Today’s Women’s History Month post is celebrating Edith Carpenter Macy (1869 – 1925).
If you’ve ever shopped at the Chilmark Center on the border of Ossining and Briarcliff Manor, you’ve been wandering through what was part of V. Everitt and Edith Carpenter Macy’s eponymous farm and estate.
Also, if you’ve ever bought a box of Girl Scout cookies, you were enjoying a fundraiser popularized by Edith Macy in the 1920s, in her position as Chair of the Girl Scout Board of Directors.
Edith Macy lived amidst great privilege. Marrying Valentine Everit Macy in 1896, she would benefit from his prodigious wealth (he inherited $20 million at the age of 5 thanks to his father’s canny merger with Standard Oil – but more on that in another post).
The 1900 Census notes that she and Everit had a butler, a 2nd butler, a cook, 3 maids (kitchen, chamber and ladies’), a laundress, and a nurse living with them on Underhill Road.
But though it might sound like she lived the American version of Downton Abbey (sorry, it’s that 2nd butler listed above!) Edith Macy spent much of her time working for the good of others.
Like many of her neighbors (Narcissa Cox Vanderlip, Carrie Chapman Catt and Elizabeth Underhill, just to name a few) Macy participated wholeheartedly in the fight for women’s suffrage. And once the 19th amendment was passed in 1920, (though let’s not forget that New York State passed a women’s suffrage act in 1917), Macy became the Director of the Westchester League of Women Voters.
But Edith Macy wasn’t content with only being associated with suffrage – she was also active in charities that directly helped poor women and children.
Now, one of the things I enjoy about writing these posts is that not only do I learn about the individuals I write about, but I gain granular insights into what the world was like “back then.” In writing up Mrs. Macy’s story, I’m reminded about all the things we take for granted today, such as the right for women to vote, pure food, and not seeing the majority of your children die before they reach adulthood.
One of the many organizations Mrs. Macy was involved in was the Henry Street Settlement. According to the Scarsdale Inquirier, “Long before the milk situation in New York city was satisfactory, [she] took an active part in the work of the Henry Street Settlement and furnished pure milk for the babies to that settlement from [her] farm at Chilmark.”
I think it’s worth unpacking that snippet a bit, because we so take for granted that the milk we get in our supermarkets is safe for human consumption. But back at the turn of the 20th century, that was decidedly not the case. In 1901, in response to rising infant mortality rates, especially in the poorer sections of Manhattan, the Rockefeller Institute commissioned a report on the sanitary conditions in New York’s milk industry. They documented the generally filthy conditions found in local dairies, such as open vats of milk stored in stables and near manure piles that resulted in skyhigh bacterial content that sickened and killed thousands of infants.
So this “pure milk” the Macys supplied to the Henry Street Settlement was more than just a small PR stunt – they were actually responding to a serious need until routine pasteurization of milk was adopted in New York City in 1912.
In 1914, she helped found the Westchester County Children’s Association – an organization that still thrives today and, true to its original mission, provides direct support for children’s programs while also lobbying on behalf of policies that will benefit Westchester’s children.
Macy’s interest in women’s suffrage rather naturally steered her to the Girl Scouts, an organization she would help lead from 1919 – 1925. She thought it was never too early to educate girls about citizenship and how they could be effective, useful members of society. Indeed, one of her first initiatives was to involve the Girl Scouts in the final campaign that helped pass the 19thAmendment.
Vintage pin and patch celebrating Edith Macy. Photo credit Vintagegirlscout.com
Sadly, Edith Macy died suddenly at the age of 55. In her honor, her husband purchased 200 acres of land and established the Edith Macy Center, a permanent place for Girl Scout leaders to receive training. The Edith Macy Center at 550 Chappaqua Road is still active today and still named after her.
 Scarsdale Inquirer, Volume VI, Number 12, 14 February 1925
Talk about ignoring things in your own backyard! It’s not only a wonderful organization that has provided exemplary stewardship of the land, but it’s also a goldmine of history.
If you know where to look, of course.
Now, I have of late become a little more interested in pre-history – I mean geologic history, the kind that involves rocks and . . . well, rocks. It is truly the history before humans. See here for more.
But I’m not going to go back to the Precambrian epoch. I mean, I could tell of gneiss and schist and Ossining marble, of ancient continental plates, ever shifting and buckling up mountain ranges. Of Pangaea and volcanoes and ice sheets . . . but already, I feel my attention begin to wane.
No, I have to admit that my interests lie in people – how they lived, what they ate, what they wore, what they did. How different yet similar we are. And, of course, how we got to where we are today.
Teatown has all of this – characters and stories, and a long, long history that can indeed be traced back to rocks and magma.
So let’s start from today, and go backwards, investigating the world of Teatown from 2022 all the way back to – well, I guess the history of the rocks and ice I disparaged above. Or at least until I get bored.
You can find it in our local libraries, pick it up at the Teatown gift shop, at any number of our local bookshops or, if you must, buy it online.
(Full disclosure, I have plucked much of my research for this post out of Diamant’s book.)
