Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mystery Photo: 1938 High School Fire Squad

"FIRE SQUAD: The fire bell rings and students are efficiently rushed out of the building by the Fire Chief Albro Rile assisted by those ten strong men on the fire squad: Eben Chabot, John Moser, Walter Bennett, Jack Galvin, Frank Wills, Bill Burckhalter, Bill Kaufman, Joe Janik, and Chris Rohrbach."

So says the 1938 yearbook. And, as for a mystery, this should be an easy one! All you have to do for us is match up the names with the faces. Albro Rile is the boy holding the white helmet. Joe Janik might be the one to the right of Rile. Chris Rohrbach might be to the right of Janik, and behind him holding the hose might be John Moser. What do you think? Click the photograph to look at it more closely in Flickr. Choose the "All Sizes" link above the photograph, and then select "Original Size" so you can see the faces. If you can help with the identifications or know anything more about the activities of the fire squad, let us know!

The photograph below appears in the "snapshot" section of the yearbook, along with images of football games and the marching band. Is the quality good enough to recognize anyone?

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

House Tour Preview: Margaret Sanger’s Window

Margaret Sanger in a photograph she included in her book My Fight for Birth Control with the caption "Suburban Motherhood."

In 1998, Margaret Sanger was included in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Important People of the Century for her relentless crusade for women’s rights, and especially for birth control (a term she coined) as the tool with which women could take control of their lives. The revelations that led her to this vocation came in the tenements of the Lower East Side in 1912, two years after she left Hastings.

Margaret came to our town with her architect husband in 1904, recovering from the birth of her first child and a bout of tuberculosis, but full of hope for a life of motherhood and stability. She left in 1910, healthy again and bored with suburbia, anxious only to return to her nursing career and “the great Pageant of Living” in Manhattan.

In her 1931 book My Fight for Birth Control, she said that, looking back, she could see how every detail of her past life contributed to her final calling. Margaret had a love/hate relationship with the house that her husband designed for the family in Hastings’ Locust Hill, a development just east of North Broadway that included lots along Edgars Lane, Sheldon Place, Minturn Street. For Margaret, the house represented both a happy family life and the narrow suburban values that she would later struggle to change.

“In looking about the suburbs for a suitable location in which to build and bring up our family, we decided that we needed something more than a mere house. We wanted space. We wanted a house with a view. We wanted a garden. At Hastings-on-Hudson we came across a new development consisting of about fifty acres of hillside land overlooking the river. The land had been purchased by a group of professional people with the idea of developing a colony of homes for men and women of congenial tastes, and to insure a proper environment for their children. We were delighted with its possibilities. We bought an acre of this land with high hopes. We were going to have our own home at last! We were going to settle down for life. We were delighted with our neighbors. We planned a large family; a comfortable serene, suburban existence. …

The Hudson River looking west from the Locust Hill development, ca. 1915.

Ours was but one of several houses then in the early stages of construction. We were brought in close contact with our neighbors who were facing similar problems, the two primary ones being the building of a home and the rearing of a family. The wives spent their afternoons together conferring on these monumental problems. Out of our informal meetings there sprang a “literary” club… . It was made up of the wives of the artists, professors, scientists, doctors, and high school teachers who made up our little colony. There was an inclination, among both husbands and wives, to sink back into a complacent suburban attitude, to enjoy petty middle class comforts. For the wives, the height of adventure was a day “in town”—a shopping expedition followed by a bargain matinee. This adventure would furnish conversation for us all. At the “literary” club we read papers on Browning, George Eliot, Shakespeare, closely following the suggestions of the courses given at Columbia University. But deep in my soul I could not suppress my own dissatisfaction with the futility of such interests.

Meanwhile our house was nearing completion. It was “modern” in architecture, one of the first of its kind in this vicinity. It was even called a “show” house, and people came from far to study its simple design and the unadorned surfaces of the fireproof stucco of its walls.

Great was our anticipation of the day of its completion. For weeks we both worked on our “rose window,” which was to surmount the open staircase which led upstairs from the library. Every petal had been cut, leaded, and welded together by our own hands. After the baby had been put to bed, we worked far into the night. It seemed to me as if this rose window was the very symbol of the stability of our future. …

At last our furniture was moved in. Carpenters and painters were pushed out. Everything was completed and finished. … Weary at last but like happy children on Christmas Eve, we tumbled into bed. We were rudely awakened a few hours later by a pounding at the door and the shout of the German maid—“Madam, come! come! A fire in the big stove!” The house was on fire!

There was no telephone within half a mile of the house. My husband ran in his night clothes to sound the alarm, but it was already too late.

The Sangers' house (background, right) in Locust Hill, ca. 1910.

