Running Down the Old Croton Aqueduct, part III

Running Down the Old Croton Aqueduct, part III

Aqueduct part III
Rockefeller State Park Preserve to Tarrytown, approximately 4.8 miles

IMG_1406(The Archville Bridge.  Full disclosure, I took this photo on our way back)

This is a slightly tricky bit of Aqueduct running, especially when you get into the Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown environs.  But if you buy the map produced by the non-profit Friends of the Croton Aqueduct, you’ll have no problem.  Please spend the $5 and buy the map here!

I ran this section with my friend Sharon on a recent cool, overcast Sunday morning.  Trying to pick up from where we left off last time (Rockwood), we parked in a little area just off Route 9 in Archville (huh where?)

Here’s how you get there:  Driving south on Route 9, just down the hill from Guadelajara restaurant, you may have noticed a bridge over the road.  That’s the Archville bridge (and check out this link for the technical details on this replacement bridge built in 1998.)  Go under the bridge, take the first right where you see a Gothic-y looking stone house and drive about 500 yards along the road.  On your right, you’ll see an informal parking area and likely one or two cars there already.  Once out of your car, you’ll see a gate a little way down the hill.  Go through that gate and start following the trail up the hill.  (This sounds far more complicated than it is.)  You can’t miss the markers:

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Look!  We saw a baby deer!

The first interesting site is, as previously mentioned, the Archville bridge, originally built to connect William Rockefeller’s Rockwood estate with his brother John’s Kykuit estate.  (Aw, isn’t that sweet?)  Check out this excellent post from the Croton Friends of the OCA website for more on the history of this bridge.

Then, the next bit is mostly just nice, flat, trail running through Rockefeller State Park.   You pass another Weir and a couple of ventilator shafts before you exit out of the park and cross the dramatically named Gory Brook Road.

Note the “OCA” on the gate!

Next up is the Sleepy Hollow High School runaround — they’ve helpfully posted a sign with directions on how to do this:

There is an interesting building just south of the high school, but I haven’t yet been able to figure out what it is/was.  Here’s a photo of the old pond and estate house above.  Who built this?  Who lived here?  Anyone know?

Now I think this pond was created from damming up a section of Andre Brook.  Why does this merit a mention?  Well, while you can’t see this next site from the Aqueduct trail, I would be remiss if I didn’t point it out because it is so very close.  So follow me on this little historical tangent . . .

Paralleling the trail, down below the Aqueduct on Broadway, is this historical marker:

Maj. John Andre Capture here

I assume this is why the Andre Brook was so named.  Anyway, Major John Andre was trying to broker the surrender of West Point from its commander, General Benedict Arnold.  But Andre was captured on September 23, 1780 at or near this site by “three honest militiamen.”  (Does this imply that honest militiamen were few and far between?)   This is a fairly important event in American history, for if Andre had not been captured, we might all be speaking with British accents, driving on the wrong side of the road and looking at the Queen on our currency.  Seriously, if the British had gained control of West Point and the Hudson Valley, the Revolution might well have been scuttled then and there.  (Major Andre was hanged as a spy within the week and Benedict Arnold escaped to England and his name became a shorthand for traitor.  Personally I think things should have gone the other way around, but that’s another story . . .)

Okay, back to the Aqueduct.  This next bit gets complicated because you have to run down to the sidewalk and along Broadway for a few blocks and then cut back up to the Aqueduct, but the map is very helpful. (Here’s the link again and no I don’t get a cut of map sales!)

Once you’re back on the Aqueduct, the rest of the way is secluded and bucolic — some of it feels like you’re running right through people’s backyards, which you sort of are:

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We turned around when we hit Route 119, planning to start here next time.

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So, stay tuned, part IV is coming soon!

 

Running down the Old Croton Aqueduct, Part II

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:

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Here’s another version:

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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?

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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.

Stay tuned for the next four miles, coming up soon!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Journey’s End Road

Journey’s End Road, Croton-on-Hudson, NY

You know it, you love it, it’s Journey’s End Road! For you Taconic runners, it’s that road you pass that intersects with Blinn Road, near John Hand Park. For everyone else, unless you live on or near it, it’s a road you’ve probably driven by but never really noticed.

