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Welcome to the Lewisboro History Blog

black mansion gracie
The Black Mansion on the Leon Levy Preserve taken by Carol Gracie c. 1973

Greetings from historic Lewisboro, aka South Salem, aka Lower Salem, aka Salem, NY, situated in Northeastern Westchester County nestled into the elbow of Connecticut. We hope to make this venue into an ongoing presentation and discussion of the history of our town and welcome questions and comments about that history. Welcome aboard!
Maureen Koehl, Town Historian of Lewisboro.

Bettie Page’s Erotic Lewisboro Adventure

Mention the name Bettie Page and you either get blank stares or wide smiles.  For the edification of the blank starers, Bettie Page was the Queen of the Pinups of the 1950s. She was beautiful, she was sexy, and she exuded a love of life in her poses that exhibited a total sense of freedom. Her image hung in barracks, bedrooms, and garages everywhere. Bettie’s signature style provided inspiration for the likes of Madonna, Beyoncé and Katy Perry, who adopted her dark brown bangs, bondage wardrobe, and “Come and get it attitude”.  According to a Jan.6, 2014 article in The Atlantic Bettie was tied at #8 with Albert Einstein in the 2013 Forbes list of top-earning dead celebrities. (Bettie died in 2009 at 85.) Time called her one of the 100 most influential fashion trend setters. She was the inspiration for a character in The Rocketeer comic book by Dave Stevens in the 1980s that was made into a movie by Walt Disney and brought the iconic Bettie Page image back before the public, an image that had disappeared in 1957 when the model quit a prosperous career and her life faded into an unfortunate spiral of mental instability and substance abuse. The 1950s beauty queen enjoyed a second life as a symbol of women’s sexual freedom in the late 20th and early 21st century.

Fleeing to New York City from a depressing, poverty-stricken childhood in Nashville, Bettie worked her way through the big city shadows to a most successful modeling career, posing for men’s magazines in anything from her homemade bikinis and bondage outfits to nothing at all…and it was the nothing at all that attracted attention in the rural hamlet of Goldens Bridge on July 27, 1952.

My hunt for this little bit of history began with a comment made by a friend who had caught a glimpse of a newspaper headline while watching the documentary, “Bettie Page Reveals All”. “Art Poses in Woods Brings $5 Fine to 27”, with a South Salem dateline certainly gave a hint that something of interest had happened in our town. Tracing that seven-second glimpse of an old headline led to an Internet search for the original article, and more on Bettie Page. In the process, the culture of men’s photo clubs and weekend outings to “upstate” New York farms for racy photo sessions was revealed, and a search for the South Salem Dairy noted in the article ensued.

The article appeared in the New York Times on July 28, 1952 and to quote from that piece, “The outdoor ‘classes’, visible from highways, began in May and generally were held on Saturdays and Sundays at the dairy farm of Arthur Pinari on Route 138 at Goldens Bridge, Lewisboro…” Consulting one of my favorite contacts for knowledge of historic happenings of earlier times, it was determined that the Pinari place was none other than the Brady farm, the  property that includes the beautiful yellow Brady mansion on the big curve below Increase Miller School.

On that fateful July day, someone must have been less than amused at the au naturel antics happening at the Pinari place and called County Sheriff John Hoy and his posse. The authorities arrived, unbeknownst to the club members and the four or five beauties modeling that day. Out of sight, quietly lurking behind heavy vegetation, the lawmen watched the proceedings for two hours before making their presence known and arresting the club members who had paid $10 for “an art camera trip to a Westchester estate” that included transportation, lunch and “beautiful models”. Also arrested were the beautiful models and the four ringleaders – Mr. Pinari, photo salesman Rodney Miyamoto, clerk Robert Cheek, and the organizer, black bandleader and photographer Cass Carr. The article quoted Westchester County officials as saying the “woodland photography class outraged public decency.”

The four men were held for trial on Aug. 9 on the charge of disturbing the peace; the models were cited with public indecency. Mr. Pinari’s trial before Lewisboro Judge John Aiken was postponed until Sept. 4, but court records from the era were not available. Bettie Page, who was arrested as she took a nude potty break in the bushes, demanded that she not be arrested for public indecency. She held up proceedings until her charge was reduced to disorderly conduct, declaring that what she was doing was not indecent. The notoriety of this arrest eventually led to Bettie Page being called before a U.S. Senate hearing on pornography in 1955.

Cass Carr was a Jamaican band leader who turned to photography and later moved his successful studios from Harlem to West 47th street. His Concord Camera Circle was one of a number of similar organizations in the 1940s and 1950s that provided amateur photographers a chance to live out a few daydreams. Judge Aiken made him sign an agreement not to shoot his sessions in Westchester County again.

