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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.

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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.

Thanksgiving in a Civil War Camp 1861

Today’s peek at history returns us to November 22, 1861, and Camp Buckingham, Maryland. The country has been at war with itself for seven months. There was still hope that the conflict would not be a long one. The letter from Andrew J. Rusco, quoted below, was found in the wall of a Fancher home on East Street in Vista by the owner at the time, Jared Pidgeon. Mr. Pidgeon’s mother, Helen Sparks, had attended the Vista schoolhouse in the 1880s. Several of her school books are in the town historian’s collection, donated along with this letter to the town.

Of the 75 men who went off to war, 14 were from South Salem, most of the rest came from the Vista and Lewisboro hamlets, and Cross River. Vista’s Rusco/Ruscoe family sent at least ten to the front including Andrew “Doc” Rusco, the writer of the letter that follows, four of his brothers, two cousins, and two brothers-in-law. All survived the war according to Theodore Van Norden in his book, Soldiers and Sailors of South Salem.

Andrew J. Rusco, also known as Doc, was the son of James Rusco. Doc and his brother Cyrus enlisted in the 10th Regiment Connecticut Infantry, Company G. in August 1861. The 10th was known as one of Connecticut’s most successful companies. They were called by their commander, Gen. Foster, “The bravest of the brave.” Andrew became a corporal, was wounded in Dec.1862, in the battle for a railroad bridge over the Neuse River near Kinston, N.C. and was discharged in Oct. 1864. He married Christine Smith and lived in Vista after the war. Uncle Rumsey, the recipient of the letter, was Rumsey Fancher of East Street. Rumsey and his wife, Eliza, are buried in the Fancher-Fitch cemetery on East Street.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, let’s let our thoughts drift back to Doc Rusco and his buddies sitting around an army campfire at Camp Buckingham on a cold, damp November 22,1861. Here are a few excerpts from Doc’s letter home. Please pardon the soldier’s spelling…

Uncle Rumsey. I tell you I am tired. I have just come in from Battalion drill. Have bin out two hours and the Colonel kept us bobing around pretty lively. Now I must stop and lite my pipe. Now I am all right and I will go on. Helow I must stop again for I here the news boy crying out Baltimore Clipper and I must have one. Good news this morning. Our troops in possession of eastern Virginia and the stars and stripes floting proudly. I must stop again, and eat my dinner. We have got a beef stew for dinner. Last night we bought a whole beefs liver for eighteen cents and we had new bread and coffee and it made out to be good. We lived pretty short when we first come here but now we have enoughf. There is three or four Massachusetts regements camped here and today they are holding Thanksgiving. They have every thing in the shape of eatebles.

I hardly know what to write first. There is so mutch going on. There now is two companys of cavalry. Yesterday there was a regement of cavalry went by here with twelve hundred horses and another regement of Zouaves with nine hundred men. It was as mutch of a sight as Albert see when he see twenty hogseds of molasses in New York. There is now camping in this place fifteen thousand men and I have seen seven thousand out on a drill together and I thought that made quite an army. The Governor of Maryland has sent to the President to have the 10th Regement stay at Annapolis this winter and guard it as some one regement has to and he gives us the name of being the best that there is here. He says others regements steel everything they can get their hands on and we NEVER……. of  but me thinks he does not know all that has bin got , but I must stop until after drill this afternoon.

Afternoon I have just come in from drill and thought I would finish this letter.  I suppose you are sitting in the corner smoking your pipe about this time as it will be just after dinner. Well sometimes I think I would like to be with you and then again I think I would not come home if I could untill the war is done which I think will be in less than three years and then we shall come home. We would have a party, a military party and Andrus said he should ask Harriet Hanford to go with him wherever it was, just as if we were comeing in a few days but I do not think we will have it this winter. But we shall come home for all being killed by the rebbels. (Andrus Wakeman, also of Vista, served in the 10th Conn. regiment. He enlisted in Oct. 1861, became a corporal in Jan. 1862, and a sergeant in Sept. 1864. He mustered out in Aug. 1865 and married Harriet Hanford soon after.) I say we shall come back unless we die with some disease and it is just as healthy here as it is in Vista. Cate, I should like to know if you and Chat likes to lye abed as well as ever. If you do, I can tell you it is not healthy. It is better to get up in the morning… But I must stop again for I here them say get ready for a dress parade and I must obey orders. Yours Respectfully, Andrew J. Rusco.

