The Crazy Dreams of Samuel Untermyer in Yonkers

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One of my favorite fairy tale quotes comes from the timeless story of Alice in Wonderland, a tale chock-full of wickedly inspiring and clever lines and one in particular that has always given me great strength and pride reads:

Alice: One can’t believe impossible things.

The Queen: …you haven’t had much practice…why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

UntermyerI’d like to think that for Samuel Untermyer, a lawyer from Virginia who acquired his now famous Yonkers property in 1899, he read those words at some point in his life and was inspired to dream big and to allow his own dreams to manifest themselves in more ways than one.

Most people who are lifelong Yonkers residents know of his contribution to the city and the 43 acre park he left for public use in 1948. What he left behind was a masterpiece of civic artistry, with dreams and ambitions to share his acquired wealth, along with his love of horticulture with visitors from around the country as they passed through his gardens on a weekly basis.

30,000 people visited his gardens in one single day back in September of 1939 as the country braced for World War IMG_1415and Untermyer himself of German Jewish decent, advocated for the Zionist Liberation Movement and then became President of the Karen Hayesod Agency.

To me, Untermyer was a born pioneer, a man who advocated for Women’s rights before most men did.  A man who spoke out against Hitler before most men did.  An activist against civil rights, again long before the movement truly gained national attention in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Mr. Untermyer certainly had a vision that was never fully realized even in his day, but should also never be forgotten.

A vision that one day, the rest of his 150 acre property would become a state park to be maintained and preserved for the enjoyment of the public, a vision that in the end, proved very costly and never seemed to materialize.

Presently, the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy as well as the city of Yonkers is hard at work, attempting to fulfill the lofty ambitions of Untermyer years ago and while much work still needs to be done, I thought I would point out some of my favorite spots on the property.

Before Untermyer acquired the acreage, the land belonged to Samuel J. Tilden, a failed presidential hopeful who had previously been Governor of New York State.  He was a man with a strong passion for horticulture as well and built a greenhouse on the property to cultivate rare and exotic plants, laying the foundation for the property’s ultimate future.

One of the finest features of the property has to be “The Vista” or as some might call it, the “Don’t Attempt to Climb These Stairs Without Approval from your Cardiologist Stairway…” or something close to that because there are over 200 stairs that go from the Vista Overlook of the Hudson River to the top where the North Loggia of the Walled Garden’s lower terrace resides.

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And the view up…

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It’s a long way down or up depending on where you begin but both are worth it.  Not only will you work up a sweat and just take in the beauty of the property, but if you are traveling down the stairs, you will make your way to what I believe to be the oldest man-made objects in the entire city of Yonkers.

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Two giant ancient Roman Columns, made from Cipolino Marble, flank the Hudson Overlook and from what I have read, these things go back at least to the year 200 BC.

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They really are a thing of beauty as if you didn’t have enough of it already on the property.

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Even better in some respects are the ghostly outlines of what was once a beautiful fountain area, with its own stairway which led to an area known as the Color Garden, which contained an array of plants each different in color as well as a vegetable garden and rose garden, long since overgrown and laying sadly in ruin.

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Also, the bottom of the property as most Yonkers residents know, is flanked by the OCA Trail and at the entrance there lay in ruins, some of the more beautiful Lion and Horse sculptures I have ever seen.

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The Lion is in better condition of the two by far, with its gorgeous detail and almost sorrowful look, it still stands guard proudly after all these years as joggers and bikers pass by along the Old-Croton Aqueduct Trail.

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Sadly the Horse lay in ruin, decapitated but still just as nice in many ways.

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The structure above the two animals was a former gatehouse and what I suspect was also servants quarters as the property did employ dozens of people at one time. It required 60 individuals alone to care for the main garden area.  Nowadays, the building has succumb to time and is a hollowed out shell of its former self.

Also, this is one of main areas that the so-called “Satanic Cults” used to roam around in and perform god knows what, earning the nickname, the “Devil’s Hole”.  My advice is to peak in and make it brief…

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Of course, there are many many more areas of the park I could point out, but I think it is best to leave them to you to discover, as Untermyer Park is and always will be, the grandest park in Yonkers.

Take an afternoon, perhaps this weekend, make the trip down North Broadway just past St. John’s Hospital, leave all electronics behind, grab the kiddos and pack a lunch.

That’s how Mr. Untermyer would have liked it and no matter how much time passes after his death, the sun still shines just as brightly on his beautiful gardens and an afternoon on his hillside in Yonkers can be just as grand and magnificent as it was for him and his family over 100 years ago.

For more information about tours and park hours, click here.

–Josh

 

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2 thoughts on “The Crazy Dreams of Samuel Untermyer in Yonkers

  1. Wonderfully enjoyable. I also have read more about the Austin Avenue area. It was once Indian campgrounds, a pickle factory, as well as the Austin Avenue dump. I think the crude cement foundations there, may have been for quarters of the slaves that perhaps the Austin, or Osten family had when they purchased the property in 1780. I think slaves may have constructed the dirt roads into the hills, and the stone walls throughout the woods.. There was also another dump at the end of Briar Hill Drive, long covered over and where I found many old bottles and a Captain Midnight decoder badge years ago. At the foot of the hills was an Ice house and grist mill by the Sprain Brook. I found an old map of Yonkers from the 1800s, and there was a Lawrence Avenue, which ran through the dump, which obliterated it. The stately mansion at the highest point of Austin Avenue, boarded up when I first saw it in the 1960s, and long gone now, was sold to the city for $3,000 in 1948. This was to avoid a lawsuit from the house owner over dumping on his property.

    • Oh wow great digging up of info. I forget, which is probably a good thing but also a bad thing, how large a slave population there was in Yonkers and just as they dug canals and built roadways in NYC, the same holds true just 10 miles north of there.

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