Arthur Pinari remains somewhat a mystery. His name does not appear in the town records as the owner of the raided property, but he was probably an owner of an auto repair shop in Croton Falls later on.

 

Civil Defense Lewisboro Style

If we dial back to March 1942 we can be in on the demise of the Lewisboro Observation Post located in a tower on the Horwath estate on Elmwood Road. The post was connected to the Airplane Interceptor Command based at Mitchell Field on Long Island. From December 9, 1941, shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack, until March 28, 1942, the aerial surveillance post was manned by two-person teams of 285 volunteers from all over Lewisboro on a 24-hour schedule. Watchers acted as plane spotters for three-hour tours of duty, reporting planes in the airspace. Code named “Dudley”, the volunteers reported a total of 2881 planes, none of them enemy, to the Mitchell Field headquarters. Since our territory overlapped with several nearby posts, the watching ended in March and volunteers turned to other civil defense activities like collection of salvage materials. But the observation post was a small part of the Lewisboro World War II war effort that involved everyone from the schoolchildren at the brand new South Salem [Lewisboro Elementary] School, to the teenage bike messengers, to the volunteer ambulance [read station wagon] drivers, air raid wardens, and salvage collection coordinators.

 

Townsfolk were asked to save newspapers, magazines, boxes, cigarette packs, aluminum foil, old carpets, worn stainless kitchen utensils, short pieces of iron, brass or lead pipe, broken metal toys and scissors, old razor blades, old car batteries, superfluous ash trays, scrap iron, old washboards, worn hot water bottles, toothpaste and cold cream tubes, nylons, and old overshoes. Tin was not included in this list because it could not be profitably reclaimed. The collected items were sold by the Lewisboro Defense Council to help defray the cost of the defense activities. School children contributed pennies toward the purchase of war bonds. Altogether, the town’s war bond sales efforts went toward the purchase of several war planes named for the town.

 

Following authorization by a Westchester County Act in 1941, the Lewisboro Town Board established a Defense Council to organize and coordinate civilian defense activities in town and to integrate town plans with those of the county. The town’s contribution to the budget for the Defense Council was a hefty $750.  Needless to say, much additional funding was provided by the volunteers, themselves, including the loan of family station wagons to be used as ambulances if necessary in case of enemy attack. The supervisor, J.J.S. Mead, was the director; he was assisted by chairmen of several committees including Stanton Reynolds, the highway superintendent; Sgt. Clyde Miller, the resident state trooper, who coordinated the air raid wardens, the auxiliary police, and the three town fire departments; Dr. John Lambert of Four Winds, was in charge of first aid, health and housing; and Alice Neergaard of Mead Street was in charge of personnel, organizing the women to fulfill secretarial jobs, filing and Red Cross activities, and observation post tours, as well. From reading the notes and contemporary newspaper articles, the small, but energetic Mrs. Neergaard led the most successful salvage effort in the state! Walter Poor of Onatru Farm was in charge of the observation post mentioned above, and wife, Alice, taught many Red Cross classes.

 

Everyone family in town did its part; in my office is a 3”x5” card file listing names, physical characteristics, occupations and skills that could be used for defense activities. A mug shot and fingerprints were also attached. It’s a treasure trove of information for a town historian, especially the headshot of so many from the 1940s!

 

In addition to Red Cross first aid training, training for the 41 air wardens and the 22-member auxiliary police squad was given. Artist Pierson Underwood produced a civil defense film starring local residents as actors that was shown at town gatherings, but has been lost to posterity. The Vista Boy Scout troop offered its services as bicycle messengers to get out the alarm, if needed, since telephone service would be compromised, and because of the tire restrictions due to the rubber shortage, automobiles could not be used in an emergency. Arm bands were provided for all volunteers, even the bike messengers.

 

Luckily, the efforts of the sky watchers and the night-time practice runs by the air raid wardens, the auxiliary police exercises, and the blackout practices paid off; ; Lewisboro survived the war. But the town was ready for the enemy or the sheltering of refugees from New York City, should the city be attacked. It was a time of pulling together and working hard to protect our democracy  at the grass root level. Now, it all comes down to a single manila file and a box of records and memorabilia in my town historian’s office.

What’s in a Name? Or Who’s the Golden in Goldens Bridge?

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the hamlet of Goldens Bridge was named for a resident of Stephentown, aka Somers? Maybe it’s no stranger than the fact that the town of Somers is named for a Naval lieutenant from New Jersey who died in the Battle of Tripoli in 1804, but I digress. A recent query to my office asked about the location of the original Goldens bridge. Trying to determine that location brought to mind thoughts on the origin of the name of the westernmost hamlet in our town, which led me to revisit the theories behind the naming of Goldens Bridge. This has been debated for centuries now. A second question often tags along – when was the apostrophe in the name dropped? Again, the who, where, why or when is up for speculation.

