The Cornish Estate Ruins

The Cornish Estate Ruins

web_img_20140810_140241678_hdrPhoto from MinskysAbandoned.com

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:

northgate-huntington-85                      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.)

Check out Minsky’s Abandoned for more photos of the current state of the ruins.

And for more pictures of the estate in its prime, please visit this link (I’d reproduce the photos here for you, but the website specifically asks one not to.)

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

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

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

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

Brandywine main gate 2

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

Briarcliff Manor Center

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

So, let’s explore, shall we?

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

Here’s what it looks like today:

Brandywine Main House

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

According to Mary Cheever, a visitor in 1910 would see

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

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

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

Brandywine 12

Here’s the exterior of the above piano room:

Music Room?

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

The following pictures must be of rooms upstairs:

Brandywine 8

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

Brandywine 11

Such craftsmanship, no?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

710 Long Hill Drive West

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

IMG_4365

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

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

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

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

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

Rosecliff

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

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

Madam C.J. Walker and Irvington’s Villa Lewaro

Madam C.J. Walker and Irvington’s Villa Lewaro

BLOG – Mme. C. J. Walker and Villa Lewaro

Have you ever noticed that snow white mansion on Rt. 9 about a mile north of Mercy College in Irvington? I don’t know how you’d miss it . . .

Villa-lewaro_crop

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:

IMG_1105

Perhaps the reason is that she made her fortune selling hair products – pomades, shampoos and hot combs – and many believe that the thrust of their appeal was that they made curly black hair smooth and straight.  Perhaps, but she was, if not an actual millionaire, still the epitome of the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps figure America loves to glorify.  And her hair products business was one of the most long-lived and successful African-American owned businesses to date.

So let’s hear her story . . .

Born in 1867 as Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana, she was the only member of her immediate family who was never a slave.  Her family was still living on the plantation of their former owner, Mr. Burney, in a sharecropper’s shack.  Here is a photo of her birthplace:

MADAM CJ WALKER birthplace(Photo from “On her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker” by A’Lelia Bundles)

It is exactly what I imagined a sharecropper’s shack would look like.

Now, I found the above photo and most of the following information in a fascinating book written by her great, great grand-daughter A’Lelia Bundles, entitled “On her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker.”

(A’Lelia is an interesting figure in her own right, a TV producer for various NBC shows in the 1980s and ‘90s.  And I understand her book was just optioned by Octavia Spencer for a TV series about Madam.)

Sarah Breedlove’s story is Dickensian, if Dickens wrote about African-Americans.  Orphaned at the age of 7, she moved in with her older sister in Vicksburg, Mississippi and worked as a house cleaner, a laundry girl and whatever other menial jobs she could find.  She married at the age of 14 (because Mississippi) and had her only child, Lelia, at the age of 18.  Widowed at 20, she moved around the country (remarrying twice more) until she settled in St. Louis, where her two brothers were successful barbers.  She started selling hair products for what would become her chief rival, Annie Turnbo Malone’s Poro Company.  It’s around this time that she became Madam C.J. Walker, taking the name from her third husband, Charles John Walker.    Madam Walker learned the ropes quickly and branched off to sell her own patented hair growth formula.

iur

She moved to Colorado, then Pittsburgh, then Indianapolis, opening salons and mail order businesses along the way.  Her business model was very close to the multi-level marketing  format used by companies such as Arbonne, NuSkin, Shaklee and Amway today.  While I’m not saying she invented MLM (she had, after all, sold hair products for another company before she opened her own)  she certainly streamlined and profited from the concept.

As she climbed the ladder, she became involved in philanthropy and activism, perhaps as a business strategy, perhaps altruistically.  But she counted Booker T. Washington and W.E.B DuBois as friends, and was frequently invited to speak at various conventions.

In 1913, she purchased a townhouse in Harlem at 108 West 136thStreet and installed her daughter Lelia there to run the NY operation.

MADAM CJ WALKER 108-110 West 136th Street(Another photo from “On her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker” by A’Lelia Bundles)

In 1916, Madam Walker  purchased a parcel of land in Irvington and hired Vertner Tandy, the first licensed, African-American architect in NYC to design her mansion.

