Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hastings Shortcuts
Paths and staircases offer direct routes through the Village

By Corinne McSpedon

Hastings is crisscrossed by many footpaths and staircases that connect one street or neighborhood to the next. Some—such as the paths into and through the Burke Estate, Hillside Park, and Zinsser Park—are well known and easily identified on the Hastings Trailways map, which is available at the Recreation Department or via this link.

Others require a bit more searching. There are many strips of land tucked between private property as well as several staircases throughout the Village. When many of these were built—about 100 years ago—pedestrians were navigating early 20th century Hastings roads, some of which were private and all of which had a tendency to meander as they followed the contours of the hills. The paths helped commuters and students save time and avoid walking on private streets. 

For the most part, these shortcuts are open to the public but tend to be hidden from view. Fred Hubbard detailed many of these in his 2006 publication, Recreational Areas of Hastings-on-Hudson (available at the library), in which he documents 40 “outdoor areas” in the Village.

Frequently only nearby or long-time residents know about the shortcuts in a given neighborhood. To follow are descriptions of some of the paths and staircases still in use today. A map, which can be viewed in greater detail, is included at the bottom of this post.

Hudson Heights 
A century ago, the developer of the Hudson Heights neighborhood, Hudson P. Rose, built steps, paths, and sidewalks into the hill to provide waterfront workers, students, and commuters with direct access to the center of town and the two rail lines servicing the area at the time: the Hudson Line of the Metro-North Railroad and the Putnam Division of the New York Central Railroad— “the Old Put”—which carried passengers and freight from the Bronx to Brewster and stopped in Hastings at Mount Hope Station, near the Saw Mill River. (The Old Put rail line is now defunct, although hikers on the South County Trailway can follow its path as it meanders along the Saw Mill Parkway.)

The Kent Staircase, located at the intersection of Kent and Fairmont Avenues
Today, some paths and staircases are used more than others. At the intersection of Kent and Fairmont Avenues, for instance, is the top of a long set of steps that blends into its surroundings so well it’s easily mistaken as a neighbor’s walkway. The Kent Staircase, which is missing steps and covered by vegetation in places, leads to the corner of Fairmont and Clinton Avenues and does not appear to have been used much in recent years.

Near the top entrance to these steps, just west on Fairmont Avenue, is the entrance to a trail that bisects Lefurgy Park, a portion of public land that extends between the backyards of houses on Southgate and Fairmont Avenues and Overlook Road. The Lefurgy Park Trail runs through this parkland, stretching from Fairmont Avenue to the south side of Mount Hope Blvd.

Entrance to the Lefurgy Park Trail on the south side of Mount Hope Boulevard, between Overlook Road and Southgate Avenue

Across the street from this entrance to the Lefurgy Park Trail are the remnants of a sidewalk that ran along the north side of Mount Hope Boulevard, providing commuters with a path to the Old Put. Although only small sections of this sidewalk remain between Lefurgy Avenue and Overlook Road, in recent years neighboring homeowners have cleared vegetation from the remaining and mostly intact sidewalk from Overlook Road to Cliff Street.

Sidewalk along the north side of Mount Hope Boulevard, between Overlook Road and Cliff Street

Descending the other side of the Hudson Heights neighborhood is a staircase linking Jefferson to Hamilton Avenues, offering a secluded if a steep alternative to Mount Hope Boulevard. Newspaper articles dating back to 1940 refer to this as the Mount Hope Staircase. Fred Hubbard called them the Jefferson Steps in his publication. Neighbors often refer to them as the Hundred Steps.

The Hundred Steps, between Jefferson and Hamilton Avenues

Staircase from Hamilton Avenue to Prescott Place
At the bottom of these steps and across Hamilton Avenue is a smaller staircase that provides access to Prescott Place and, ultimately, Rosedale Avenue.

Further north on Rosedale Avenue, on the east side of the street, is the bottom of another staircase. These well-used steps stretch from Rosedale Avenue to Wilson Place.

Interestingly, a path that still exists in the Hudson Heights neighborhood, linking Lincoln and Lefurgy Avenues, appears to have been one of a couple of parallel paths that existed on adjacent streets: from Lefurgy to Cochrane Avenues and from Cochrane to Jefferson Avenues. The trails on these streets are no longer in existence, but it seems they may have once formed a continuous path from at least Lincoln Avenue to the top of the Hundred Steps.

The Farragut Trail connects Rosedale Avenue to Farragut Avenue and could be a further extension of the path from the Hudson Heights neighborhood to the Village. A few houses south of the Rosedale Avenue and Prescott Place intersection, on the west side of Rosedale, this path runs between neighboring properties to Farragut Avenue, ending a few houses down and across the street from the dirt road entrance to the Burke Estate.

Riverview Manor 
High up in the Riverview Manor neighborhood are the Summit Steps, which offer views of the Hudson River. This staircase leads from Summit Drive to the intersection of Calumet Avenue, Buena Vista Drive, and Pleasant Avenue.

The Summit Steps, leading to Pleasant Avenue

On the other side of town, a set of steps and path connect Pinecrest Parkway to the Aqueduct, near where it intersects Pinecrest Drive, providing residents with an essential link to the Village.

Steps and path from Pinecrest Parkway to the Aqueduct

At the bottom of Pinecrest Drive and across Warburton Avenue is another staircase—steep and made of metal—leading to the waterfront and Rowley’s Bridge Trail.

Staircase from Warburton Avenue to Rowley's Bridge Trail
In the Village
Unlike many of the steps found in the other neighborhoods, the staircase leading from West Main Street and the Steinschneider Parking Lot to Southside Avenue and the train station—one of the most well-used shortcuts—was constructed around the middle of the last century by the Village.

Stairs from West Main Street to Southside Avenue
Ownership and Upkeep
In 1940, the state of disrepair of the Mount Hope Boulevard Staircase, as described in a Herald Statesmen article published on October 31 of that year, led the Village to barricade the steps, which incited outrage among residents. According to the article, an investigation revealed that Hudson P. Rose deeded the staircase to the Village around the time it was built, in 1910. The steps were ultimately reopened, but it's not clear if they were repaired at that time.

Ownership and maintenance of other paths and staircases, such as the Summit Steps and the Wilson Place staircase to Rosedale Avenue, can be equally unclear. Some of these cross through private, state, or Town of Greenburgh land. In addition, Hastings homeowners are responsible for maintaining the sidewalks bordering their property. It seems that the Village and neighboring homeowners have, at various times during the past century, maintained certain paths and staircases. Others, however, have simply been left alone.

Occasionally, nature has reclaimed—or neighboring property owners have purchased—some of this land. The Hastings Trailways Committee and the Adopt-a-Trail program in the early to mid-2000s organized efforts among residents to clean and maintain some of the remaining public passages. Currently, the Village’s Recreation Department maintains the paths identified on the Hastings Trailways map.

In general, the staircases tend to be in worse condition these days than the trails, which are at least minimally maintained as long as people use them. Many of the staircases have broken or missing steps and are washed out or overgrown in places. Despite their condition, however, these staircases and footpaths are still used regularly—by commuters and students, walkers and joggers. More than 100 years later, they continue to be vital pathways for anyone navigating the hills and neighborhoods of Hastings.

click on map to enlarge

Map was adapted from the Hastings Department of Parks and Recreation’s Trailways Map, design by Adam Hart, by Lindsey Taylor June 2016

Photos by Corinne McSpedon
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