Let’s address location first. Again, a mystery. Too many years and too much water has flowed under the wooden planks that first spanned the Croton River separating Lower Salem from Stephentown. Newcomers might ask where is the Croton River? Most of it is submerged below the reservoir that we see as we travel along I 684 and Rtes. 35 and 100. You can see its remains along Route 22 traveling towards Brewster. But in the times of the first inhabitants thousands of years ago it was an important travelway, and during Revolutionary times the river was an obstruction to travel east to west, hence the importance of a crossing both for military and commercial reasons for farmers getting their goods to market. This road connected with the Patent Road from Sing Sing [Ossining] to Dover Plains. From Sing Sing farmers’ products went by sloop to New York City. Most likely, judging from early maps of Westchester County, the original bridge [and its replacements] were just north of today’s Rte. 138 highway bridge across the reservoir. The early bridge may even have been a toll bridge.

Now, the name. We have several choices: James Golden, Abraham Goldings/Golden, and Cadwallader Colden. To start with the least logical of the possibilities, Mr. Colden – he was a surveyor in the New York Province and had scouted the Indian territories of the area in the early 18th century. Robert Erskine, mapmaker and geographer for George Washington during the Revolutionary War, marked the crossing of the Croton River in the area Coldens Bridge on his map of the area. Perhaps the Mr. Colden had a fondness for the vicinity and named the bridge after himself as he packed up his transit and gear, and in the years that followed the name Coldens morphed into Goldens. However, I think there are other more logical explanations based on these other individuals.

James Golden comes into our next scenario. Supposedly, a James Golden lived on the east shore of the Croton River, on a ford, and it is assumed that he built a bridge across the river at the ford. James was married to Theodotia Mead of Greenwich, but that is all we know about him or his family, or where exactly he lived other than the general Goldens Bridge area. He does not appear in the census records, but he might have moved prior to the first census in 1790. Theodotia may be somehow related to other Meads of our town. Solomon Mead, the first pastor of the South Salem White Church had Greenwich roots, as did his kin. Enoch Mead, a Greenwich area relative of Solomon, was the original settler of Mead Street in Waccabuc. Obviously, the importance of a bridge on a river crossing was something to be noted, especially since they were few and far between. The closest crossing to the bridge in question was Pines Bridge, several miles to the south. Some sources credit James as the origin of the name. We are not going to deny that he might have a valid claim to this part of our town’s history.

But, we haven’t explored Abraham Golding’s part of the story. Abraham Golding’s family lived in the North Castle area at the time of the Revolution. What makes Mr. Golding’s story interesting is that he most likely was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War and escaped with many other Loyalists from Westchester County to New Brunswick, Canada. In 1786 he was repatriated and settled in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. But, by 1794, he owned property and was living on the western shore of the Croton River, probably not far from James Golden, just across the river. Both men were said to be handy with a hammer, being farmers and carpenters.

By the 1790s, Abraham Golding was a respected citizen of Stephentown and a founding member of Mount Zion Methodist Episcopal Church in 1794. He died in 1810 and is buried in the Mount Zion graveyard. At some point, and for unknown reasons, the Golding name was changed to Golden, at least by some members of the family. Abraham seems to have been an enterprising gentleman, investing in property as the Van Cortlandt years were coming to a close. He left his mark and name in the Somers history books, and it appears that he may just be the man behind the naming of our Lewisboro hamlet.

A glance at the Town Records tells us, “At an Annual Town Meeting held at the Meeting House in the Town of Salem on tuesday the Sixth day of april one thousand Seven Hundred and ninety by the freeholders and Inhabitants of the Said Town voted that there Shall be raised by Tax in the Said Town the Sums of Forty pounds to Build a Bridge over Croton River near where the Bridge Called Goldens Bridge formerly Stood provided the Inhabitants of Stephen Town Shall by way of Tax Raise as charge a same Sum and the Collector to pay the Monies unto Abijah Gilbert and the Said Gilbert to pay the Monies unto Isaac Frost and Edward Mead Chosen trustees to Superintend the Building thereof.” So, in 1790, there was a bridge, with or without an apostrophe, to be rebuilt. We assume the towns raised the necessary tax and a new bridge was constructed.

For now, we will go with the idea that Abraham Golding is the name behind the bridge and the hamlet, but the subject is open to discussion for sure.

And about that dastardly apostrophe…Since the area we now call Goldens Bridge was part of the Van Cortlandt Manor until 1788, there is nothing noted about bridges in the early town records so we don’t know if the apostrophe existed then. On the 1867 Beers Atlas map the hamlet is written Goldens Bridge. The apostrophe appears in advertisements and articles through the years, but when Metro North was building the new station and parking lots a few years ago, they contacted me about the proper spelling and we went with Goldens Bridge – no apostrophe.