A few years ago, I went to a talk given by a local historian about Journey’s End Road, during which he kept mentioning the influence of the war on the area. It took me awhile to realize that he was talking about the Revolutionary War, not some pesky modern conflict.    He also told us that some of the houses still standing today (well, at least parts of them,) date as far back as Colonial times.  In fact, if my reading of Lincoln Diamant’s “Teatown Lake Reservation” is accurate, some or all of this area was part of Stephan’s Van Cortlandt’s original Dutch patent.

So yeah, this area has been settled by Europeans at least since the 1700s, and probably even longer.

Imagine that!

Now, according to an unpublished history by Patrick Persons, a descendent of original settlers, Journey’s End Road and its environs were quite bustling in the 1800s:

“This region south of the reservoir, east of the Croton River and north of New Castle was a bustling community of dairy farms and orchards and families interconnected for generations through marriage, church and proximity.  This particular intersection of roads (or highways, as the old records refer to them) was in many ways a hub of the neighborhood.  Here were the local schoolhouse and the Methodist Church, the Justice of the Peace who attended to the residents’ legal matters and also the location where each year folks came to pay their taxes.“

By the 20th century, many of the farms had been broken up and sold to wealthy actors, writers and industrialists who turned them into elegant country estates. While time has taken the luster of celebrity from most of these names, they were the Lin-Manuel Mirandas, the James Pattersons and the Steve Jobs’ of their time  — you know, the ones you read about in the New York Times today.  (Oh, wait, actually, I think James Patterson lives in Briarcliff.  Anyway . . .)

Some of the early 20th century notables (and subjects of future blog posts) who lived on and around Journey’s End were:

Holbrook Blinn, namer of Blinn Road and a famous actor/producer

Margaret Illington and Major Edward Bowes

Irvin S. Cobb, writer

George Doran, book publisher

Arthur S. Vernay – a very well-respected antiques dealer who specialized in items from England.  You know that house across the street from Teatown?  It’s called “The Croft” and was built by Vernay in 1913.

Dan Hanna, son of Ohio Senator Mark Hanna, and a wealthy real estate/newpaper magnate in his own right (he bought “The Croft” from Arthur Vernay.)

Michael Todd Jr. (son of Michael Todd, one of Liz Taylor’s husbands)

And Barnard College maintained a camp for its students on Journey’s End Road from 1938 to 1998. (DEFINITELY a blog post on this coming soon.  I graduated from Barnard in 1987 and don’t ever remember hearing about this camp.)

But more about Journey’s End Road itself:

You know those two houses you run by at the intersection of Journey’s End and Blinn Road?  The one on the north side is the site of the old schoolhouse, and the one on the south was the Yorktown Methodist Church.  Or maybe it’s the other way around — I’ve seen several maps that contradict each other on this point.  But know that you’re running by buildings that have had many lives.

The church, a simple wooden building, was built in the 1880s, and converted into a single family home by Ruth and Holbrook Blinn in about 1920.

The school was built in about the 1820s, and was active on the site through the 1880s. It was torn down in about 1928 by Ruth Blinn, who built the current house on the schoolhouse foundation after her husband passed away.

Now, indulge me while I take you down a little rabbit hole about the history of the schoolhouse — the above-referenced Patrick Persons did his research so deeply and scrupulously that I’m just going to share some more of what he wrote, verbatim:

“The 1859 Report of the Trustees of School District No. 10 in the Town of Yorktown reveals that there were sixty-four children between the ages of four and twenty-one living in the district.  Of these, thirty-five attended the school, though sporadically; only twelve of them attended for more than four months. Aaron L. Young was their teacher from November 1, 1858 to February 28, 1859 and Mary D. Hunter taught from May 1, 1859 to August 1, 1859. Together, they earned $131. Their school was a frame structure and they had a library with two hundred and sixty volumes.