So, what is Teatown? (And how did it get its name?)
Today, 2022, Teatown Lake Reservation is a non-profit nature preserve with miles of trails, native plant exhibits, and a small wildlife refuge. Much of the land that constitute today’s Teatown was owned by Gerard Swope, Sr. and his wife Mary and inherited by their five children. They created Teatown Lake Reservation in 1963 to honor their parents and it has been thriving and growing ever since.
Gerard Swope was president of General Electric from 1922 – 1945 and was a well-respected businessman and labor reformer. He also worked in the Roosevelt administration during the Depression to aid with the economic recovery.
In 1922, Swope purchased the main house, the outbuildings and various parcels of land from the estate of Dan Hanna. In 1924, the Swopes created Teatown Lake, by building the small dam still found at the far side of lake.
I must note that from October – December 2022, Teatown had to do some extensive rebuilding of the dam and in the process, drained the entire lake. Here are some photos and look – you can see the remains of 18th/19th century stone walls still stuck in the mud.
And here are some pictures of the diggers and backhoes at work rebuilding the dam and installing a new pump.
But back to the exciting title search — in 1919, Dan Hanna purchased the land. He was the owner and publisher of the Cleveland News, as well as being a coal industrialist from the Ohio region. If you’re a serious political history buff, you might find it interesting to learn that he was the nephew of Ohio Senator Mark Hanna, the Karl Rove (or Kellyanne Conway) to our 25th President, William McKinley.
Dan Hanna was referred to as a “Cleveland Millionaire,” in a 1916 New York Times squib about his third divorce. (Is that a sniffy New York Times way of saying he wasn’t up to New York social standards?) He then swiftly remarried Molly Covington Hanna in the same year. There are other newspaper clippings I’ve seen that were positively salivating over his marital career (“Dan Hanna is some Marry-er” winked the Lexington Herald-Leader in December of 1916).
At his death in 1922, according to the New York Times, his estate was valued at $10,000,000. He was also noted as having four infant sons. Considering that he married Molly in 1916 and she was 47 at the time, that is either surprising or simply incorrect. Yet this curious 1923 article describes a chaotic life after she was widowed, despite the 978 acre estate on Makeenac Lake in the Berkshires that she received as a wedding gift from Hanna.
Continuing on back in time, the previous owner, Arthur Vernay, purchased the parcel in 1915 from the Hershfeld estate. Vernay was one of those wealthy men with a fascinating variety of interests and hobbies – apparently he was a very successful antiques dealer in Manhattan who was also an enthusiastic big-game hunter in the style of Teddy Roosevelt (and who also donated many carcasses to the Museum of Natural History. Apparently you can still find his name on a plaque in the Roosevelt wing there today.)
Vernay was responsible for building many of the Tudor-style structures that still stand today. Those office buildings by the parking lot? These were the old stables and outbuildings of the Croft, Vernay’s matching Tudor-style mansion that stood across the street until it was demolished in 2019. The Croft supposedly contained imported genuine antique English interiors (a fireplace in there was said to be from the 1300s!) I mean, considering that Vernay dealt in antiques, that seems possible.
Now, here’s where it gets complicated. Before 1915, Teatown was part of a series of parcels that had at one time all been owned and farmed by the Palmer family. The Palmer connection goes back to 1780, when William Palmer purchased a fairly large tract of land from Pierre Van Cortlandt. Palmer lived at 400 Blinn Road (so named in the 20th century by actor Holbrook Blinn) and seems to have run a successful dairy farm. (Lincoln Diamant says that #400 was a converted dairy barn. But Diamant also says that #400 was a house built by the Van Cortlandt’s in 1740. I’d be interested to know which is the truth.)
In 1826, William Palmer gives several plots of land to his son Robert, who would build himself a farmhouse nearby at 340 Blinn Road.
A few years later, William Palmer would give another plot to his son John, who apparently lived in a farmhouse on or near today’s Teatown administration building. His barn is said to have been on the site of the maple sugaring shed. And the lake? That wasn’t there at all – it was in fact a Big Meadow (so noted on maps of that era.)
At some point, son (or grandson?) Richard Palmer also received a plot of land – this one all the way over by Teatown Road. In fact, if you walk along the Lakeside Trail, crossing the two Eagle Scout-built bridges built by Troop 18 scouts Michael Pavelchek and William Curvan . . .
. . . you’ll eventually come upon some crumbing stone foundations which are all that’s left of Richard Palmer’s farmstead. The buildings were supposedly standing until 1915, and I have even heard that daylilies are still seen to bloom at the site on occasion (though I’ve never managed to see any.)
Other plots of land were sold to non-Palmers, one of which still whispers to us when the leaves are down. As you’re walking on the Lakeside Trail, right next to Spring Valley Road, you might notice a pile of stones. These are the foundation of Kahr’s farmhouse, located at 1685 Spring Valley Road.
And if you walk a little farther and look carefully, you can even see what I believe is the original well for this farmhouse:
Are your eyes glazed over yet? Stay with me a bit longer and I’ll tell you how it got its name AND make the connection all the back to the first people – I’ll be quick, I promise!
