The Scarborough Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Scarborough Historic District in the towns of Ossining and Mt. Pleasant, Westchester County, New York, is illustrative of growth and change in the area from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Located on both sides of the Albany Post Road (Route 9) between the villages of North Tarrytown and Ossining, the Scarborough Historic District lies close to the Hudson River on the west. Twentieth century suburban homes are located to the north, south, and west; to the east are undeveloped and sparsely settled residential areas.
Comprised primarily of three estates, a school complex, a cemetery and two religious properties, the 376-acre Scarborough Historic District is generally rural in character and sparsely developed. Most of the buildings are set on large parcels of land. The churches and school complex are clearly visible from Route 9, the Scarborough Historic District's major thoroughfare; the majority of estate buildings are not. The six largest structures are each architecturally different and distinctive and the numerous related dependencies also vary stylistically. Stone and brick walls line Route 9 within the confines of the district. Although two of the larger properties have undergone changes, the character of the main structures remains primarily intact.
The Scarborough Historic District contains seven historically and architecturally significant properties which reflect the settlement and growth of Scarborough, an unincorporated community in the town of Ossining, from the late eighteenth century through the early twentieth century. Included within its boundaries are a pre-Revolutionary War cemetery, distinctive examples of popular American Revival style architecture (Greek, Gothic, Renaissance and Neoclassical) and formal landscapes reflecting extensive, turn-of-the-century (1900) estate development. Starting with the establishment of the Sparta Cemetery in 1750, the Scarborough Historic District's period of significance runs through the first two decades of the twentieth century with the construction of the Scarborough (Clear View) School. The Scarborough Historic District's largely unchanged architectural, historic and picturesque character is primarily the result of a small group of prominent local land owners who established country seats and churches above the Hudson River along the Albany Post Road (Route 9)( in the suburban community of Scarborough.
The Scarborough Historic District's recorded history dates to 1685, the time of the inclusion of the area in the Manor of Philipsburg by purchase from the Sint Sinck Indians. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the area was largely undeveloped, consisting of privately held and tenant farms; the closest settlement was that of Sparta, in the town of Ossining. Following the Revolutionary War, Philipsburg Manor was broken up and divided among various owners, many of whom had been the manor's tenant farmers. In the early nineteenth century, the area remained sparsely settled and largely agricultural in character.
The name of the locality derives from the fact that St. Mary's Church, at the southern end of the district, is a replica of the fourteenth-century church of St. Mary's, Scarborough, England. Built in 1850-51, the structure was designed by the Reverend Edward N. Mead, son-in-law of the Episcopal rector William Creighton, donor of the church property.
St. Mary's is an outstanding example of the Early English Gothic style and has a rare remaining set of stained-glass windows designed and created by John and William Bolton. Images depicted by the window designs include the unusual "Pelican-in-her-Piety," a symbol of the atonement. The west window is a noteworthy example of the grisaille technique.
Ivy covering the walls of the church descends from cuttings planted by Washington Irving, a life-long friend of Dr. Creighton, St. Mary's first rector. The cuttings had been given to Irving by Sir Walter Scott during a visit by Irving to "Abbotsford," Scott's Gothic Revival English residence. Ivy climbing the parish hall walls was brought back and planted by Mrs. Frank Vanderlip from a post-World War II trip to the Argonne.
The history that began with St. Mary's, the Creightons and the Meads continued to influence the development of the Scarborough Historic District. Colonel and Mrs. Elliot Shepard bought the land on which they built "Woodlea," the present Sleepy Hollow Country Club, plus a large parcel on the west side of Route 9, from Jane Mead (Mrs. Edward Mead), daughter of Dr. Creighton, widow of Reverend Mead. On the east side of Route 9, was a residence where the Shepards stayed during the construction of Woodlea, designed by the firm of McKim, Mead and White.
Within the county of Westchester, Woodlea is a late nineteenth century Renaissance Revival residence of major importance. Although the name of Stanford White, the firm's most famous partner, is frequently connected with Woodlea, documentation indicates that William Rutherford Mead was the partner-in-charge and William Mitchell Kendall was responsible for the design. Certainly the finest of the firm's works remaining in Westchester County, the Shepards' "palatial mansion" was completed in 1895 at a cost of $808,764.00. Unusual for a Hudson River residence in that the main entrance is on the "short" end of the building, the structure on its sloping site thus provided unobstructed river views from the living room, salon, and dining room on the main level. These spaces, when opened into each other, create a gallery stretching the entire one-hundred-and-fifty-foot length of the house. The noted architectural firm was also responsible for the design of the gatehouses and stable and the site plan, including interior roadways and non-extant formal gardens. The outbuildings, also in the Renaissance Revival style, contribute to the estate's significance.
After the property became the Sleepy Hollow Country Club, McKim, Mead and White were commissioned to design a Garden Theatre. It is described in "The Sleepy Hollow Country Club" (p.14) as "...a modified adaptation of the Greek semi-circular form, with successive tiers for seats arising from the center, and will accommodate an audience of fifteen hundred persons. The stage, on raised ground, is flanked by clipped cedars, and has for a back curtain a row of the same trees, with a sixteenth century Italian stone portal in the center." The theatre no longer exists, but the stone portal stands near the Squash House.