A former student who attended “the old District School at the foot of what was then called Squeelberry Hill – now called Journeys End” shared his memories of the teaching methods of the 1870s.  He relates that in 1871 they had a male teacher who used the McGuffey Readers, Ray’s Practical Arithmetic and Brown’s English Grammar.  For grammar, the students were called to stand in rows and, one at a time, conjugate a given verb in the tense he requested.  This teacher stayed only a year and the following fall was replaced by a young female teacher with a much different teaching style.  She wrote a poem on the classroom blackboard for the students to memorize.  An excerpt follows below:

“I kiss, thou kissest” – don’t start, dear
Indicative plural, “we kiss.”
Clearly to fixe these examples,
Once more o’er the tense let us go:
“I kiss” – dear me, how imprudent!
I kiss, and you answer with, “Oh?”
Now, just at the moment of action,
Present gives way to the past;
You kissed and the verb is imperfect,
So short does your kissing act last.
“If I kiss” is present subjunctive –
I doubt if a kiss is my due –
“May I kiss?” I ask, in potential,
You answer imperative, “Do?”
Pluperfect “had” has no interest
Future with “shall” is for fools;
Perfect “I have” is prosate
I kiss, thou kissest, we kiss, dear,
Now, as we sit, seems so true
That I really think that the “present”
Is the best tense at present – don’t you?

The student claims that grammar improved that year due to the teacher’s clever method. This teacher was also unique in that she would walk home with her students to meet their parents and get to know the students’ ambitions. Another poem she shared with the class that sparked many conversations about their futures was:

I’d like to be a could-be
If I could not be an are.
For a could-be is a may-be
With a chance of touching par.
I’d rather be a has-been
Than a might-have-been by far.
For a might-have-been has never been,
But a has-been was an are.

Okay, if you made it this far, bravo! I think I’ve indulged myself at your expense long enough.  But those are some teaching methods, eh?

Isn’t it amazing the history you can discover if you dig just a little?

John Cheever lived at 197 Cedar Lane (and it’s for sale!)

 

In addition to being a runner, I’m also a stage manager. I got my Equity card in 1994 on a production of A. R. Gurney’s “A Cheever Evening”, a play that adapted several short stories by John Cheever.

Cheever Playbill

As is so often the case when I do a show, I get obsessed with everything to do with its subject. For this one, I devoured all of Cheever’s work, starting with his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Stories of John Cheever”:

Cheever Stories

Now, you may be asking what the connection is between John Cheever and this blog? Well, his old house is a perfect 1.8 miles from mine, and the “John Cheever” is my go-to short run. I run there, peer at the house through the trees at the top of the driveway and run home. I also like to tap this battered mailbox to mark the official halfway point of my run.

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Now, I won’t pretend I moved to Ossining because of John Cheever, but it is a nice little bit of synergy in my life.

Located at 197 Cedar Lane, the house was originally built in 1795. Renovated in the 1920s by architect Eric Gugler (who apparently redesigned the Oval Office for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s), Cheever purchased it in 1961. At the time, he wrote:

The closing; and so I have at last bought a house. Coming home on the train, Mary speaks of the complexity of our lives … and it does seem rich and vast, like the history of China. We move books. To Holy Communion, where I first express my gratitude for safe travels, luck with money, love, and children. I pray that our life in the new house will be peaceful and full. I pray to be absolved of my foolishness and to be returned to the liveliness, the acuteness of feeling, that seems to be my best approach to things.

Cheever wrote some of his most famous works in that house – the short story “The Swimmer” (which became a film starring Burt Lancaster in 1968) and “The Wapshot Scandal,” a novel, just to name a very few.

By the mid-1960s, he was arguably one of the most famous living American writers. In 1964, he appeared on the cover of Time Magazine as “The Ovid of Ossining”, and later that year was also dubbed “The Chekhov of the Suburbs” by the New York Times Book Review.

Born in Massachusetts in 1912, Cheever spent much of his adult life in New York, moving to Westchester in the early 1950s. He rented his first house here, a small cottage in Beechwood, the old Frank Vanderlip estate in Scarborough, moving to the Ossining house from there.

He was an active member of the community – Wikipedia says that he was even a volunteer fireman for the Briarcliff Manor Fire Department. A neighbor of mine remembers seeing him walking along Cedar Lane to eat lunch at the old Highland Diner (now DD’s Diner) on North Highland Avenue where he was a regular.  Several other friends of mine were given autographed books by Cheever himself just because they crossed his path in different ways.

In the 1970s, Cheever taught writing to inmates at Sing Sing, using that experience as a springboard to write “Falconer,” a novel that came out in 1977 to great fanfare.  (Rumor has it that some inmates were annoyed by that, though, feeling he only volunteered to teach them in order to use their life stories in his own work.)

