Pocantico Hills Revisited: Discovering the quaint little hamlet
By Sunny McLean
Pocantico Hills is one of Westchester County’s historical treasures. It is known for several notable landmarks; the Union Church Chagall stained glass window, the Rockefeller State Park, Kikuit and Stone Barns working farm. Very few people really know about the hidden community’s beauty and rich history except the long-time residents who live there.
On March 23, over a hundred and fifty people gathered at Hilltop Fire Department for the Historical Society of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown’s first neighborhood community series; “History of Pocantico Hills”. The Historical Society event was the first in a series of individual neighborhood lectures.
The name Pocantico is from American Indian decent. The Indians were the first residents to settle in the sleepy little community referred to symbolically as “a dark river flowing between two hills.”
The Historical Society had taken over a year to collect artifacts, antiques, archeological findings, writings, paintings, a flags, maps, rocks, beads, pieces of brass, pottery, a bowling ball and photographs were some of the items displayed on six large tables.
The main event however, was a very interesting slide presentation about the history of the Pocantico Hills hamlet.
Richard Rose is the president of the Historical Society of Tarrytown.
“This is the first of a series of neighborhood programs—whereby the Historical Society is trying to investigate the last 150 years in all of the little neighborhoods that have made up our communities of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown,” Rose told Sleepy Hollow-Tarrytown News, “We’re trying to understand how Pocantico Hills has developed in this period of time and how it has turned out to be.”
Rose noted that a panel of five people spoke held integral parts in the development of the hamlet. “Some of these folks have been involved with the security of the Rockefeller estate and have lots of interesting things to tell about the family.” He continued, “We have a number of people who have lived here all their lives and they can tell us what daily life was like, how things have changed over their lifetimes so it would be a nice retrospective.”
Curator, Sarah Mascia of The Historical Society of Tarrytown introduced the program.
“I grew up in Tarrytown, and spent my time in Pocantico Hills—I’ve always been intrigued by the neighborhood. This program series will be repeated in several neighborhoods. The history of each one of them is so unique that we really wanted to put together a series of programs to capture the details and sense of each community and this is the first one. I am so glad everyone could be here this evening,” Mascia said.
The panelists invited to speak included some very interesting people associated with the Rockefellers themselves. Among the five panelists were, Bill Graham, (his grandfather was a horticulturalist on the Rockefeller Estate). Graham is a dedicated gardener and a passionate historian of the hamlet of Pocantico Hills,
Laura Bunt, is an author. She recently published her memoir about her adventures on the Rockefeller Estate. She grew up there and has many insights on the family and the community surrounding the estate/
Jerry Callahan, originally from Iowa, was a member of the Rockefeller security force. Joan Kent was born and raised in Pocantico Hills. David Wilock was a former Lieutenant in the Mount Pleasant Police Department, a Pocantico Hills resident and head of security on the Rockefeller Estate.
Bill Graham was the first panelist to speak about the history and Philipsburg Manor. “This was before the Fredrick Philips III, returned to England—his property was confiscated by New York State and sold in 1785,” Graham stated in his slide presentation. “Much of the farmland in Pocantico and Sleepy Hollow probably looks the same as it did in 1785 and there was apparently more open fields back then there is now and less woodlands. Graham continued, “In addition there are old stone walls all through the woodlands—these walls were used back in the day to contain the livestock. Many changes and additions have been made over the years—we have endured these changes, mostly for the good and thanks to the Rockefeller family, approximately 4,000 acres have been preserved for the past century.”
The second panelist to speak on Pocantico Hills schools was David Wilock.
“The Pocantico Hills Schools have an interesting history to it. It’s somewhat unique in the period of the last 50 years, In 1880-1931, there were four different schools in three different locations and the current school is back in the location where the first one was–(an old ramshackle building partially held up by a pole). The building was located on Bedford Road in an area called ‘Squash Hill’ it was also known as, Butler’s Saw Mill. By 1883, the school was totally inadequate, and the community entered into an agreement with the Wheeler family to purchase a parcel of land from them on Bedford Road about 2-3 hundred yards north of the old school on Squash Hill.
The sale price of the property back then was $1.50 an acre. The cost of school building was $150 dollars and they had only one teacher. It was later expanded to accommodate additional students,” Wilock said in his presentation.
The third presenter was Joan Kent who was born and raised in Pocantico Hills. Mrs Kent spoke about the Catholic Church in the Village.
”Beginning in 1892, the priests from the Catholic parish of St. Teresa in North Tarrytown (now Sleepy Hollow) began using the Lyceum building here in Pocantico for Sunday Mass. It was a convenience for Catholics of Pocantico and Eastview. Residents from Eastview could come by train (the Rockefeller train). When the train no longer ran through Pocantico, that was about the end of public transportation around here for many years,” Kent said describing the history of the church.”
In 1894, the Pastor requested that the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, divide his parish into three parts—North Tarrytown, Tarrytown and Pocantico Hills; he requested to take on the position of Pastor here in Pocantico Hills. Shortly after his request was granted he resigned from St. Theresa's Church.
A Pocantico friend invited Clare Sorensen, of Bronxville. “We’re very excited about the event because we have a history of the Lawrence family down our way in Bronxville,” Sorensen said.
Marie Stowe of Milford, CT was born in Pocantico Hills. She came to the event to learn more about the history of the hamlet. “I was born in my grandparent’s home which is no longer standing. I was baptized in Mary Magdalene Church and was married there. My sister lived in Pocantico for many years and I would always come back to visit. I wanted to come tonight because I wanted to know more about the rich history of Pocantico Hills <!--EndFragment-->