The aforementioned 1917 New York Times article is casually racist as they describe the local reaction:  “On her first visits to inspect her property, the villagers, noting her color, were frankly puzzled.  Later, when it became know that she was the owner of the pretentious dwelling, they could only gasp in astonishment.  ‘Impossible!’ they exclaimed.  ‘No woman of her race could afford such a place.”  Oh 1917, was that when America was great?

Her home became known as “Villa Lewaro,”  supposedly so named by Enrico Caruso, a frequent guest.  He is said to have cobbled the name out of Madam’s daughter’s:  LElia WAlker RObinson.  Even if that’s apocryphal, I like it, and say it’s true.

The house and grounds were lush and luxurious.  According to A’Lelia Bundle’s book:

“With imported Japanese Prayer Trees and flowering shrubs and perennials timed to bloom continuously from early spring to late fall, Madam Walker’s Italian gardener intended to create a setting as magnificent as that of any of the surrounding estates with their formal gardens and impeccably tended grounds. . .  From the curved balcony outside her sleeping porch, Madam Walker could see the NJ Palisades looking above the Hudson River like a fortress . . . Her airy boudoir – which caught the early sun through French doors – was designed for pure indulgence with its twelve-piece Louis XVI chamber suite of ivory-enameled mahogany arrayed upon a nearly wall-to-wall hand-woven Aubusson carpet.  On warm mornings, her housekeeper served breakfast downstairs outside her first floor dining room on the upper level of a two-tiered terrace.  At night, yachting parties were known to beam their searchlights across those terraces, illuminating the crochet-like balustrades that dramatically latticed the rear of the house.”

Fabulous, no?

Madam Walker was quoted as saying that she had built her house “to convince members of [my]race of the wealth of business possibilities within the race and point to young Negroes what a lone woman accomplished and to inspire them to do big things.”

Madam_CJ_Walker_face_circa_1914(Another photo from “On her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker” by A’Lelia Bundles)

Madam C.J. Walker in her prime

Sadly, she only enjoyed her home for a year or so before succumbing to kidney disease in 1919, at the age of 52. Villa Lewaro stayed in the family until 1931 when I assume that the Depression made it untenable for Lelia Walker to maintain. It was apparently then the  Anne E. Poth Home for Convalescent and Aged Members of the Companions of the Forest in America (thanks Wikipedia!) and in 1976 it was designated an Historic Landmark.   It has been in private hands since the 1980s.  What I wouldn’t give to see the inside!!

Running down the Old Croton Aqueduct, Part II

Link to Aqueduct part I

Part II of “Running down the Old Croton Aqueduct”:  From the Croton Dam to Rockwood – 10 miles

I’ve been a little haphazard with my posts lately, but here’s the next installment of my Running Down the Old Croton Aqueduct series.  (Here’s the first one if you have somehow missed it.)

First, I would be remiss if I didn’t give you the link to the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct website.  They’re a non-profit organization who do great work protecting and preserving the OCA.  They have sponsored historical signs all along the Aqueduct, host guided walks, and post interesting information on their website.  Check them out!

Now, generally, I run just a three-mile stretch of the Aqueduct – from the Croton Dam down to GE’s Jack E. Welch campus and then back up to the Dam.  But, as I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve slowly been working my way down the entire length of the Aqueduct.  So far, I’ve gotten about 15 miles down.

I started this project last spring, when a group of my running friends and I ran a 10-mile section from the Croton Dam down to Rockwood, in Rockefeller State Park.

Here’s what we saw:

Starting at Croton Dam (and the Dam deserves a dedicated blog post unto itself – soon!), the first three miles are fairly remote and serene – it’s mostly just you, some trees and the unpaved trail.   (And it’s all a gentle downhill too — sloping thirteen inches for every mile the whole way to the city.)

About a mile south of the Dam, you’ll pass the Egon Ottinger cottage on your right just off the trail (previously blogged about here.)    Also around here, you’ll pass the first of what I believe are 26 remaining ventilator shafts that help mark the miles down to New York City.  These chimney-like structures were built to help keep the aqueduct at atmospheric pressure so the water would keep flowing fresh and swift.