In 1979 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Cheever was a complicated man — a depressive and an alcoholic who struggled with his bisexuality. Yet he still managed to write regularly and productively. His daughter Susan wrote about this in-depth in her memoir “Home Before Dark,” which is definitely worth reading if you have any interest at all in Cheever.

Fittingly, the Reading Room at the Ossining Public Library is named after him. Read Library Trustee Bob Minzesheimer’s thumbnail bio of Cheever here.

John Cheever passed away in 1982, and his widow Mary remained in the Cedar Lane house until her death in 2014. A poet, essayist, and historian in her own right, she is perhaps best known for her excellent local history of our area called “The Changing Landscape: A History of Briarcliff Manor – Scarborough.”  (You can find it in the Ossining library or buy it here.) 

Last summer, just after Mary Cheever passed away at the age of 95, the house came on the market.

I couldn’t help myself, I HAD to go see it.

It was an amazing time capsule both of Mary Cheever’s widowhood and, just a little bit, of John Cheever’s life. At the time, the house was still completely furnished — everything comfortably worn, looking like it had been purchased new in 1961 and never replaced. Magazines were stacked on side tables, books filled the built-in bookcases, and I could imagine John Cheever padding into the room in his slippers to take one off the shelf, a glass of scotch tinkling in the other hand. An old manual typewriter sat uncovered on a small wooden table near a window, as if Cheever was just taking a short break before sitting down to write some more.

A double height porch covers the front of the house, the second story of which is screened in and would be a lovely place to sleep on a hot summer night. But the general layout is strange and old, with very low ceilings, small windows with shutters, and fireplaces throughout. But the house and grounds lend themselves to entertaining, and the Cheevers were said to give great parties.  Susan Cheever describes them as “the kind of party that Jay Gatsby should have had. Every writer imaginable was at the house, including Robert Penn Warren, Saul Bellow and John Updike. I still remember Ralph Ellison playing Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” on the alto recorder.”

Oh yeah, I can see all that and then some!

At some point, the Cheevers built an attached writing studio – sadly, it is not at all in keeping with the rustic Dutch Colonial feel, looking more like a mindless 1980s liberal arts college building plunked up against an elegant, historical structure.

The house sits on several acres of land that was once so very carefully landscaped, it is said, that the shrubs bloomed red, white and blue by July 4.

I think the property will require a great deal of love and money to bring it back to its former glory. Now owned by the bank, the asking price has dropped to a bargain basement one of $340K. Check out the listing and slideshow here.   (Thanks Valerie Cascione!)

As far as I know, the house is not listed on the National Historical Register, which means there’s a very real chance this building will be bulldozed by the next owner. But shouldn’t it be saved so that the legacy of one America’s great writers can be preserved for future generations? Imagine the John Cheever Artist’s Retreat right here in Ossining!

 

 

 

Major Bowes, 1930s Radio King

Have you ever noticed how many plaques you can find in stone gateways in this area?  I’ve see these ones all within about three miles of each other:Bowes
At the corner of Allapartus and Spring Valley Roads.

 

Lichstern
On Spring Valley Road

 

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On Cedar Lane 

Well, settle in, because I’m going to tell you the story of BOWES.  (I’ll save the other two for later posts.)

My regular-I-just-need-to-get-out-and-run run goes right past this particular plaque.  What does “Bowes” mean, I wonder each time I pass it.  Then I just keep running and forget about it until next time.

Now, thanks to writing this blog, I’ve finally taken the time to research it and discovered that it’s the ghost of the Ossining estate called “Laurel Hill” once owned by Major Edward Bowes.

Bowes was best-known as a radio star who hosted an American Idol/Gong Show-type of talent show called “The Major Bowes Amateur Hour” in the 1930s and 1940s  (You can buy CDs of it here.)

Major Bowes at NBC

His Sunday night show was tremendously popular – according to a December 1, 1935  article in the New York Times, its popularity was “reported to be the highest ever attained since telephone surveys in 40 key cities was first tabulated.”

The format is something we’re very familiar with now, but at the time it was ground-breaking —  amateurs came from all over the country to audition and the lucky few appeared on Major Bowes’ show.   The gimmick of the show was in its audience participation — the performances on the show were voted on via telephone for each episode.   Many of the winners then went on to tour the dying vaudeville circuit in “Major Bowes’ Amateur Hours” units for a pittance and thence into obscurity.

