Thursday, October 29, 2020

Lenoir Nature Preserve - A beautiful walk in an urban park

Lenoir Mansion

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Philipse Manor Hall, in Downtown Yonkers. But there are other historic sights to see in that city, and today’s visit to the Lenoir Preserve includes a wonderful place to walk.

Three miles north of the Philipse Manor Hall is a wonderful city park, the Lenoir Preserve. In 1976, the city of Yonkers bought the land of two estates that were up for sale. One was the Tilden/Wrightman estate alone with the neighboring Ardenwold, also known as the Stillwell estate. Together they created a 40 acre nature preserve, right in the middle of town.

Nature Center

Remembrance Ribbons for those lost to COVID-19

The Tilden/Wightman estate was built between 1850 and 1870 for New York Governor and future presidential candidate Samuel Tilden. He lived there until his death in 1886. It was then sold to C.C. Dula, who was president of Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company. He expanded the mansion on site and renamed it Lenoir, after his home town in North Carolina. He died in 1934, and on his wife’s passing in 1939, the estate was inherited by his niece, Purl Parker, who lived there with her husband, Dr. Orrin Wightman until 1965.

Terraced lawn, where you often find bird-watchers

The other half of the Preserve was Ardenwald, the estate of lawyer Holland Sackett Duell. Its 30 room mansion was built in 1906 for the family. In 1926 Col. John Stillwell bought and moved into the estate. He was president of Con Edison and St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers. His family lived there until 1963. Unfortunately, the mansion burned down during the 1970’s.

In the Butterfly Garden

The city of Yonkers bought these two estates and, in 1976, opened them as a nature preserve. Among the 40 acres in the park, there is a 1.5 mile paved nature walk, along with several unpaved paths. While the original estates included formal gardens, the preserve has allowed these terraced areas to return to their natural states. The preserve sits along the migratory paths of many species of birds and is also home to many deer. There is also a connecting trail to the Croton Aqueduct Trail, which reaches 26.5 miles, from Yonkers north to the New Croton Dam in Yorktown NY.

One of the unpaved trails

A local resident enjoying the preserve

So, head up to Lenoir Preserve in Yonkers for a little history and a lot of great walking.

Nuts and Bolts
The park is located at 19 Dudley Street. There is parking on site, and the admission is free. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Ontario Beach Park in Rochester NY

Ontario Beach park is in the Charlotte neighborhood of Rochester new York. Charlotte was an independent town that served as Rochester’s port on Lake Ontario as far back as The War of 1812. After the Civil War, Charlotte started to grow as a summer resort for Rochester’s upper class. Hotels and restaurants were built along the lake front. In 1884 the Ontario Beach Improvement Company was formed to develop the area. In 1889 an electric trolley started serving Charlotte from the city of Rochester, and that changed the size and makeup of the visiting crowds. Instead of a few hundred of Rochester’s richest residents, the area became a destination of thousands of residents of all classes.


Virginia Reel By Unknown author - from a c. 1910 postcard., Public Domain,

By 1890 an amusement park had been built along the lake. It included a carousel, a fun house, and many other rides. It became known as the Coney Island of Western New York. Like Coney Island, other forms of entertainment also sprang up in Charlotte, with bars and gambling dens becoming more common. 

Foolish House By George Eastman House -, No restrictions,

In 1916, the city of Rochester annexed Charlotte in order to exert more control on the shipping industry. However they also condemned the amusement park, and it was torn down in 1919. The only remnant of it is the 1905 carousel that is still there. In its place, the city built Ontario Lake Park. They developed the beach and built manicured lawns and picnic pavilions. They also built a bathhouse with courts and rooms that can be used for events.

Roger Robach Community Center

Pickle Ball Courts as the Robach Community Center

The Boardwalk

One of the highlights of a visit to Ontario Beach Park is taking a walk out along Charlotte Pier to the light-structure that marks the entrance to Rochester Harbor at the mouth of the Genesee River. Walking along the 720 m (0.4 mile) long pier you can watch the boats enter and leave the harbor. You can talk with some of the people out fishing. Or, you can just enjoy the breeze and the view.

Fishing on the pier

Four miles east of Ontario Beach Park, in the town of Irondequoit, is a place that claims to be haunted. According to legend, the White Lady’s Castle was once the home to a rich woman and her daughter. The story is that one night, the daughter disappeared. Her mother walked the parapet and the beach, dressed in white, every night, looking for her, and that her ghost continues to do so to this very day. Historians claim that the site was once a restaurant, and that the stairway and wall are that are left after it went out of business during the Great Depression and burned down. I leave it you you, the reader, to decide which version is true, and which you choose to believe.

Nuts and Bolts:
Ontario Beach Park is at the northern end of Lake Ave, and there is ample free parking on site.

The White Lady’s Castle is on Lake Shore Blvd. in Irondequiot, across from the Peace Sign Garden in Durand Eastman Park

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Philipse Manor Hall, colonial history on display

Philipse Manor Hall

Yonkers is the fourth largest city in New York State, but most people think of it as “just a suburb” of New York City. Yet Yonkers has a long history, and has been home to people who played important roles in the county’s and state’s story. Some of that history can still be seen today.

