A couple years ago I had a job as a Project Archivist at the Westchester County Archives in Elmsford NY. Part of that job included cataloging photographs from the Park Commission Photograph Collection, which is roughly 1,000 images of county owned parks & parkways throughout Westchester from the 1910s to 1930s, and are now available online. One of the great things in such a job is trying to describe images that have little or no metadata (like a title, date, or caption) associated with them. In these cases I would find myself researching the history of the image’s subject in order to correctly identify and date the photograph. Often, photographs would be made in a series, and I was able to use a these groups of photos to give me clues in identifying the subject matter of each individual image. Here is one of those cases.
This series of 4 photos are by a freelance photographer named John Gass, who did work for the County’s Park Commission in the late 20s and 30s. All the metadata I had to go on was “John Gass” (the who) and “Macy Memorial” (the what).
In this first image we see a curved driveway and a wooded hillside. Notice in the foreground there is an angular rock, and a stone staircase on the far side of the driveway.
Next is a close-up the stone staircase and a path leading up the wooded hillside.
Thirdly we have a badly damaged negative, but if we look closely there seems to be a large boulder on the left with a stone-paved platform in front of it.
Lastly, here is a clearer image of the boulder and stone platform. We can clearly see a rectangular tablet on the face of the boulder. Was this tablet the memorial in “Macy Memorial”?
Well a quick Google search for “Macy Memorial” and “Westchester County” didn’t turn up much (DON’T TRY IT! Read the rest of this blog post first). But I know there’s a county park along the Saw Mill River Parkway, between Ardsley and Irvington, named V. Everit Macy Park.
The park includes Woodlands Lake, which was accessible via the Saw Mill River Parkway and included a service station, restaurant, & boathouse.
So, thinking V. Everit Macy Park might be a good place to start looking, I drove over there one day on my lunch break and took a look around. The service station & restaurant have been shuttered, and the boathouse was torn down decades ago. Attendance at the park had plummeted after the NY State Thruway was constructed in the mid-1950s, effectively slicing the park in half. (See the Google Map above). There was no sign of a curved driveway, wooded hillside, or memorial tablet.
It looked like my search was at a dead-end. But I asked my friend Patrick Raftery, Assistant Librarian at the Westchester County Historical Society, if he’d ever heard of a “Macy Memorial”, and he said yes! (Side note: ALWAYS ask your librarian for help. They know everything.)
He’d heard about it, but never actually seen it, and he pointed me to this map of Irvington Woods:
The memorial was about 1/2 mile north of Woodlands Lake and on the other side of the parkway! The curved driveway must have been a trun-out off the parkway. Quickly, I used the Streetview function on Google Maps to check the area, and saw the shoulder does get really wide, suggesting this is where the turn-out had been:
So here’s where I decided to go tramping through the woods.
All I had to do was drive over there, right? If the memorial was still there I couldn’t miss it. But parking along the edge of the Saw Mill River Parkway is a little dangerous nowadays. So I parked along Cyrus Field Rd. (see map above) and hiked downhill, past the “Gas Pipeline” and “steps” to the spot marked “VE Macy Monument”.
Well, reader, what do you think? Was it there?
You guessed it:
Of course it was! And here’s a close-up of the (bronze) tablet:
“V. Everit Macy was a great citizen of Westchester County. He gave generously not only of his wealth, but of himself. His Countless private benefactions and deeds of kindness were never heralded, but his constructive achievement as Superintendent of the Poor, Commissioner of Public Welfare, and Preseident of the Westchester County Park Commission were widely known. In recognition of these services this park had been named for him and this tablet erected by his friends. MDCCCLXXI – MCMXXX”.
Hmm, so who exactly were his “friends”? Well, I checked the annual reports of the WCPC for the early 30s, and in the April 1933 report I found this description:
Not only did the Macy Memorial Committee pay for the tablet, they also purchased over 7,000 plants to ornament the park! In the same report I also found the committee’s letter to the Board of Supervisors recommending the re-naming of Woodlands Park in Macy’s honor, as well as the erection of a memorial tablet. Notice that the tablet’s inscription is taken directly from this letter.
Good friends indeed. In fact, V. Everit Macy and his wife Edith Carpenter Macy were personal friends of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and is wife Abby. They even shared the same landscape architect, William Welles Bosworth, who designed their country estates (more about Bosworth in future posts).
In addition to the WCPC annual reports I checked the final report of the county’s Emergency Work Bureau (a New Deal-era work relief program) which provided laborers to the Park Commission. The EWB report includes several photographs of the memorial’s construction:
Remember the angular rock, curved driveway, and stairs in the background from the John Gass photo above? Here’s what it looks like today:
They’re still there of course, although the stairs are overgrown with weeds.
Here’s another shot of the memorial under construction:
Notice the boulder on the hillside in the center of the image where the bronze tablet was mounted. The bronze tablet had been forged at the Gorham Manufacturing Co. of Providence, R.I. and measures 5′ 9.75″ x 2′ 9.25″. Work on the memorial began in the Fall of 1932 and was completed in June 1933, which is information we can use to date the John Gass photos.
The committee also funded the construction of 4 “gateposts” along the Saw Mill River Parkway marking the boundaries of the newly re-named park, as seen in two more photos by John Gass:
Well, that’s the story of the long-lost V. Everit Macy Memorial.
But who was V. Everit Macy you ask? In brief, V. Everit Macy was orphaned at the age of 5 and inherited $20 million. His father had been an official at Standard Oil (which may have been how he knew the younger Rockefeller). Macy studied architecture at Columbia, but never practiced. He was the CEO of several industrial manufactureing companies and owned several Westchester County newspapers. He became a noted philanthropist and Progressive reformer. Macy also served as Westchester’s Commissioner of Charities & Corrections (1913-1919), Commissioner of Public Welfare (1925), and Commissioner of Parks (1926-1930).
Oh yeah, and the V is for Valentine.
Background information on the memorial’s conception and construction is drawn from:
“Report of the Westchester County Park Commission”. White Plains, N.Y. 1933. pg. 24, 26-27.
“What your work relief dollars bought for you; a report to the Board of Supervisors and the taxpayers of the 18 towns that make up the Westchester County public welfare district by their Emergency Work Bureau of Westchester County, covering the period from November 7, 1931 to August 15, 1933”. White Plains, N.Y. 1933. pg. 11, 19.
Biographical information on V. Everit Macy is drawn from:
French, Alvah P. ed., “History of Westchester County, New York”. Lewis Historical Publishing Co., New York. 1925-1927. v.3 pg. 51.