The show began in 1934 and ran until the early 1940s, when wartime restrictions on telephone usage cut into Bowes’ reliance on the audience vote.  Soon after, the show went off the air.

His New York Times obituary noted that:

“The possibility of success attracted ambitious amateurs from all over the country, from one-man bands to singers, from tap dancers to harmonica viruosi.”  The pilgrimage soon became too popular, and in 1935 the Emergency Relief Bureau put up the storm signals disclosing that each week more than 300 penniless would-be radio amateurs were stranded in this city. Major Bowes stemmed the cityward trek by establishing quarter-annual auditions in the hinterlands, winners of which were brought to New York.”

A few contestants did go on to fame and fortune, like opera singers Beverly Sills & Lily Pons.  Others on that short list include Robert Merrill, Redd Foxx & Glady Knight.   Frank Sinatra made an appearance in September of 1935, singing with a group called the Hoboken Four.  They received over 40,000 phone calls, the most of any act in the history of the show up until then.  (They then went on to make a couple of short films for Major Bowes, one called “The Big Minstrel Act” in which they all wore blackface.  Things were different back then . . .)

By 1937, according to a US Treasury Department report to Congress detailing the salaries of  the 15,000 wealthiest Americans, Major Bowes was making $427,817 from his radio show and its spin-offs.  (The man with the highest salary was movie producer Louis B. Mayer, with $1,161,753. But our very own Major Edward Bowes was sixth on the list – behind the likes of Frederic March and Greta Garbo, among others.)  Just FYI, Bowes’ salary equals about $7.2 million in 2016 dollars.

But radio wasn’t his first, or even second, successful career.  No, Bowes got his start in San Francisco real estate, apparently amassing quite a personal fortune which was decimated by the 1906 earthquake.  But he bounced back quickly, finding opportunity in the rubble, and then moved to New York where he ventured into theatrical real estate and producing.  By the 1920s, he was managing director of the Capitol Theater, one of the first movie palaces in New York City.

It was then that he started insisting on be addressed as “Major” Bowes, a rank he apparently attained in the US Army Reserves.

“The Original Amateur Hour” grew out of his interest in the Capitol Theater. In the early days of radio, as a promotion feature for the theatre, Bowes started a Sunday noon hour broadcast over local radio station WHN. By 1934, the idea of the Amateur Hour had evolved and the program was presented nationally as “The Major Bowes Amateur Hour.”

In the middle of the Depression, Major Bowes did very well for himself.   In addition to his princely salary, I found stories on the Internet about his 61-ton yacht called the Edmar, which he donated to the US Navy in 1940.  Then there was the story of his “specially built car with a dining space for six persons” that had been burgled in its garage on West 53rd Street in 1941, and various gold rimmed glassware, gold cutlery and gold corkscrews were stolen, in addition to a fox fur automobile robe. My, my!   An art connoisseur, his collection was sold at auction after his death, to the tune of $121,399, not to mention the Andrea del Sartos and El Grecos he had previously donated to the Catholic Church.  A former real estate man, he also amassed quite a real estate portfolio, the details of which didn’t really interest me enough to Google, but you should feel free to.

Major Bowes married the actress (and Daniel Frohman’s ex-wife) Margaret Illington in 1910 (more on her in a future post.) At some point, they purchased Laurel Hill and it became famous for its 14,000 laurel bushes and large, old trees.  At its height, it boasted a main house of ten rooms, several guest houses and a swimming pool. Sadly, the main house was destroyed by fire in 1937.  I suppose Bowes did some rebuilding, because in 1940, he donated his estate to the Lutheran Church for use as a retreat and it is still in use today.  (See link.)

Bowes died at the age of 72, and it was reported that his last rites were performed by none other than Francis Cardinal Spellman.  Widowed in 1934, he had no children, and left most of his money to the Catholic Church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeanne Eagels, the original Sadie Thompson

Okay, first, if you are under the age of 95, you might ask, who is Jeanne Eagels?

1918 Daddies
Jeanne Eagels, as a war orphan in the 1918 play “Daddies”

Well, she was a big Broadway and film star in the 1910s and ‘20s.