Over the next couple of miles, you’ll cross two roads that are fairly secluded with only the rare car sighting.  (One of those roads, Quaker Bridge Road East, will take you up to Lorraine Hansberry’s Croton home if you’re interested.  See more here.

Once you hit the GE campus, you’ll do a bit of narrow, windy trail running and go underneath Route 9A. (The Aqueduct actually crosses 9A, but obviously you don’t want to do that.)

About four miles in, you get into the Village of Ossining.  Here, you’ll get to run past the Ossining Waste Weir, one of six built to allow drainage if the water level in the aqueduct tunnel rose too high.  There are wonderfully medieval-looking, subterranean hand-cranked metal gates here once used to divert the water – you can go down and see the one in Ossining on special occasions.  Here are some terrific pictures from a local blog, both of the underground portion of the weir and of the trail down to Sleepy Hollow. (I don’t run with my phone, so I have to depend on the kindness of strangers.)

Then, you’ll run over the iconic double arches, which have, at various times, made up Ossining’s logo:

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 8.01.06 PM

Here’s another version:

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 8.01.48 PM

 

Here’s an excellent local blog with much more detail on and history of the double arches.

Continuing down the Aqueduct, you’ll run through the center of the Village of Ossining, on sidewalks, through Nelson Park, along and across Route 9 until you hit what I consider the next interesting site, located down in Sparta/Scarborough — the birthplace of John L. Worden, the famed Commander of the USS Monitor.   Perhaps you’ve noticed this sign while driving along Route 9?

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 8.10.56 PM

Of course you remember the famous tale of the Monitor and the Merrimac, the first engagement of ironclad steamships during the Civil War that changed naval battle strategy forever.  No?  Well, check out Wikipedia here for more on that story.

Right across the street from the John Worden historical marker is the old Frank Vanderlip estate, formerly called Beechwood and now a fancy condominium complex mostly enclosed by a red brick wall.

To avoid running on Route 9, we crossed over here and went down Scarborough Station Road a bit, before winding left through a quiet suburban neighborhood.  (Fun fact:  I’ve heard that James Patterson, currently one our most prolific and highest earning authors alive today has a house in the area . . .)

Hooking onto River Road, we ran almost all the way back up to Route 9, but turned right at the last possible moment.  (To our left was the Clearview School, formerly the Scarborough School, and originally built by the Vanderlips.)    Here, we turned right onto a thin trail winding through grass and woods leading us into Rockefeller State Park through a back way.  This was familiar territory to all of us, as Rockefeller (aka “Rockies”) is a popular place to run.

This is wonderfully secluded and bucolic, with a combination of narrow and carriage-width trails winding all the way to the foundation of Rockwood Hall where we ended our 10-mile run.

Here’s the link to part III.

 

 

 

 

 

Rockwood Hall

Blog – Rockwood Hall

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?  Here’s a map showing its trails that I found on the Interwebs – it seems to have come from “Walkable Westchester” by Jane and Walt Daniels:Rockwood hall trail map
It’s also just off the Croton Aqueduct, as you can see from the above map.

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:

Mr and Mrs John V. Bouvier III at Rockwood Hall Horse Show

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:

Rockwood Hall OLD

“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.

Here’s what it looks like today (photo courtesy of Rev3 M’s Yelp review of this hike):

Rockwood Hall foundaiton

It’s astonishing to me that it was demolished.  There must be more to this story than I’ve uncovered here, so I’d love to hear from anyone who knows more.

And do take a wander around here some day – there are breathtaking views and shadows of its former glory to be seen throughout.

 

116 Hawkes Avenue – The Corliss Lamont Estate

116 Hawkes Avenue – The Corliss Lamont Estate

BLOG POST:  116 Hawkes Avenue — The Corliss Lamont Estate

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

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

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

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

I’ll let his website start us off:

Corliss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corliss Lamont passed away at 116 Hawkes in 1995.

 

 

 

 

Danish Home/Town of Cortlandt Historical Markers

Danish Home/Town of Cortlandt Historical Markers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Danish Home website also gives a pretty thorough accounting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think my work here is done.