How did Teatown get its name?
The story goes (and it comes from the aforementioned Mr. Diamant) that during the American Revolution a grocer named John Arthur moved up from British-controlled Manhattan to the Neutral Zone of northern Westchester. Gossip ensued, and it was bandied about among the local women that Mr. Arthur had several chests of tea in his possession. Now tea was as precious as gold then (remember the Boston Tea Party??) and Arthur was a prudent businessman who hoped to sell his tea for whatever the market would bear. Well, this market of tea-deprived farmwomen was no match for him – they ransacked his farmhouse and found the tea. He finally agreed to sell it to them for a reasonable price and so Teatown was born.
(I will not waste words poking holes into this story as I do not have a better one to offer in its place.)
Moving still further backwards . . .
In 1697 Stephanus Van Cortlandt is awarded a royal patent from King William III for 86,000 acres that ran from today’s Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton all the way up to Anthony’s Nose and inland almost to Connecticut. Stephanus died in 1700 and it was up to his widow Gertrude and about 100 tenant families to farm and maintain the land. (Well, I’m pretty sure Gertrude wasn’t doing any hoeing. . .)
Now, before 1609, when Henry Hudson sailed his Half Moon up the river, the area was home to Algonquin-speaking indigenous people related to the Mohicans, Munsees, Wappingers and Delawares. The Sint Sincks and the Kitchawan were two tribes that likely used the Teatown area as their hunting grounds.
Going back even farther, say about 10,000 – 15,000 years ago, people were following the retreating glaciers and first coming into the area from the south and the west.
Think about that — our area has only been habitable fairly recently. Consider that the most recent ice age, of the Quaternary Period, began over 2 million years ago and it wasn’t until about 25,000 years ago that humans and animals could even have survived. It is, as Town of Ossining historian Scott Craven likes to say, just a geological snap of the fingers!
So there you have it – a thumbnail history of Teatown from November 2022 to 2 million years ago. While this is by no means in-depth reporting, I hope it will inspire you to dig deeper.
I had to update this post because I felt too many people saw the misleading title, but did not read the article. I couldn’t, in good conscience, let people walk around Ossining thinking that there was a Revolutionary War Era gun emplacement here when in fact there is not.
Have you ever seen this little structure in Ossining? It’s just north of the Ossining train station, high up on the ridge. You might notice it if you happening to be craning your neck and looking to the sky as you pull out of the Ossining train station. (It also needs to be winter, when all the overgrowth and leaves are clear.)
It’s always looked like a Revolutionary War gun emplacement to me. And it’s been a huge mystery – well, at least in the moment it flashes past. Then, as is so often the case, I forget about it until the next time.
It’s taken me several years of extremely intermittent and apathetic research to solve this little mystery, but I think I’ve done it.
And, sigh, no. It is not a Revolutionary War gun emplacement.
It seems it is just the foundation of a small gazebo on Oliver Cromwell Field’s properly, built in the early 19th century.
But let’s go deeper, shall we?
My original haphazard and undisciplined Internet research turned up nothing. But then, investigating something else, I stumbled upon an Archeological Assessment and Field Investigation report for the Hidden Cove Development that was being planned for the old Brandreth Pill Factory site. Luckily, I downloaded the whole thing because the link to the Village site no longer works – I’m guessing this project is on permanent hold.
Anyway, this little document – well, it runs a cool eighty-four pages, so it is NOT little at all – makes for some surprisingly fascinating reading. First, and please join me on this little tangent, who knew that there are six pre-contact sites of archeological interest within one mile of this one. (Pre-contact means before Europeans arrived. It is thought that humans have been living here for at least the last 13,000 years.)
Two of the sites are in Crawbuckie Park, but there’s no further information about exactly where (yet.) Two more are somewhere nearby along the river. The fifth is apparently the site of a pre-contact village at the mouth of the Croton River, but with no specific details. Finally, the sixth site was professionally excavated in 1977 by Louis Brennan and is called Piping Rock: “a Paleo-hunter and Dalton Early Archaic Site.” So as not to sideline this blog post too much more, allow me to promise that I will investigate this thoroughly soon in a future post.
But back to my Revolutionary War Gun Emplacement that is not . . .
On page 10 of this Report, there’s an achingly accurate history of the Brandreth parcel of land (we all know that the Brandreth Pill Factory was one of 19th century Ossining’s biggest employers, right? And that Benjamin Brandreth was wildly successful at selling his highly impotent and useless patent medicines at a time when nothing else worked either. Herman Melville even mentions them in “Moby-Dick!” But I digress yet again.)
Originally, the land was stolen from the indigenous Sinc Sinck by Frederick Phillipse in 1685. (Too much? Okay, Phillipse made a completely fair trade, as has been so often the case in North American land transactions with native peoples.)