The Ruscoe (Rusco) and the Fancher families were stalwarts in the Vista community. Many of the homes still standing on and around East Street belonged to these two families. Their legacy can be read on the gravestones in Vista’s cemeteries.

Comments of the Past that still ring true

As often happens, while looking for an item in the archives, a wonderful surprise turns up that is totally unrelated to what you are seeking. In this season of raucous political discussions and campaigning, we need a humorous break. From an article written in 1980 by Alvin Jordan, my predecessor as town historian, we can sample the poetic opinion of one of South Salem’s important early 19th century citizens, Capt. Moses Bouton, patriarch of the Bouton family, of guess where, Bouton Road in South Salem. But first, a little background on Moses.

Moses Bouton was born in 1757, probably in Connecticut, and settled in South Salem sometime before the Revolution. He married Mary Todd about 1780. Moses Bouton saw much action during the Revolutionary War, serving in several county militias, and as an enlisted man in Col. Thaddeus Crane’s Westchester County Militia, 4th Regiment, and in Col. Pierre Van Cortlandt’s 3rd Regiment. It is said that he had a captain’s rank. He may have seen action in the Battle of Ridgefield in 1777, and he was with Gen. Montgomery during the attack on Montreal. After the battle, he was in charge of a boatload of wounded men wending its way up Lake Champlain; the party ran into a terrific snowstorm and was marooned on shore for several days, subsisting on berries and bark in the frigid weather. All but one arrived safely at their destination. Once the war was over, Capt. Bouton returned to South Salem and his carpentry trade, making eighty-five cents a day. He died July 3, 1847, at age 90.

According to Bouton family lore, Capt. Moses made a trip to Washington, D.C. sometime around the turn of the 19th century to see for himself the new national capital. From the tone seen in the excerpts of the poem that follows, it appears the captain wasn’t all too pleased with what he observed of government in action. And his thoughts might very well be akin to current thoughts concerning the job the Congress is doing today, and not for $8 a day!

Eight Dollars A Day

At Washington full once a year the politicians throng,

Go striving there by various arts to make the sessions long.

And many a reason they do give why they’re obliged to stay,

But the clearest yet adduced is eight dollars a day.

 

Just go with me to the capital if you really would behold

All that imagination craves and more than ere was told.

D’ye see the City avenues swarm with numbers grave and gay?

And what d’ye s’pose they’re thinking of? ’tis eight dollars a day.

 

There is an axiom known to all, and rather old I ween,

For ’tis a common household frase and very often seen

That those who’re fools enough to dance the fiddler, lo! must pay.

So congress fiddles us a tune at eight dollars a day.

 

When every member takes his seat in velvet chair of state,

Thinking that in his dignity is embodied the national fate,

A flaming speech is made by one when the call is ya & nay,

But all are agreed when the question comes of eight dollars a day.

Victorian Summer camping, Lake Waccabuc style

Looking back to the recent long, hot days of summer, memories remain of wonderful vacation interludes, weeks when time rolls by slowly, filled with daylight hours at the beach or pool, early morning matches on the tennis courts or golf course, or pleasant afternoons in the shade spent with books designated for summer reading pleasure. Our Victorian ancestors took summer seriously and “camping” in the country was a favorite way for city folk to get back to nature and the simpler life. This episode of Lewisboro Life came via a donation of historic memorabilia from the Orlofsky family of South Salem.  What follows is an updated version of a Window into History column that I wrote for The Ledger more than a decade ago.

Part of the contents of a decrepit old leather case inscribed in gold with the word Lewisboro included within its decaying leather covers, a couple of wonderful news articles from the Tarrytown Argus, one dated Sept. 6, 1890, the other undated, but obviously from the same time frame. One was titled Camp Life at Waccabuc, which outlines a week of camp life, 1890s –style; the other, longer piece, Camping Out, details all there was to do in the camp and in the surrounding towns. Both articles tell the tale of Camp Nemo, situated somewhere near Lake Waccabuc, amongst the whispering pines and bright waters. I am not sure of the exact location of Camp Nemo, but there are clues in the articles that might spark recognition. I am not even sure the camp being described is still extant. I know the residents of the Three Lakes area will smile at the descriptions.