Colonel Shepard died in 1894. Shortly after the turn of the century, Woodlea went on the market. Frank Arthur Vanderlip, then vice-president of First National Bank (now Citibank), purchased for $165,000 the property on which he said "over $2,000,000 had been spent." Mrs. Vanderlip, however, felt the house was far too grand, and refused to move in. Vanderlip then organized the country club, the first meeting of the Board of Directors being held on May 16, 1911, at 55 Wall Street. Early members of the club included Averill Harriman, Percy and William Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, James Stillman (president of First National), and members of the Colgate and Choate families. The course was laid out under Vanderlip's supervision by "the famous golfer Charley McDonald," and Frank Vanderlip served as the club's president for many years.
Woodlea is primarily intact, including some of the original Shepard furnishings. Changes have been made on the property to accommodate the country club use, but horses still occupy the stalls of the McKim, Mead and White stables, and the vista to the river remains.
Another famous parishioner of St. Mary's Scarborough was Rear Admiral John Lorimer Worden, who commanded the "Monitor in its victory over the "Merrimac" in 1862. North of the country club exit gate, near Route 9, is a plaque stating that Worden was born at "Rosemont" in 1818. Whether the present house, dating stylistically from c.1840, incorporates an earlier structure, or whether it replaced the house Worden was born in, the connection of the site and the Scarborough Historic District to Civil War hero is a strong one.
Rosemont (Scarborough House) is architecturally significant as an unusual example of the Greek Revival style. The only structure remaining on a ten-acre piece of property that in the late 1960's still had a two-and-one-half story barn, other outbuildings, and two riding rings, the twenty-one room former residence has been since the 1973 the headquarters of Stein and Day, publishers. Spatial configurations have been altered somewhat in the process of reuse, but much early material, both exterior and interior, remains.
Colonel and Mrs. Shepard of Woodlea were largely responsible for the construction of the Scarborough Presbyterian Church. In the 1880's Presbyterian services were being held at a variety of locations, including the Butler-Wright house. Recognizing the need for a community church, the Shepards bought the land on which a general store stood and remodeled and enlarged the building. As more space became necessary, a building program was started. In 1893 plans were commissioned by the Shepards from the New York firm of Haydel and Shepard. Elliot Fitch Shepard, Jr., laid the cornerstone on October 13, 1893.
The construction of the church was a major community event. Transportation of construction materials, including slabs of granite and Indiana limestone, necessitated the laying of a special sidetrack at Scarborough Station. Stone cutting and carving was done on the site. The workmanship and materials of the completed building were of the highest quality, the academic classicism of the Italian Renaissance detail unlike that of any other church in Westchester County.
In spite of Colonel Shepard's death in March, 1894, work on the building went forward and the church was dedicated in his memory on May 14, 1895. Mrs. Shepard continued to support the church, provided funds for the Church House (also designed by Augustus Shepard, completed 1908); the 1913 manse ("designed by William C. Holden, son of George C. Holden, who was the builder"), and a liberal endowment.
Sparta Cemetery ("the Presbyterian Burying Ground at Sparta"), located across Route 9 from the church, behind the manse, is a two-acre plot of land given for use as church site and burying ground to the Presbyterian Church by the second Frederick Philips (third Lord of the Manor of Philipsburg). The property is still owned by the First Presbyterian Church of Ossining; the original church building was demolished in the late nineteenth century. The largely intact cemetery is an important link with the area's early settlement.
Beechwood is an architecturally significant estate with a rich history. During the early nineteenth century, the estate was the property of a Benjamin Folger, who became a disciple of a man called variously "Matthias the Prophet" and "Matthias the Imposter." Matthias, claiming to be the "Angel of Revelation," lived in Folger's house for two years, 1833-34. He called the residence Mt. Zion and drove around the countryside in a chariot drawn by four horses, proclaiming his particular version of the gospel. Having bankrupted Folger, and after apparently trying to murder Folger and his family, Matthias was tried in White Plains in 1835 for the murder of another disciple. Acquitted because of lack of evidence, Matthias left Westchester soon after the trial.
The estate was purchased in 1895 by Walter Webb, a vice-president of the New York Central Railroad. Webb, related by marriage to one of Dr. Creighton's daughters, enlarged the original late eighteenth century structure and gave it the name "Beechwood." The architect commissioned by Webb was Robert H. Robertson.
Frank A. Vanderlip bought Beechwood, including twenty-three acres of land, in 1906. He acquired more land, bringing the total acreage to 125, and commissioned William Welles Bosworth to landscape the spacious grounds. Landscape-enhancing components of Bosworth's original plan, still in place at Beechwood, include swimming and reflecting pools, formal gardens, a tempietto, the pergola and a tea house. Vanderlip also commissioned Bosworth to expand the large frame residence to the north with the addition of a luxuriously appointed Neoclassical library with a sky-lit octagonal ante-room.
