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.