Over a hundred years later, an English gentleman named Oliver Cromwell Field purchased this parcel of land, and “immediately constructed a house on the promontory that overlooks the Hudson River. The house was a large building in the Greek Revival style that had large columns on the southern exposure. During the Field’s occupancy a small summerhouse, or gazebo, was built on the tip of the southernmost cliff (the foundation is still extant on the site. (Assessment, 10)”
Aw, there you have it. My gun emplacement, which in my mind was manned by courageous Sing Sing citizens during the Revolutionary War, who fired off potshots at the British vessels as they approached the Hudson Highlands, is really just some rich English guy’s 19th century gazebo.
Sometimes history is like that. . .
Here are a few more pictures. I STILL think it looks like a gun emplacement.
One of the things that endlessly fascinate me are the ‘gates to nowhere’ that I pass on my runs. You know what I mean — those stone entranceways that sit just off the road, often covered in vines, sometimes with a name carved into them. The last vestiges of a grand estate sitting forlorn and forgotten. It’s at once tragic and mysterious to me that someone once spent the time and effort to install a stone gate to mark the entryway to their property, yet today it’s reduced to a stub of a thing leading nowhere. What happened? Why? Where are the people that put the gate up?
Since I have nothing else to think about when I run, I find myself getting terribly existential, and mourn the ephemeral nature of our world. Then I get mad — it’s a sad commentary on our respect for history that an estate or farm that once merited a grand gate can just be erased from memory and topography by real estate developments. (Of course, to be fair, often those developments memorialize what was there by naming themselves after it.)
Some of these gates are connected to estates I’ve blogged about before. Some are of unknown provenance. If you know anything about these mystery gates, please let me know and I’ll update this post. (Who knows, perhaps they’ll even merit a post of their own!)
This first one can be found on Spring Valley Road, almost exactly across from the Heady Family Cemetery, and is one of the mystery gates. It seems to have “Lichtstern” etched into it on the right-hand pillar. I have not been able to find any records of such a family anywhere in the area. Anyone?
This is the pillar for the entrance to John Cheever’s old house. It looks as if it’s been maintained in the recent past, so I like to think that Cheever had it rebuilt and a new namestone engraved.
These next three examples are likely leftovers from the McCord Farm which, in the 1750s, encompassed about 225 acres and was originally part of Frederick Phillipse’s Manor. (This definitely requires its own post!)
Now, I’ve been told by those who know, that these pillars – found at the intersection of 134 & Kitchawan Road/Croton Dam Road – were the original entrance to the McCord Farm. Since the main farmhouse is all the way over at the corner of Narrangansett and Collyer, I kind of question that assessment, but since I have nothing better to add, I’ll leave it there until I learn more:
This gate sits along Narrangansett near Bayden Road and has been nicely incorporated into the entrance of the current house:
This one’s kind of hard to see, but it’s at the intersection between Croton Dam Road and Narrangansett. If you look really closely, you can see it has brass letters that read “HarrieDean” on the left column:
These pillars are at the corner of Eastern and Watson — not at all lined up with the house behind. So curious!
Are there any other old gates in the Ossining area that you’ve always wondered about? Send photos and locations and let’s see if we can solve their mystery!
If you’ve been following this blog at all, you’ll know that I have a special interest in ruins. From Elda Castle, to the Kress Estate, to the Brandywine Estate, to Rockwood – there’s a plethora of them to explore in the area. Few things are more exciting to me than discovering overgrown ruins hidden in the woods (someday I will write about stumbling upon the Ouvrage La Ferte in the Ardennes sector of the Maginot Line in France in 1984, but that’s a tale for another time.)
There’s something deeply compelling (and rather tragic) about the disintegration of grand, rich houses. It’s a reminder of a past when the barons of industry and arts purchased great swaths of Westchester/Putnam land at the turn of the 20th century and built elaborate country manors. It’s also a reminder of the strength of mother nature and the vicissitudes of life – nothing stands forever.
The Cornish Estate is definitely up there as a remarkable example of an elegant, early 20th century country home that has fallen on hard times. Located just south of Breakneck Ridge in Garrison, you park at the brand spanking new Washburn trailhead and parking lot. We hiked a whole loop, that takes you past an old quarry (which is unusual in its flatness), but you can also do an easy hike up the old driveway straight to the Cornish ruins. Check out this link for a hiking map.
(And yes, I know this isn’t technically within the geographical purview of the Ossining History on the Run area. But I make the rules, so I’m making an exception. I mean, this is just too cool to ignore!)
Built in the 1910s by diamond merchant Sigmund Stern, the estate was originally dubbed “Northgate.” According to Rob Yasinac at Hudson Valley Ruins.org, Sigmund Stern was actively involved in the adjacent Surprise Lake Camp, serving on its Board and selling parcels of land to the camp. (To digress, Surprise Lake Camp is still in existence and is probably one of the first Jewish camps organized in America.) Supposedly, and I cannot confirm this, the architecture of both the Northgate estate house and the main building of Surprise Lake Camp were very similar and built at around the same time. For what it’s worth, I read through this pamphlet on the history of Surprise Lake Camp and could find no mention of a Sigmund Stern. (But there’s lots on Eddie Cantor, an early camper and lifelong supporter.)