Frank A. Vanderlip, born on an Illinois farm, had a career that spanned the distance between his first job as a machinist apprentice, at $4.43 a week, and the presidency of the First National Bank. The protege of James Stillman, first president of the bank, Vanderlip was serving as a deputy Secretary of the Treasury during the McKinley administration when he was recruited by Stillman. Moving easily between the worlds of government and finance, Vanderlip was influential in the passage of the Federal Reserve Law and instrumental in formulating the policies on which current banking practices continue to be based.
Stillman encouraged Vanderlip to buy Beechwood and was a frequent visitor. Other visitors included William Rockefeller, a fellow financier and neighbor, and Herbert Hoover, whom Vanderlip referred to as "another farm-reared boy." Woodrow Wilson was often a guest, as was the elder J.P. Morgan.
In 1902 Vanderlip had been introduced to Narcissa Cox, a friend of his sister Ruth. They were married the following spring. Narcissa Cox Vanderlip was prominent in her own right. She was a follower of the teachings of Emmanuel Swedenborg and founded and served as an officer of a settlement house connected with her New York City church. An energetic feminist, she actively supported the suffrage movement, served as treasurer of the National Woman's Liberty Loan Committee during World War I, and was the first chairperson (1919-1923) of the New York State League of Women Voters.
Together with her husband, she engaged in early "urban development" activities in the hamlet of Sparta, bordering her Scarborough home, buying up deteriorating buildings, rehabilitating them, and renting them at affordable rates. Narcissa and Frank also fostered the development of their 16,000-acre California ranch into the present-day planned community of Palos Verdes.
Narcissa and Frank Vanderlip had six children. Wanting to keep the children close at hand instead of sending them off to boarding school, the Vanderlips were determined to provide them with a quality education locally. They were introduced by a friend to the educational theories of Maria Montessori and met Madame Montessori herself. They hired as a teacher a woman who had studied with Madame Montessori, set her up in October, 1913 in a building on the estate property, "and in a little while, down near our gate, she had six or eight pupils, including one or two of our children. That was the nucleus of the Scarborough School."
Although they eventually decided the Montessori theories were not as appropriate as they had originally thought, the Vanderlips chose to continue and expand the local school. They commissioned Bosworth again, this time to design an educational facility. From a 1919 promotional booklet: "The new school building, designed by William Welles Bosworth, the architect of a new group of buildings of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was completed early in 1917. In formulating the plans, advice was sought from experienced school authorities, with the result that the structure is modern in every respect. The problem of procuring the best lighting, heating, and ventilation was given particular attention. Moreover a distinct effort was made to create an artistic whole, to surround the child with beautiful architecture, equipment, and landscape.
The Scarborough School theatre, which opened in 1918 with a piano recital by Paderewski, was a notable architectural and educational addition. The work of theatre designer Winthrop Ames, it was described in school promotional material as having "... a completely equipped stage, with the most approved three-color system of lighting, scene loft, and all the mechanism of the modern stage." Classroom work was enriched by presentations in the theatre that included lectures illustrated by "motion or stereopticon pictures, musicales, and...performances." Poetry recitals were given by Robert Frost, Vachel Lindsay, and the English Poet-Laureate, John Masefield.' Isodora Duncan, Sarah Bernhardt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rockwell Kent also appeared on the Scarborough School stage.
Eventually the school took on a life separate from that of the Vanderlip family. It reached a crossroads in 1959 when the studio building burned. A master plan, commissioned by the Board of Trustees, was produced by the architectural firm of Voorhees, Walker, Smith, Smith and Haines. The plan recommended an ambitious program of site and building expansion. The school site remained at thirteen acres, but in 1965 a new primary classroom was built, designed by the firm of Perkins and Will. Since September of 1981, the facility, run by a not-for-profit corporation, has served emotionally troubled children as the Clear View School.
The Vanderlip influence in the Scarborough Historic District has continued up to the present day. The main building of the Clear View School is called Vanderlip Hall, and the estate property was purchased for residential development from the widower of one of Frank and Narcissa's daughters. The name Beechwood is being retained by the developer, as is the main house, the garage, and many of the Bosworth-designed landscape elements.
The Scarborough Historic District incorporates significant examples of stylistically distinctive architecture including the Gothic, Greek, Renaissance, and Classical Revival modes and retains strong association with persons of importance who have influenced its development. Together with significant planned landscapes and a pre-Revolutionary War cemetery, the architectural components of the linear district provide visible evidence of nearly two hundred years of history in the Westchester County town of Ossining. The relatively intact Scarborough Historic District reflects the area's development from an undeveloped rural settlement during the late 1700's to an affluent turn-of-the-century residential enclave. The Scarborough Historic District's many architecturally distinctive properties and intact historic settings recall the nineteenth and early twentieth century lifestyles of its wealthy residents.
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†Austin O'Brien, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Scarborough Historic District, Ossining, Westchester County, NY, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.