By LIZ BUTTON
Families flocked to the Jay Heritage Center on Sept. 22 for its annual fall family festival, Jay Day, to celebrate American culture and traditions.
The center’s nonprofit organization was established at the national historic landmark to maintain the integrity of the boyhood home of New York State’s only founding father, John Jay, who lived in Rye during colonial times.
Jay was the first chief justice of the Supreme Court and the chief negotiator of the Jay Treaty, which cooled tensions between the U.S. and Britain in the years following the Revolutionary War.
The Americana-themed event was organized by an auxiliary group of the Jay Heritage Center that calls themselves the JHC Preservationists. The “robust committee of volunteers,” led by co-presidents Emma Hanratty and Caroline Wallach, focuses on the adaptive re-use of the Jays’ landmark home, which is located on Boston Post Road in Rye.
Hanratty and Wallach have been involved with the festival for at least four years, leading a group of 20 to 25 women and men. According to Wallach, 800 people attended the festival this year; the event usually gets anywhere from 800 to 1000 attendees.
“It was started as a way to start to get families, young children and younger people moving into Rye interested in everything we are trying to accomplish here,” Wallach said.
The group continues to put on programs that expand the use of the grounds as well as the site’s buildings and coordinate with local schools to launch new programs, all the while drumming up interest and awareness in the center among young families.
The family-oriented festival featured face painting, pony rides, folk music by the Hudson Valley Ramblers, a falconer, a petting zoo, and pumpkin painting.
The Jay home itself is a Greek Revival mansion built by Peter Augustus Jay, which was constructed in 1838 in the footprint of the original Jay building. The center is currently in the midst of a grand restoration project at the house, with hopes to eventually host educational programs within the home that would cover American history, social justice, landscape conservation and environmental stewardship.
And, since the Jay estate was once a working farm, families also visited a farmer’s market on the grounds and picked up freshly harvested ingredients and homemade goodies. The sprawling property is located near 23 acres of trails, which is all that remains of the original 400-acre Jay family estate.
Sunday’s festival is an official event of the Hudson River Valley Ramble, a series of four weekends in September celebrating the history, culture and natural resources of the Hudson River Valley Heritage Area. At 170 years old, the house was recently designated as an important site on the Hudson River Valley Heritage Area list.
On Sunday, families also took part in a number of historically-themed activities, including geocaching, a type of treasure hunting that uses a Global Positioning System device.
Storyteller Jonathan Kruk performed as founding father John Jay himself in a re-enactment of his role as spymaster for George Washington during the Revolutionary War, while families participated in tours of the Jay Mansion led by Heritage Center staff dressed in era-appropriate costumes.