And she owned a 22-acre country estate right here in Ossining, described by the NY Times as situated “in the hill country north of Briarcliff and east of Ossining with a six-room house and outbuildings.”

In those days, Ossining was quite the place for the gentry to land.  Eagels’ Ossining connection was oddly strong — not only did she maintain a country house on Cedar Lane in the 1920s, she had also previously owned an estate called Kringejan at 1395 Kitchawan Road. According to Eric Woodard and Tara Hanks in their biography “Jeanne Eagels: A Life Revealed” [buy it here if you’re interested] she fell in love with the Ossining area when she was making films at Thanhouser Studios in New Rochelle. (Who knew that there were silent film studios in Westchester? Not I!)

Her house is still standing at the intersection of Cedar Lane and Stormytown Road.  It has always caught my eye because it is completely out of character with the more modern and unassuming houses on either side. But I didn’t really think much about it until my friend Guy Cheli happened to mention that some silent film star named Jeanne Eagels had lived there.

And then I got a little obsessed.

Jeanne Eagels was born Amelia Eugenia Eagles (or Jeannine Eagels) in Kansas (or in Boston), in 1890 (or somewhere between 1889 and 1894.)

The story goes that she ran off with the Dubinsky Brothers Stock Company at the age of 15 (or 17 or 21.)   Starting off with a few small parts (and possibly by marrying one of the Dubinsky brothers) she clawed her way to the top.

Arguably, her most famous role came in 1923 as Sadie Thompson in the play Rain. Whether you know it or not, I can guarantee you’ve heard of it somehow, or at least of the character of Sadie.  Based on the scandalous 1921 short story by Somerset Maugham about a prostitute named Sadie Thompson and the missionary who rapes her (okay, I’m taking gigantic liberties with the intricate plot,) Rain first premiered on Broadway in 1923 with Jeanne Eagels starring as Sadie Thompson. Lee Strasberg, (the father of Method Acting) called her Sadie “One of the great performances of my theater-going experience . . .  An inner, almost mystic flame engulfed Eagels and it seemed as if she had been brought up to some new dimension of being.”  Clearly, she was no slouch in the acting department.

1924 Eagels in Rain

In 1928, Gloria Swanson produced and starred in the silent picture version called Sadie Thompson. Joan Crawford and Rita Hayworth also starred in later iterations of this story. And, in 2016, the Old Globe Theater in San Diego premiered a musical version also called Rain.  It’s a story that continues to fascinate.

Anyway, Jeanne Eagels was as big a star as you could be back then on Broadway and in film.  After her death, the NY Times reported that she left an estate totaling over $88,000 (that’s $1.1 million today) that consisted of her Ossining home, and nearly $12,000 in jewelry and furs. The Times also noted that she owned a Hispano-Suiza autocar, which sounds fantastically antique.

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 10.16.36 AM 1927 Hispano-Suiza. Imagine living in Ossining when cars like that were on the road.

Eagels’ story was still bankable in 1957 when Columbia Pictures made a biopic called “Jeanne Eagels” starring Kim Novak.

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 10.19.31 AM

She was, however, considered to be temperamental and unreliable. Here’s an excerpt from an article in the Milwaukee Sentinel from May 6, 1928:Eagels article

The article goes on to describe how her reputation was cemented when she starred in a 1926 play called “Her Cardboard Lover,” and she simply disappeared when the show moved from Chicago to Milwaukee:

Days passed, the theatre remained dark, the company idle, the management began to tear its hair, already made gray by the erratic star. Towards the end of the week, the lady of mystery turned up with the simple explanation that “She hadn’t been feeling well.” It was too late to do anything in Milwaukee, but there was a fine advance in St. Louis. So the manager bought flowers for the star and the company took turns petting and pitying her and asking no questions.

But the newly formed Actors’ Equity Association (of which Eagels had been unsupportive and refused to join) brought her up on charges, levied a $3,600 fine equal to two weeks’ salary (or $48,000 in 2016 dollars) and banned her from appearing on the stage for a year. (Imagine AEA doing such a thing today!)

In response, Eagels just went off and made films.  Here’s a link to a scene from her last film, “The Letter.”   It’s her only talkie, and she chews the scenery so magnificently that she was posthumously nominated for a Best Actress Oscar Award (it went to Mary Pickford instead.)

The Letter poster

And now you know who Jeanne Eagels was.