A summer place

We will start with a quote from Camp Life at Waccabuc… “The camp is situated about eight miles from the Village of Katonah. After a long drive over a dusty road, one is greeted by the word, ‘Welcome’ over the porch of the old farm house at the camp. On the front of the house is a large veranda, which, with six or seven hammocks hung from its posts affords good solid comfort to the ‘campers’ at all times during the day. At night these hammocks are taken down to make room for promenading and dancing. Three pretty lakes are within a short distance from the camp, each of which is connected with the other by small narrow channels. Rowing and fishing on these lakes, driving (and for the younger generation reading this, driving meant by old-fashioned real horse power, not cars!) over the roads of the country, playing tennis and taking tramps in the woods occupied the time of the ‘campers’. Isaac, the colored cook, attended admirably to the recurring wants of the ‘inner man’.” (Please pardon the presently unacceptable description of Isaac in the quote.)

An excerpt from the Camping Out piece details Isaac’s fine qualities. “We breakfasted at seven, dined at one, supped at seven. Our Caterer was an experienced hand from Danbury, Ct., Isaac Cooper. Every meal seemed to surpass each preceded one; home made bread, biscuit, fresh corn, tomatoes, vegetables direct from the adjoining farm, butter, golden from a dairy of Jerseys, and milk, – we only drank 220 quarts while in camp.”

The campers

Camp Life at Waccabuc described, “A pleasanter party could not be found than the one that assembled at Camp Nemo, Lake Waccabuc last week. It consisted of some thirty persons, worthy young people, hailing from Tarrytown, Sing Sing, New Haven, New York, Brooklyn and Wallingford, Vt.”

The campers were, in part, “Julia Brooke, Mamie Brooke, Nellie Lawrence, Fanny Powell, Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Studwell, Clifford Powell, Will V. Kelly, Fred B. Studwell and Robert Brooke, all of Brooklyn.

“Carrie Hunt of Lake Waccabuc, ‘Nan’ F. Van Duesen of Wallingford, Vt., Mabel M. Studwell, M. Josephine Close, Eloise Linson of Tarrytown, Robt. Fancher, Charles Robinson of Sing Sing, George Lawrence of South Salem, Dr. Archibald McNeil of  New Haven, Ct., James N. Andrews, Lewis A. Storrs, J. Hathorne Thompson, John Quinn and Paul C. Morton of New York, and our pleasant good ‘Aunt Mary’ Pierson of Brooklyn.” Aunt Mary Pierson was the chaperone of the camping party. She, apparently, was the perfect chaperone, with “the keen eye of a watchful mother, at the same time she was, while fulfilling her mission, really one of us in all our enjoyments.”

Many of the campers’ names can be found in the annals of South Salem and Waccabuc. Many had personal ties to the area; others were friends from the city, dying to come to the country for a good ol’ summer time.

Friends and neighbors came to call on the campers, especially on the weekend, at the end of a long week’s work in the hot, teeming city. The Camping Out article describes an unexpected visit and the easy hospitality the visit inspired.

“Others from the surrounding neighborhood for miles around called for an hour or so, but on Friday night about lamplight in drove three vehicles, with a ‘heigh-ho!’ the camp at once was all life, and ‘who’s there?’ Well, we soon found out, for a livelier old party I guess never drove up to that house before. Dr. and Mrs. J.J. Linson, Mr. and Mrs. John Henry Hull, and Mr. and Mrs. E.A. Studwell were there.”

Since there was “no room at the inn” so to speak, lodging was found for the visitors at the neighboring Pardee home on account of most everyone being related to the Hulls (Mrs. Pardee was a Hull) in one way or another… And a Hull certainly can’t turn away another Hull! So let the partying continue!

That was the good old summer time in late Victorian South Salem and Waccabuc. The lakes were surrounded by farms and the occasional summer camp, a rustic place to spend a couple of weeks. The beautiful lakes enticed visitors from the big city, and lower Westchester. Over time, new lake communities welcomed even more people to their shores and our town grew from a summer destination to a bedroom community. Farms are no longer part of the countryside. The camps are for the most part gone. The Three Lakes Waccabuc, Rippowam and Oscaleta might still boast of several camps, but they are small, not on the grand scale, cook included, that the camps of the nineteenth century saw. Times and priorities have changed. More exotic places beckon families nowadays. Leisurely canoe rides through the three lakes channels don’t provide the thrill they once did.

Suggestions for the location of Camp Nemo are welcome. I can pinpoint two Pardee homes, one at the corner of Oscaleta Road and Old Pond Road, the other on what is now Old Oscaleta Road, but was once called Pardee Street. The house on Pardee Street burned down in the 1920s, but its property bordered on the lakes, as the crow flies.

 

The Camping Out article appeared in the Sept. 6, 1890 Tarrytown Argus. The article was signed by Em Jay. Could this be the M. Josephine Close mentioned above?