Sigmund, it seems, did not spend long at Northgate, selling both the house and the surrounding 650 acres in 1916 to Edward and Selina Cornish. They lived there until 1938, when Edward tragically dropped dead at his desk at the National Lead Company. Selina followed him to the grave two weeks later. After that, it seems that some relatives of the Cornishes lived there until the 1950s, but I couldn’t discover much about that period.
Here’s what it looked like in its prime:
Photo from MinskysAbandoned.com
You can still see the remains of a freshwater, gravity-fed swimming pool, a greenhouse, a pump house some distance away on the creek and a large stone barn. Rob Yasinac asserts that “Cornish raised prize jersey cows here and newspaper articles of the 1920s chronicled the record-setting milk producing efforts of Cornishes dairy cows, including one named ‘Fon Owlet.'” Alas, I have not been able to locate these newspaper articles. . .
In 1958, the house was mostly destroyed by fire. The heirs to the Cornish family sold the property to Central Hudson Gas and Electric, who were planning to build a power plant on the site. (This was around the same time that Con Edison wanted to build a power plant on Storm King Mountain right across the river.) After various local conservation groups fought the project, CHG&E gave up and sold or donated the land to the Hudson Highlands State Park. (Fun fact, the Con Ed power-plant-on-Storm-King idea was active until the 1980s. How lucky we are that neither plant was built.)
Here’s a classic History on the Run post – this is a place I have been running by for years, wondered about, and promptly forgotten about before I even got home.
But this past week, while helping my friend Kim knock out a long run for her Ironman training (!!), we ran past this gate in Briarcliff Manor:
Can you see the “Brandywine” carved into the left pillar? Anyway, this is located at 620 Sleepy Hollow Road in Briarcliff Manor, NY and is currently the site of the Briarcliff Manor Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care:
This time I remembered to look it up when I got home. The Internet was remarkably opaque, but luckily I own a copy of Mary Cheever’s excellent and exhaustive book, “The Changing Landscape,” which details the history of this fine estate (and that of many others in the area.)
So, let’s explore, shall we?
Originally built in 1909 by Isaac Newton Spiegelberg and called Miramont Court, the estate included a 49-room Tudor-style mansion, outbuildings, a 75-foot water tower, and 20 acres of extensively landscaped land.
Here’s what it looks like today:
**UPDATE (4/2/2019): An intrepid local historian found my blog and sent me the photos (below) of the interior.
According to Mary Cheever, a visitor in 1910 would see
A courtyard around the façade of the house. From the porte-cochere, an entryway leads directly into the “great hall,” which is wood-pannelled, with a large fireplace and, set into the ceiling in terra cotta, the initials of the Spiegelbergs, I.N.S and S.F.S (Stella Friedlander.)
(Note that the house was heavily renovated in the 1930s, so much of what Cheever describes has been removed.)
To the right is the Music Room, in which there was a stage with a piano on it; an organ; a big window with seats cushioned in red velvet; a small balcony in the back; and, seated on an overhang around the ceiling, child-sized . . . cherubs with their feet crossed, looking down. Many concerts and theatricals took place . . . here. (Cheever 107)
Here’s the exterior of the above piano room:
Here are some more photos — considering the building has been vacant for quite some time, it’s amazing how intact it still is!
The following pictures must be of rooms upstairs:
I’m not exactly sure what/where the following is a photo of, but it looks like a ceiling of some sort:
Such craftsmanship, no?
Here’s more from Mary Cheever on the grounds in that pre-World War I time:
Many plants were imported for the gardens, most from Japan, because the local nurseries were comparatively undeveloped at the time. The house had a grand view – from the lawn and tennis courts in the foreground, across the gardens, a vineyard, a pond and a strip of woodland, to the Hudson River and the hills of Rockland County in the distance. On fine afternoons, Stella Spiegelberg took tea in a treehouse in the garden. She had to climb up steep steps into the treehouse, but there was a dumbwaiter to convey the tea and accompanying delicacies to her there. (Cheever 108)
Alas, there’s no sign of the treehouse with its dumbwaiter today . . . Such a shame how dilapidated this once-grand mansion has become!
The original owner, Isaac Spiegelberg, was an interesting character. Born in the US in 1859, he received his engineering training in Europe. He spent some years working for the St. Gotthard Railway in Switzerland – here’s a cool stock postcard photo of a engineering marvel of a bridge in the alps:
Spiegelberg returned to the US to continue in the railroad business out West, eventually transitioning into stock brokering, and ultimately purchasing a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1886. Considering that so many of the movers and shakers of the banking world had summer estates up here, it’s no wonder the Spiegelbergs moved up here, to socialize with the Rockefellers, Vanderlips and Astors.
After Isaac Spiegelberg died in 1927, the estate was sold to Mrs. Ethel Barksdale, a sister of Pierre Du Pont. The Barksdales “bought more land, built a studio (some of the family were artists), a greenhouse, some kennels, remodeled the interior . . . and named the estate Brandywine. (Cheever 109) ” The Barksdales lived there only until 1931, (thanks stock market crash?) after which the property was sold to the Edward Walker Hardens.