Sitting in the heart of downtown Yonkers, just a couple of blocks from Getty Square and from the Yonkers Metro-North station, is the Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site. Built by Frederick Philipse in 1682, the main section of the hall is the oldest building in Westchester County. While it was never a his primary residence, the hall served asa stopover for his trips from New Amsterdam to the northern end of the extensive Philipsburg Manor Estate. The estate occupied 52,000 acres (81.25 sq. mi.) and stretched from the Spyten Duyvil Creek north to the Croton River. The Philipse family made their money through the slave trade, both in bringing enslaved Africans to the United States, and by producing food to be shipped to the southern plantations. On his death, the land passed to his sone Adolphus and his grandson Frederick II. In 1751 Frederick III inherited the estate.

Frederick III was a loyalist, and sided with the British crown during the Revolutionary War. In 1779, their estate was declared forfeit, and the Philipse family fled to England. Frederick III died there in 1785. The estate was broken up and sold to small tract farmers.

Frederick Philipse III by John Wollastone

While the center of Philipse Manor Hall was constructed in 1682, two additions were made by the family during the 1700’s. After the family fled to England, various families owned the building. In 1868 it was given to the town of Yonkers to serve as it Village Hall. At this time the last addition was made to serve as an entrance pass for the building. The building served as the City Hall until 1908, when a new building was constructed nearby. The hall was renovated, and in 1912, it opened as a museum of history, architecture and art. Today much of the hall acts a gallery for the city’s collection of portraits of the Philipse family and presidents of the United States. These is also a room that shows the way that the hall was originally constructed along with artifacts that have been found during various construction projects in Yonkers. 

Civil War Monument

General Lafayette at Yorktown by Jean-Baptiste La Paon

Delft Tile in fireplace

Tobacco Pouch

Picnic Area

Yonkers is a short ride from the center of New York City, and easy to get to by car or train. So take an afternoon and come north to visit history. When you are done at the Hall enjoy some of the great restaurants that line Main Street between Riverdale Ave and the Hudson River.

Nuts and Bolts:
The Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site is at the corner of Dock Street and Warburton Ave. Free parking is available on-site, and the Metro-North Station is 2 blocks away.

Entrance fees for the Hall are: $5 adults/ $3 seniors & students. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Boscobel Mansion in Garrison NY

The Hudson River Valley is filled with the former estates of the very rich. These were “summer cottages” that their families used when they wanted to escape the city. Many of them are open to the public to tour the grounds, even if the buildings are closed due to COVID-19. One of the oldest is the Boscobel House and Gardens in Garrison NY.


The Apple Grove

Hudson School Statue Garden
Boscobel was built by States Dyckman, a loyalist New Yorker who somehow was able to maintain his fortune and his land after the Revolutionary War. He spent the war working for the British Quatermaster Corps, and for ten years afterward he was in England, supposedly investigating corruption among that Corps. By the time he returned to New York, in 1789, he had “earned” a lifetime pension while exonerating everyone he investigated.

Herb Garden

Over the next fifteen years, Dyckman traveled back and forth between New York and London, looking to guarantee his income. In 1803, he began construction on a mansion at his estate in Montrose, New York. His inspiration was the Boscobel House in Shropshire, England. He modeled his new home after it, and took the name for his new mansion. Unfortunately, Dyckman died in 1806, less than a year before construction was completed. The family retained ownership of the house and grounds until 1920. It then went through several owners until, in 1955, the Veterans Administration bought the land to build a new hospital. The house was sold to the Friends of Boscobel, who moved the house to its current location. The house was restored and open to the public in 1961.

Formal Garden

Today, the grounds are open to the public. When you arrive, after checking in at the visitors center, you walk past a statue garden dedicated to the artists of the Hudson River School. Around two dozen busts of the artists look out toward an apple grove. As you walk through the grove, you begin to get take in the beautiful view of the Hudson River. To your right is an herb garden, with pear bushes, late summer flowers, and bee-hives. Past the apple grove, you enter the formal garden, which occupies the northern side of mansion. Take a seat on one benches and enjoy some contemplative time.

Continue on towards the river and you find a beautiful lawn that offers amazing views of the Hudson Valley, with West Point across the river. Turn around, and you will have the best view of the mansion, with its porch and balcony. Continue around the mansion’s exterior and you will find a lovely sundial. 

Summer Cellar

The grounds also include a 1.25 mile Reese Woodland Trail. This nature trail is a calm walk through the woods, with some great views out to the river. The path is maintained, and wood chips are slayed down to keep it clear, although it is not built for wheeled devices such as walkers and strollers. There is an added trail down to Constitution Marsh, which is a very steep decent and then climb back. 


Afternoon spent at Boscobel is a relaxing time. It is a chance to slow down and enjoy beautiful gardens, lovely views and nature. Head up to Garrison to take it all in.

Nuts and Bolts:

Boscobel Mansion is on route NY-9D, just south of the town of Cold Spring. The grounds are open Friday-Monday from 10 AM - Dusk. 

Tickets MUST be purchased in advanced through the website and fees are $12 - Adults/ $10 - Seniors/ $6 - Children.