I carried my terror-stricken son Stuart to the top of the staircase. Flames were then leaping through one side of it. I was confronted with a terrific danger: dare I venture down those steps? I knew I must. I put the bath robe over the child’s head, and pressing close to the other side of the wall I descended cautiously but finally to safety. I crossed the street to our nearest neighbor’s. I tucked the youngster into an impromptu bed with a prayer of gratitude that we had escaped with our lives.

In a few moments the flames that were consuming the staircase had swept through our precious beautiful rose window! This I realized as I stood gazing from the neighbor’s window into the night. … I recalled our cut fingers, our bleeding hands, our irritated nerves, our fatigued eyes, all the loving hopes and ambitions which had gone into that window. …

I stood there amazed, but I was certain of a relief, of a burden lifted, a spirit set free. … Somewhere at the back of my mind I saw the absurdity of placing all of one’s hopes, all of one’s efforts … in the creation of something external that could perish irretrievably in the course of a few moments. … My scale of suburban values had been consumed in the flames, just as my precious rose window of leaded glass had been demolished. …

Fortunately, the construction of the house was fireproof, and while the inside woodwork, doors and floors were badly damaged there was the possibility of quick restoration. Within a few months the place was renewed, and life went on apparently as if the fire had never been. But to me all was different. …

A new spirit was awakening within me; a strong, insistent urge to be in the current of life’s activities. I felt as if we had drifted into a swamp and had to wait for the tide to set us free. The fire, the destruction of the rose window, had done this. I was never happy in that house again. The first opportunity we had to sell it we let it go. We moved our three children back to New York to take our part individually or collectively in the great ‘Pageant of Living.’”

Teacher Jessie Trube and her kindergarten students, ca. 1908. The boy in the center of the front row is Stuart Sanger, Margaret's eldest son. The other children are neighbors of the Sangers, and "Bennett's Shack," where Jessie taught at this time, may have been an outbuilding of the R. Grant Bennett who lived on Sheldon Place.

Margaret and William Sanger’s house will be part of our May 22 & 23 house tour. For more information and to purchase tickets, follow this link.
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

House Tour Preview: Henry Draper’s Observatory

Save the date! May 22 & 23
Get acquainted with fifteen historic Hastings houses and the celebrities who lived in them. Come to our 2010 house tour and learn more about Civil War Admiral David Farragut, women’s rights activist Margaret Sanger, Hudson River School artist Jasper F. Cropsey, African-American sociologist Kenneth Clark, Empire State Building architect Richmond Shreve, and ten more! For more information and to purchase tickets, click this link.

Henry Draper's observatory, ca. 1880, showing both the first dome, built in 1860, on the far right, and the 1897 rotating dome in the center.

Also on the house tour will be Henry Draper’s 19th-century astronomical observatory, now Draper Observatory Cottage, the home of the Hastings Historical Society. At the end of the 19th century, the observatory was a mecca for scientists, and Henry Draper, while still a young man, developed an international reputation and became the guiding light and mentor for a new generation of American astronomers. The following is an edited version of an article written for us by Marion Martin in 1992 telling the story of Henry, his observatory, and the ‘new astronomy.’

“Unlike ‘old astronomy’, which was concerned with figuring the location of planets and stars by means of mathematical calculations, ‘new astronomy’ used photography as a tool for learning about the appearance, position, and composition of heavenly bodies. Although extremely popular in Europe, new astronomy was slow to take hold in this country. Indeed, until the mid-1880s, Henry Draper and Lewis Morris Rutherfurd were the only American astronomers to keep pace with—and sometimes surpass—their European counterparts.

Engraving showing Lord Rosse’s telescope in Parsonstown, Ireland, from the Nov. 28, 1846 issue of Scientific American.

[Henry’s father] John William Draper had pioneered this new science when he first photographed the moon in New York City in 1840. He introduced the techniques and applications of photography to Henry who, at age 13, helped his father take the first photographs of slides through a microscope (photomicrographs). After graduating from medical school in 1857, Henry, accompanied by his brother Daniel, went to Europe where they examined the giant six-foot reflecting telescope that the Earl of Rosse had constructed outside Birr Castle in Parsonstown, Ireland. Henry returned to New York inspired to build his own telescope and observatory.

He found the highest point on his father’s estate a superb location … Built by a village carpenter whose name goes unrecorded, Henry’s observatory was a beautiful piece of cabinetry with a revolving roof and a curving staircase leading to a viewing platform that encircled the room. It was designed specifically to accommodate a 15 ½ inch Newtonian reflecting telescope that Henry and Daniel painstakingly built with advice from their father, who was then in England. …

Interior of the 1867 rotating observatory dome with its 28-inch telescope.

