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.

 

“Beechwood” — Sex cults, Sojourner Truth, and Frank Vanderlip

BLOG – “Beechwood” – Sex cults, Sojourner Truth, and Frank Vanderlip

Beechwood – today, it’s a 37-unit condominium complex, on the corner of Route 9 and Scarborough Station Road, but  Beechwood has a long and storied history.  First built in 1780, the main building has been added to over the years.  (Supposedly the original fireplace still stands somewhere in there.)

The first interesting connection (to my mind) comes to us from the 1830s, when it was owned by Benjamin and Ann Folger and named “Heartt Place.”  The Folgers got involved with a wackadoodle, self-proclaimed prophet (are there really any other kind?) named Robert Matthews who believed he was the resurrection of the apostle Matthias and named the house Zion Hill.   Wild and crazy doings went on here, with sex and murder and scandal hitting the local papers.  Check out this blog post by Miguel Hernandez for more.

Honestly, it sounds to me like a Charles Manson-like cult, and ironically, one of the victims of the Manson Family Sharon Tate Murders was an Abigail Folger.  Coincidence or curse?

Anyway, another fun fact is that Isabella Baumfree Van Wagener, aka Sojourner Truth, worked as a housekeeper here to the Folgers and the Prophet Matthias.   Yes, THAT Sojourner Truth, the former slave who, in the 19th century, became a well-known abolitionist and fighter for women’s rights. (Her likely-apocryphal “Ain’t I a Woman?”  speech is a favorite of the Common Core Curriculum during Black History month . . .)

SOJOURNER TRUTH An albumen silver print from c. 1870 by Randall Studios

SOJOURNER TRUTH An albumen silver print from c. 1870 by Randall Studios

We can be fairly certain that she really did live here because Benjamin Folger implicated her in the murder of one Elijah Pierson, a follower of Matthias and resident of Zion Hill, who mysteriously died after eating blackberries.  But though accused of murder, she went to court and sued Benjamin Folger for libel and, amazingly, won.  So there are plenty of primary and secondary sources to corroborate this story.

There should be a plaque here commemorating the fact that she lived here, don’t you think?  Let’s start a GoFundMe!!

Okay, moving on – the next occupant of this property who interests me is Frank Vanderlip — probably one of the most influential residents of Westchester you’ve never heard of.  Vanderlip, you see, lived here from 1905 – 1937 and was President of City Bank, once the largest bank in America.  He was also one of the creators of the Federal Reserve System, an Assistant Secretary to the U.S. Treasury, and a founder of the first Montessori school in America.

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Frank Vanderlip

So, where exactly is this place?  This storied Beechwood?  Well, running (or driving) south along Route 9, just past Sparta Cemetery and the Scarborough Church, you may have noticed a very long, red brick wall.  And the middle of this wall is broken by a gate bordered by two Ionic columns half-sunk into the ground.   That’s the old entrance to Beechwood.  Those columns were brought up here by Frank Vanderlip when the headquarters of the National City Bank at 55 Wall Street underwent some renovations.  (Wikipedia tells me that “55 Wall Street was being remodeled and the columns were re-spaced, with two left over.”)

Entranceway_to_Beechwood

South of the Vanderlip estate is the Clearview School.  This was originally known as the Scarborough School, founded in 1913 by Frank Vanderlip and his wife Narcissa and billed as the first Montessori School in America.

But back to Frank Vanderlip.  I mentioned that he helped create the Federal Reserve System. But because the history of monetary policy in the United States is pretty damn dull (to me), and you can just go to Wikipedia to read about the Federal Reserve System if you so desire, let me instead give you a cocktail recipe that comes from Frank Vanderlip’s autobiography entitled “From Farm Boy to Financier.”

First, know that Vanderlip had his own private train car that would collect him at the Scarborough station and whisk him to Grand Central station.  Nice, right?

Vanderlip writes that

On hot days, after a train ride from the city, from the Scarborough station I would walk, invariably, up the steep hill – not a short climb – to the lower fringe of the wide lawn.  After further hill-climbing, when I was in front of the house, beneath a tree as big as Charter Oak, I would be met by a man who used to be a London Omnibus driver.  For 16 years after 1910, Saunders was our butler.  When he met me on those hot days, he would have for me, in a tall and frosty glass, a fluid white and crinkly as lamb’s wool.  He called it a “Ramos Fizz” and he would assure me that for taking the curse off a stuffy day, it was the finest drink that could be concocted . . . If there was concealed in it a jigger of gin, that was entirely the fault of Saunders; I swear I never said gin to him in all the years of our association. (Vanderlip, 222)

Remember, Prohibition was the law of the land from 1920 to 1933, hence the coy reference to the surprise gin in his cocktail.