Edward Harden was a newspaperman responsible for some of the great scoops at the turn of the century. In 1898, he was one of the first to report on Admiral Dewey’s triumph at the Battle of Manila Bay, during the Spanish-American War. (What? Huh? No real clue, except that Wikipedia tells me that this was “one of the most decisive naval battles in history and marked the end of the Spanish colonial period in Philippine history.”) Harden was married to Frank Vanderlip’s sister Ruth, and by the time the Hardens moved to Westchester, Edward had, like so many others at the time it seems, left his previous career to work on Wall Street, purchasing a seat on the NYSE.
The Hardens bought and sold several significant properties in the area (like the building on Main Street, Tarrytown that now houses the Tarrytown public school administration offices) before purchasing Brandywine and a large parcel of land adjacent to it. (Side note: Harden gave some of this adjacent land, at 710 Long Hill Road West, to his niece Narcissa Vanderlip and her husband Julian Street. Here’s a photo of the house they lived in, designed by Wallace Harrison in 1939, one of the first contemporary-style houses in the area:
And in another interesting twist, the land right across the street from the Brandywine gate, was sold to FDR’s daughter Anna and her husband Curtis Dahl. Today that parcel is called Sleepy Hill. Here’s a picture of the gate:
But back to Brandywine – the Hardens never occupied the Speigelberg’s Tudor, instead building a stone mansion in florid Italian Renaissance style some distance away in “The Wilderness.” They filled their house by importing full rooms from Europe (as one did in those post-WWI days), authentic Belgian blocks from Belgium, and crates of antique furniture. According to Kay Courreges, the daughter of the estate manager, the Hardens had a full time “cabinetmaker and upholsterer” in the basement of the mansion to alter and maintain these antiques. That detail says it all to me about the opulent life they lived.
Both Edward and his wife Ruth lived well into their 80s and are buried next to each other in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
At some point, the massive property was sold, and in 1986, The Wilderness was purchased by a developer who built 116 houses on the old estate and called the development Rosecliff.
Here’s a NYT article from April 4, 1986 detailing this part of the story.
And here’s a photo of the Harden’s manor house today, the “Clubhouse” at Rosecliff:
At some other point, a nursing home set up shop in the old Tudor house on the Brandywine section of the estate. A more modern building has been built for this purpose and, as pictured above, the Spiegelberg house is now surrounded by chain link fence and unoccupied. There was a fire in 2012 in a garage on the property, but other than destroying the garage, there were no casualties.
Brandywine is apparently on the market as of August 2018. Here’s a properly video:
Have you ever noticed that snow white mansion on Rt. 9 about a mile north of Mercy College in Irvington? I don’t know how you’d miss it . . .
I had noticed it for years before I finally found out what it was and, of course, there is quite an interesting story attached to it. So sit back, enjoy a latte from First Village Coffee in Ossining (shameless plug and no they don’t pay me!) and follow me back in time to 1917 when the New York Times wrote an article about Madam C.J. Walker entitled “Wealthiest Negro Woman’s Suburban Mansion – Estate at Irvington, Overlooking the Hudson and Containing all the Attractions that a Big Fortune Commands.”
It’s strange to me that Madam C.J. Walker is rarely mentioned today. Even the National Museum of African American History and Culture relegates her to a just small display:
Perhaps the reason is that she made her fortune selling hair products – pomades, shampoos and hot combs – and many believe that the thrust of their appeal was that they made curly black hair smooth and straight. Perhaps, but she was, if not an actual millionaire, still the epitome of the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps figure America loves to glorify. And her hair products business was one of the most long-lived and successful African-American owned businesses to date.
So let’s hear her story . . .
Born in 1867 as Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana, she was the only member of her immediate family who was never a slave. Her family was still living on the plantation of their former owner, Mr. Burney, in a sharecropper’s shack. Here is a photo of her birthplace:
(Photo from “On her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker” by A’Lelia Bundles)
It is exactly what I imagined a sharecropper’s shack would look like.
(A’Lelia is an interesting figure in her own right, a TV producer for various NBC shows in the 1980s and ‘90s. And I understand her book was just optioned by Octavia Spencer for a TV series about Madam.)
Sarah Breedlove’s story is Dickensian, if Dickens wrote about African-Americans. Orphaned at the age of 7, she moved in with her older sister in Vicksburg, Mississippi and worked as a house cleaner, a laundry girl and whatever other menial jobs she could find. She married at the age of 14 (because Mississippi) and had her only child, Lelia, at the age of 18. Widowed at 20, she moved around the country (remarrying twice more) until she settled in St. Louis, where her two brothers were successful barbers. She started selling hair products for what would become her chief rival, Annie Turnbo Malone’s Poro Company. It’s around this time that she became Madam C.J. Walker, taking the name from her third husband, Charles John Walker. Madam Walker learned the ropes quickly and branched off to sell her own patented hair growth formula.