When the telescope was finally finished in November 1860, Henry began taking photographs of the moon that were the clearest of any yet obtained. … In 1863, Professor Joseph Henry, the great physicist who headed the Smithsonian Institution, visited the observatory. Impressed with Draper’s accomplishments, he invited Henry to produce a report entitled “On the Construction of a Silvered Glass Telescope.” The following year the Smithsonian published the study, which included a description of the layout of the observatory. Henry’s detailed instructions encouraged others to build their own instruments and observatories and was responsible for a tremendous growth in amateur astronomy. To those caught up in the astronomy craze, Henry Draper and his Hastings observatory became revered household names.

In 1867 Henry married Mary Anna Palmer [who] … proved to be an enthusiastic and talented assistant to her husband. … In 1869 Henry added a second dome to his observatory, this one a large equatorial dome regulated by Seth Thomas clockworks. With his wife’s help, he constructed a larger, more powerful telescope. … With this new arrangement, Henry achieved a major astronomical triumph in August 1872 when he successfully photographed the spectrum of the bright star Vega. Over the next few years Henry and Mary Anna photographed the spectra of more than 100 stars. In September 1880 he achieved another “first” when he photographed the beautiful nebulosity—the luminous clouds—in the constellation of Orion, with an exposure time of 50 minutes. …

Two of Henry's photographs of the Orion Nebula. The one on the left is one of his first, taken in 1880, and the on the right is one of his last, taken in 1882 and showing far more detail of the nebula.

Henry Draper proved to American astronomers that photography was the best means of studying the sky. What was particularly remarkable about his astronomical accomplishments was that he fitted them in along with teaching at City Universtiy and the Medical Collge and managing his wife’s large estate [in Dobbs Ferry]. In the summer of 1882, thrilled with what he had recently accomplished in his Hastings observatory, Henry resigned his professorship. Forty-five years old and financially independent, he planned to devote the rest of his life to astronomical photography. … However, he died suddenly of pneumonia the following November, surviving his father by only 11 months.

During Henry Draper’s lifetime, virtually every eminent astronomer and physicicist in the country visited his Hastings observatory. Inventors such as Thomas Alva Edison and Samuel F.B. Morse, eminent neighbors such as Cyrus Field, and distinguished visitors from afar such as King Kalikana of the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) and Emperor Don Pedro II of Brazil also came to see Henry’s remarkable observatory. … In time the Draper Observatory would be eclipsed by larger enterprises, but from the mid-1860s to 1882, along with Lewis Rutherfurd’s observatory in New York, it charted the course of the new astronomy in this country.”

This photograph is from the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. Their cataloging information identifies it as Henry Draper in his observatory. If this is correct, it was probably taken in the 1860s or early 1870s, before he grew the beard that we see in his later photographs.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hastings in 1790, The Year of the First Census

The 1790 census: a page showing the numbers for Yonkers and Greenburgh.

The census you and I have just completed is the twenty-third national population count. Since the Constitution directs that a census be taken every ten years, it does not take very higher math to determine the date of the first census: 1790. Representatives to the first official Congress of the United States, which met in New York in 1789, were apportioned to the thirteen original states based on an estimate of their populations. But since the democratic ideal of the new government was representation based on exact numbers, the people had to be counted. All of them.

This job was assigned to the U.S. Marshals, the new law enforcement branch of the judiciary. The marshals of each district were empowered to hire assistants, who would be paid at the rate of $1 for each 150 persons counted in the open country, or $1 for each 300 if the assistant worked in a city. It was not a simple head count. Since the number of representatives for a state would be calculated based on the number of free citizens (not including Native Americans) plus three-fifths of the number of “others” (that is slaves), it was necessary to have separate counts for free people and for slaves. The 1790 census also enumerates males and females, and breaks free white men into two categories—those under 16 and those over 16. Historians theorize that the First Congress was trying to determine the size of the country’s workforce, and its military strength. Questions were raised immediately about the accuracy of the 1790 census. President Washington himself believed that the U.S. contained more than the reported 3.9 million people. But even so, the 1790 census is a fascinating source of information on early America, and Americans.

Hastings was not incorporated as a separate entity until 1879. The area that would later become our village appears on the 1790 census as part of the town of Greenburgh, which included everything from Hastings to Tarrytown, and as far east as the Bronx River. Greenburgh, as you can see here in a tabulation of its 1790 census information, had only 215 households, and a total population of about 1,400. This included 300 free white males over 16 years (208 were heads of their households) and 323 free white males under sixteen. Free white females numbered 616. In addition, there were 122 slaves, a little shy of New York’s average, which amounted to 12% of the population.

Detail of an 1880 copy of the 1785 map drawn up by the Commissioners of Forfeiture for New York showing how Philipse Manor was divided and to whom it was sold. In 1880 the map was redrawn and "updated" from supposedly more accurate records. The text in small caps has been added, including the word "Hastings", and possibly also the position of the "school house" and the streets marked out in the center of the village.