Here’s the recipe for the above  “Ramos Fizz” (note, I haven’t tried it yet . . .):

Juice of half a lime
Two teaspoons powdered sugar
2 oz cream
Ice
Vichy water
Jigger of gin

Cream AND Lime?  Blecch.  No wonder the result is “crinkly as lamb’s wool”!  Still, I will make it come summer.  Hmm, I wonder what sort of glass one should serve this in?

The Croton Aqueduct, Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depósito_Croton

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

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

Vestiges_of_Croton_Distributing_Reservoir_embedded_in_the_foundation_of_the_New_York_Public_Library

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

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

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

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

Silk Ribbon from Croton Aqueduct Celebration

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

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

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

Here’s the link to part II.

 

 

Lorraine Hansberry Lived in Croton!

Lorraine Hansberry Lived in Croton!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hansberry House

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

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

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

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

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

Hansberry grave

 

 

 

 

 

 

116 Hawkes Avenue – The Corliss Lamont Estate

116 Hawkes Avenue – The Corliss Lamont Estate

BLOG POST:  116 Hawkes Avenue — The Corliss Lamont Estate

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

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

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

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

I’ll let his website start us off:

Corliss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corliss Lamont passed away at 116 Hawkes in 1995.

 

 

 

 

Croton Gorgeous – The Ottinger Cottage

IMG_0861Perhaps you’ve seen this sign? It’s just off the Croton Aqueduct and you’ll pass it if you walk up from the parking lot in Croton Gorge Park.

It came to my attention when I saw the following email on a neighborhood Google group:

Can anyone tell me what that house off of the aqueduct trail is? Does someone live there full time? How do they get there if the dam is closed! Do they have an actual address? They have a sign up that says @Crotongorgeous. I walk past it with my dogs all the time.  Thanks!

WHAT house, I thought?  I run here at least once a week and had no idea what this was about.  So I went off to do a little exploring.  And yes, I’d passed it many times but had somehow completely ignored it.  It’s about a mile south of the Dam and down a little ways off the Aqueduct, but you will see it if you’re looking for it.  From the Aqueduct, it looks like a snug little stone cottage (which is exactly what it is.)  But who lived here?  Who LIVES here?

Well, arguably, its most famous inhabitant was a man named Egon Ottinger, who lived here up until 1992.  According to a delightful article published that year in the New York Times, Egon lived here right until he passed away at the age of 93, still splitting his own wood, patching his own clothes and wearing his late wife’s glasses because his broke.  (Reading between the delightful lines, one might assume he was a bit of a hoarder too.)  Even more interesting is the fact that Egon left a $20 million dollar estate, earned from a career working in the shipping insurance business and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos.  A frugal, simple man, he left the bulk of his estate to the Inwood Canoe Club, the YMCA, Teatown and other wholesome, outdoorsy organizations. And oh, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think there might even be an Ottinger Wing at the Croton Library.

A neighbor who knew him told me the following:  “If you write this up, I think it’s important to add that he donated to colleges with work-study programs because he believed in the importance of work experience. He had not attended college, and I’m not sure how far his secondary education extended, but he rose to be the top executive of an insurance company.

One of my fondest memories of him was the contraption that he build to haul firewood up his steps. It was the bowl of a wheelbarrow bolted to his old wooden skis, and a rope to pull it up.

I would frequently catch him doing things he shouldn’t be doing, like standing high up on a ladder clipping the vines off his wall. When I, at least 30 years younger, offered to do it, he said to me,  “Oh no, it’s too dangerous.”  

IMG_0868

What an idyllic, otherworldly place to live, tucked just next to the Aqueduct and at the end of a gravel road up from Croton Gorge Park!  Apparently, the cottage was built about 1930 or so and the Ottinger’s purchased the property on May 1, 1946 for $26,500.  At least initially, the property was known as “The Hemlocks.”

And then there’s this stone tablet I photographed from a distance:

IMG_0867

Upon Egon’s passing, the property became part of Croton Gorge Park and is now occupied by a Park employee.

The world is a better place because of people like Ottinger!

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.