She moved to Colorado, then Pittsburgh, then Indianapolis, opening salons and mail order businesses along the way. Her business model was very close to the multi-level marketing format used by companies such as Arbonne, NuSkin, Shaklee and Amway today. While I’m not saying she invented MLM (she had, after all, sold hair products for another company before she opened her own) she certainly streamlined and profited from the concept.
As she climbed the ladder, she became involved in philanthropy and activism, perhaps as a business strategy, perhaps altruistically. But she counted Booker T. Washington and W.E.B DuBois as friends, and was frequently invited to speak at various conventions.
In 1913, she purchased a townhouse in Harlem at 108 West 136thStreet and installed her daughter Lelia there to run the NY operation.
(Another photo from “On her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker” by A’Lelia Bundles)
In 1916, Madam Walker purchased a parcel of land in Irvington and hired Vertner Tandy, the first licensed, African-American architect in NYC to design her mansion.
The aforementioned 1917 New York Times article is casually racist as they describe the local reaction: “On her first visits to inspect her property, the villagers, noting her color, were frankly puzzled. Later, when it became know that she was the owner of the pretentious dwelling, they could only gasp in astonishment. ‘Impossible!’ they exclaimed. ‘No woman of her race could afford such a place.” Oh 1917, was that when America was great?
Her home became known as “Villa Lewaro,” supposedly so named by Enrico Caruso, a frequent guest. He is said to have cobbled the name out of Madam’s daughter’s: LElia WAlker RObinson. Even if that’s apocryphal, I like it, and say it’s true.
The house and grounds were lush and luxurious. According to A’Lelia Bundle’s book:
“With imported Japanese Prayer Trees and flowering shrubs and perennials timed to bloom continuously from early spring to late fall, Madam Walker’s Italian gardener intended to create a setting as magnificent as that of any of the surrounding estates with their formal gardens and impeccably tended grounds. . . From the curved balcony outside her sleeping porch, Madam Walker could see the NJ Palisades looking above the Hudson River like a fortress . . . Her airy boudoir – which caught the early sun through French doors – was designed for pure indulgence with its twelve-piece Louis XVI chamber suite of ivory-enameled mahogany arrayed upon a nearly wall-to-wall hand-woven Aubusson carpet. On warm mornings, her housekeeper served breakfast downstairs outside her first floor dining room on the upper level of a two-tiered terrace. At night, yachting parties were known to beam their searchlights across those terraces, illuminating the crochet-like balustrades that dramatically latticed the rear of the house.”
Madam Walker was quoted as saying that she had built her house “to convince members of [my]race of the wealth of business possibilities within the race and point to young Negroes what a lone woman accomplished and to inspire them to do big things.”
(Another photo from “On her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker” by A’Lelia Bundles)
Madam C.J. Walker in her prime
Sadly, she only enjoyed her home for a year or so before succumbing to kidney disease in 1919, at the age of 52. Villa Lewaro stayed in the family until 1931 when I assume that the Depression made it untenable for Lelia Walker to maintain. It was apparently then the Anne E. Poth Home for Convalescent and Aged Members of the Companions of the Forest in America (thanks Wikipedia!) and in 1976 it was designated an Historic Landmark. It has been in private hands since the 1980s. What I wouldn’t give to see the inside!!
Part II of “Running down the Old Croton Aqueduct”: From the Croton Dam to Rockwood – 10 miles
I’ve been a little haphazard with my posts lately, but here’s the next installment of my Running Down the Old Croton Aqueduct series. (Here’s the first one if you have somehow missed it.)
First, I would be remiss if I didn’t give you the link to the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct website. They’re a non-profit organization who do great work protecting and preserving the OCA. They have sponsored historical signs all along the Aqueduct, host guided walks, and post interesting information on their website. Check them out!
Now, generally, I run just a three-mile stretch of the Aqueduct – from the Croton Dam down to GE’s Jack E. Welch campus and then back up to the Dam. But, as I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve slowly been working my way down the entire length of the Aqueduct. So far, I’ve gotten about 15 miles down.
I started this project last spring, when a group of my running friends and I ran a 10-mile section from the Croton Dam down to Rockwood, in Rockefeller State Park.
Here’s what we saw:
Starting at Croton Dam (and the Dam deserves a dedicated blog post unto itself – soon!), the first three miles are fairly remote and serene – it’s mostly just you, some trees and the unpaved trail. (And it’s all a gentle downhill too — sloping thirteen inches for every mile the whole way to the city.)
About a mile south of the Dam, you’ll pass the Egon Ottinger cottage on your right just off the trail (previously blogged about here.) Also around here, you’ll pass the first of what I believe are 26 remaining ventilator shafts that help mark the miles down to New York City. These chimney-like structures were built to help keep the aqueduct at atmospheric pressure so the water would keep flowing fresh and swift.
Over the next couple of miles, you’ll cross two roads that are fairly secluded with only the rare car sighting. (One of those roads, Quaker Bridge Road East, will take you up to Lorraine Hansberry’s Croton home if you’re interested. See more here.
Once you hit the GE campus, you’ll do a bit of narrow, windy trail running and go underneath Route 9A. (The Aqueduct actually crosses 9A, but obviously you don’t want to do that.)
