lost their taste for the shared pleasures of fire-building and massive pancake breakfasts. Nowadays the cabin is less often visited than it was in the past, and large groups seldom get together there for a weekend. The times have changed, but, thank God, Holly House remains the same.” (The camp was renamed Holly House in 1963 at the retirement of Margaret Holland, the long-time Physical Education Department Chair and first camp counselor.)

The College kept the camp going for decades, mostly using it for retreats and alumnae events, although students were still supposedly allowed to go there.  If they knew about it.

By 1991, student trips were no longer listed in the student handbook. (I swear, I never saw anything about the camp in my student handbook! Well, truthfully, I probably never read my student handbook.  But still.)

The land was reportedly sold by the college in 1992 — so much for the “in perpetuity” of the existence of a Barnard College Camp. It kills me to think I could have visited the camp in its waning days! But, I confess, I’m not sure how much my well-coddled, 18-year old self would have appreciated bathing in a lake or using an outhouse.

So, file the above under history I’ve run by for years but never knew about until now.

You’re welcome.

 

All photos from the Barnard Archives and Special Collections