The writer ponders, “It is a mystery that these three lakes are not more widely known. Here within a short distance from New York, in a historical section of our Revolutionary struggle, are these three clear, transparent, connecting gems, nestling along the mountain that rises abruptly from the water’s edge to an altitude of several hundred feet…”

A day’s ride

The campers spent their days exploring the environs, visiting the villages of North and South Salem and Ridgefield.

“From our camp we rode westerly along the southerly side of Lake Waccabuc upon a ridge of land, farm lands of Mr. Elbert A. Mead, that commanded an extensive view north, west and south, a distance of 20 miles. What a site for a villa. The Waccabuc House was in full view to the north. This house was formerly the farm house of Mr. William Benedict of Unionville. Mr. Benedict sold the property to Mr. M. Rockwell Mead, who rebuilt and enlarged it for hotel purposes and when Mr. Mead was living no stranger was ever turned away hungry and footsore…”

A travel guide published by the N. Y. & N. R. R. contained a travelogue by one of the inhabitants of Camp Nemo. The following quote describes a marvelous ride through the charming village of South Salem starting from the vicinity of Mead Street.

“From this point we rode southerly over hills and through beautiful valleys, passing the Stone Chapel and the ‘New Burying Ground,’ where rest the beloved ones, and are at South Salem, a small village without any special mark of interest to a stranger;  it antedates the revolution a century. The residents are and ever have been noted for their longevity and strictly moral and religious habits, a license for liquor having never been granted in the township.” (The Stone Chapel referred to was St. John’s Episcopal Church, built about 1840. The new burying ground was the South Salem Cemetery across the street from the church, which was established about 1870.)

Mountain high

From the village, the explorers “drove to the summit of the East Mountain, which borders the smaller of the two Waccabuc Lakes, to see the cave formerly occupied by Sarah Bishop, the hermitess, who was crossed in love by an English officer during the Revolutionary war, and left Long Island in 1776 for this mountain retreat, where she lived until 1810, having been frozen to death during a severe snow storm while on her way to a small cabin near the  lake…From the summit of her cave Long Island Sound, villages in Connecticut, and Westchester County and the highlands are distinctly visible. It is a view well worth the journey from New York.

“Returning to the valley, we rode between the lakes, (our camp) crossed  the mountain range through upper North Salem, passing the famous boulder, weighing from 70 to 80 tons, tilted upon three pointed rocks, about two feet from the ground, to Dingle Ridge and Peach Lake, one of the sources of the Croton River. This lake resembles, in its surroundings, Lake Mahopac, missing the bold shores and heavily wooded mountains of Waccabuc Lakes.” So said the railroad guidebook.

Reenactment

The Camp Nemo pleasure seekers of Sept. 1890, according to the article, planned to follow the jaunts suggested by their friend and so invitingly outlined in the railroad pamphlet. Here is a summary of their exploits. “Quite a large portion of our party desiring to see the points of interest mentioned in the guide book as quoted started out with every requisite for a long ride, over the ragged hills, through the cultivated valleys and along the high plateaus of rich farming lands that everywhere abound in this vicinity. From the camp, we rode in a southerly direction, winding along, crossing and re-crossing the serpentine outlet stream of the three lakes as it goes murmuring on to join the many streams that hereabout abound in the famous Croton watershed. The scenery along the highways and by-ways of this entire section is remarkably picturesque and beautiful…  We first halted near the stream to visit an old Indian burying ground that lies adjacent to the road; only one white man is buried here, and he was killed at Bedford during the Revolutionary struggle…(In the vicinity of Waccabuc River Road)

“We then took the old Boston Post Road to South Salem. West of the village stands a stone chapel, erected in the fifties by the Episcopalian Church in hopes of building up a parish, but there was too much of Presbyterianism here for its growth, and now the building is going to pieces.”

After stopping in the old White Church churchyard, the group continued toward Ridgefield. Here they passed the large white colonial house at the corner of Rtes. 35 and 123. “The house erected by Major Keeler over one hundred years ago is vacant, but in a good state of preservation; it is on a peculiar site. The old Major used to say, ‘The water that runs from the south roof runs into Long Island Sound, and the water that runs from the north roof runs into the Hudson River,’ So it is today… “

“It would be impossible to describe Ridgefield, but must say that it is a pretty village, handsome villas, large grounds and streets well shaded by mammoth Elms.”

The party doubled back after their exploration of Ridgefield and ended the day exhausted. “After hours of riding we reached our camp, ready for Isaac’s good supper.”