About four miles in, you get into the Village of Ossining. Here, you’ll get to run past the Ossining Waste Weir, one of six built to allow drainage if the water level in the aqueduct tunnel rose too high. There are wonderfully medieval-looking, subterranean hand-cranked metal gates here once used to divert the water – you can go down and see the one in Ossining on special occasions. Here are some terrific pictures from a local blog, both of the underground portion of the weir and of the trail down to Sleepy Hollow. (I don’t run with my phone, so I have to depend on the kindness of strangers.)
Then, you’ll run over the iconic double arches, which have, at various times, made up Ossining’s logo:
Here’s another version:
Here’s an excellent local blog with much more detail on and history of the double arches.
Continuing down the Aqueduct, you’ll run through the center of the Village of Ossining, on sidewalks, through Nelson Park, along and across Route 9 until you hit what I consider the next interesting site, located down in Sparta/Scarborough — the birthplace of John L. Worden, the famed Commander of the USS Monitor. Perhaps you’ve noticed this sign while driving along Route 9?
Of course you remember the famous tale of the Monitor and the Merrimac, the first engagement of ironclad steamships during the Civil War that changed naval battle strategy forever. No? Well, check out Wikipedia here for more on that story.
Right across the street from the John Worden historical marker is the old Frank Vanderlip estate, formerly called Beechwood and now a fancy condominium complex mostly enclosed by a red brick wall.
To avoid running on Route 9, we crossed over here and went down Scarborough Station Road a bit, before winding left through a quiet suburban neighborhood. (Fun fact: I’ve heard that James Patterson, currently one our most prolific and highest earning authors alive today has a house in the area . . .)
Hooking onto River Road, we ran almost all the way back up to Route 9, but turned right at the last possible moment. (To our left was the Clearview School, formerly the Scarborough School, and originally built by the Vanderlips.) Here, we turned right onto a thin trail winding through grass and woods leading us into Rockefeller State Park through a back way. This was familiar territory to all of us, as Rockefeller (aka “Rockies”) is a popular place to run.
This is wonderfully secluded and bucolic, with a combination of narrow and carriage-width trails winding all the way to the foundation of Rockwood Hall where we ended our 10-mile run.
Have you ever wandered through that southern section of Rockefeller State Park that’s kind of behind Phelps Hospital, kind of adjacent to Kendal on the Hudson? There’s a map showing its trails in the book “Walkable Westchester” by Jane and Walt Daniels.
(Sorry, you have to buy the book to see this map due to copyright restrictions. However, you can easily find this map if you search for it on the Internet.)
It’s also just off the Croton Aqueduct, Now, I’ve always heard this part of the Park referred to as Rockwood. And I’ve always wondered about what looked like an enormous building foundation with a stunning view of the Hudson. There are also wide trails, remains of Central Park-like stone walls and roadways, and elegant old trees that obviously once surrounded a beautifully designed and manicured estate.
Just a wee bit of online digging gave me some of the story. I hope you find it as interesting as I do!
Rockwood Hall, so I’ve learned, was the palatial estate belonging to William Avery Rockefeller, Jr. He was a brother to John Rockefeller, Sr., the founder of Standard Oil and scion of the Rockefeller family we know today. William was a co-founder of Standard Oil with John Sr., and, by many accounts, a canny businessman.
Born in 1841, he was two years younger than his brother John. Once they had established themselves as leading businessmen, William began purchasing property in Westchester, soon inspiring John Sr. to do the same. (He and his son John Jr., soon acquired over 3,000 acres.)
Rockwood Hall was begun in 1886. An enormous estate (to my mind!) it consisted of over 200 acres, with winding carriage trails and a Gilded Age mansion with 204 rooms. Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame) designed and laid out the park-like landscape. And this was just one of Rockefeller’s many homes. Today’s Silicon Valley billionaires have nothing on the Rockefellers!
When William Rockefeller died in 1922 (of pneumonia caught whilst driving with his brother John, so the story goes), Rockwood Hall was turned into a country club.
Here’s a photo of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ parents – Mr. and Mrs. John V. Bouvier attending a horse show at Rockwood Hall Country Club in 1934:
When the country club went bankrupt in 1937 (the Depression was hard even on the horsey set) the Rockefeller family bought it back, and demolished the mansion in 1941. (I suppose the war might have made it difficult to staff and keep up?) The Rockefellers donated the land to New York State in 1999 and it became part of Rockefeller State Park.
Here’s a photo of what it looked like back in the day:
“Mr. William Rockefeller is said to have spent Three Million Dollars.” Indeed! Let’s see, three million dollars in 1886 dollars is about — yikes! The online inflation calculator says that’s worth over $75 million dollars today! Could that possibly be true?
Here’s a link to an informational brochure compiled by the New York Parks Department — it contains a far more exhaustive history than I’ve posted here, plus some pictures of the interior of this glorious mansion.
BLOG POST: 116 Hawkes Avenue — The Corliss Lamont Estate
116 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.
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.