The 1790 census does not record the name of every individual, only the heads of households. And there is no indication of where in Greenburgh each family resided, so we don’t know for sure who lived in our area. But several of the names on the census have a strong Hastings connection. Peter Post, keeper of the tavern at Five Corners and hero of a local skirmish with Hessian soldiers during the war, headed a household that included two boys under 16, six women, and four slaves. The other Hastings innkeeper, Evert Brown, whose tavern was on Broadway near the Yonkers border, had an even larger household of 19. This included seven slaves, making him the third largest slaveholder in Greenburgh.

Five years before the census had been taken, the state of New York had seized the property of loyalist Frederick Philipse, a manor that reached from Spuyten Duyvil to the Croton River. They sold the land off in lots, giving preference to those who lived on the land at the time. A map drawn up in 1785 gives the names of the purchasers. In the Hastings area, one of these plots went to Post, and the plot directly over the line into Yonkers went to Brown. Another was purchased by Jacobus Dyckman. Judging by the map, Dyckman owned a house on Broadway near Washington Avenue. His name also appears on the census as head of a household including seven men, three women, and three slaves.

George Fisher, who purchased the southernmost plot in Hastings, does not have a house with his name attached to it on the map, and is not even mentioned on the 1790 census. He appears to have sold his property relatively quickly to Adrian Leforge and James Fargee, both variations on the familiar Hastings name of Lefurgy. The northernmost plot in Hastings, running over the border into Dobbs Ferry, was bought by a man listed on the map as James De Clarke and on the census as Jacobus D. Clarke. A house with his name next to it can be seen on the map on what is now North Broadway. A slew of other familiar names appear on the 1790 census: Odells, Van Tassels, Van Warts, and also Abraham Dobbs, head of the family that ran the ferry crossing the Hudson to the north of us.

It is hard from these bare bones to get a feeling for what Westchester was like in the 1790s. In maps of Westchester from the time of the Revolution, our area was represented as nothing more than a roadway interrupted by two taverns. Much of Philipsburg Manor had been farming country, and the area continued to be largely agricultural into the 19th century. But if we follow the fortunes of the Lefurgy family, we can see hints of the changes that were to come for the Hudson valley. The Lefurgys were tenant farmers under the Philipses, landowners after the Revolution, and by the late 1790s they had become involved in shipping and the sloops, the maneuverable single-masted ships that carried furs, timber, fish, and passengers up and down the Hudson, encouraging local industry and paving the way for the future domination of steam and rail.

Watercolor of Philipsburg Manor and the Lower Mill at Yonkers, painted in 1784 based on sketches taken during the Revolution, one of the few images of any kind that gives us a feel for the rural character of Westchester in the late 18th century. (This watercolor is in the collection of Historic Hudson Valley, Tarrytown.)

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

The New "Hastings Historian" Mails Today!

Hanging out at the counter at Lange’s Sweet Shop, ca. 1958. The photograph shows, left to right, sitting: Marianne Marinello (later Marra), Savo Tseros (later Fries), and Margy Jenkins (later Fisher); standing: Kevin Grauer, Lee Manning, Janet Aluisio (later D’Alio), and in the very back you can see the top of Henry ‘Skip’ Lange’s head.

The lead story in this issue is Bob Russell’s article on 583 Warburton Avenue, which for so many years was Hastings' prime snacking destination. From the 1920s to the 1950s it was Bruning’s Ice Cream Parlor, in the late '50s and early '60s it was Lange’s Sweet Shop, from the '60s through the '70s it was the Cup ‘N’ Saucer, in the '80s and '90s it was Pino Gareri’s electronic repair and magic shops, and now it is Comfort Lounge. When she heard that Bob Russell was working on this article, Janet Aluisio D’Alio e-mailed us the first two pictures you see here, showing Janet with her friends in Lange’s. Thanks for the photos, Janet, and don't miss this great article!

This is the first issue of the 2010 membership year. Check your mailing label to make sure your membership is current (exp 2010 or later). And for those of you who are not members, please consider joining us! Your $25 (totally tax deductable) goes to support our efforts to preserve and share the history of our village, including this blog!

The juke box at Lange’s. Left to right are Janet Kupcok (later Costa), Margy Jenkins (later Fisher), Skip Lange, Savo Tseros (later Fries), and Phil Thompson.

From all the Christmas decorations in the photographs, you can tell what time of year Janet’s photos were taken. And, sure enough, when we looked in the December 24th, 1958, edition of the Hastings News (which we just happen to have in our small but fascinating collection of local newspapers), we find the following ad for Lange’s.

Between the articles about the Cornell and Sweet Briar co-eds home for the holidays, the weddings and engagements, arguments over industry tax assessments and whether Nodine Avenue should finally be paved, we find a host of seasonal salutations from other local businesses. And just because it's April Fool's Day (and because we can’t resist), here are a few of these Christmas ads:

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