Column: Walk this way…through history, part II

LissaHalenA Chinese philosopher opined, “The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it.”

If this Chinese philosopher is correct, the residents of Eastchester, Tuckahoe and Bronxville have the meandering banks of the Bronx River on which to spend that day or any part of it. And it’s right outside their doorsteps.

The Bronx River Reservation has a long and fabled history and a pathway to follow both the river’s banks and its history. Venture north, beginning at Scarsdale Road. The trail first passes a 1940s Girl Scout cabin and next an area sometimes called Crestwood Lake and other times called Tuckahoe Lake.

In earlier times, winter carnivals here and on Bronxville Lake attracted hundreds of local residents. The area was also a site for the ice industry before modern conveniences of refrigeration. Blocks of ice were cut out of the lake and stored in large warehouses nearby in Tuckahoe.

Today, the lake is a pastoral setting with a rustic bridge and waterfall at its southern end, a perfect place to spend part of that philosopher’s day. Birders and photographers take advantage of this idyllic charm and are occasionally rewarded with the appearance of a large local turtle. This turtle spends all his days on the river.

Wind and storm toppled branches and trees populate the river’s banks here and provide nesting sites for the numerous species of birds. Gaggles of geese accompany dive-bombing ducks, but cormorants, egrets and herons are also some of the usual suspects seen here. Egrets “walk on water” by the shallow river banks. Ducks linger at the top of the waterfall, then glide under the bridge only to be seen wading on the other side.

In springtime, ducklings and goslings waddle across the path led by their mothers, who dare humans to let them pass. They own these river banks.

From here, the river threads through the woods until punctuated by Crestwood Station. The station was first known as Yonkers Park in the mid 1800s, when Tuckahoe was mostly marble quarries. Nearby Fisher Avenue was the site of one of these quarries, when Tuckahoe was known as the “Marble Capital of the World.”

As the marble industry declined and the Bronx River Parkway was completed, Eastchester’s population grew and the town suburbanized. Crestwood station was upgraded after 1901 and immortalized in 1946 in a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover. This particular cover is titled “Commuter.” It portrays one of the creeds of suburbanization, the “commuter dash” at a railroad station.

Rockwell’s covers exemplified the emergence of the American suburbs and Eastchester was a prime example, spurred on by the completion of the Bronx River Parkway in 1925.

Just steps from the Crestwood Station on Columbus Avenue is a favorite local restaurant, An American Bistro. Its lunch salads are scrumptious and reasonably priced and many are also available for dinner. The restaurant’s Sunday brunch and daily dinners are imaginative and always worth the trip and the money. For meat and potato lovers, American Bistro serves the best veal meatloaf.

Heading north leads to another suburban creed at Leewood Golf Club, golfing amid the country club life. The club’s location on a crest offers its private members scenic river views. Patronized by Babe Ruth, this club borders a stone underpass, designed for the railroad to pass above. Urban legend suggested the underpass was built for Ruth to make quick getaways to Yankee Stadium in time for his games. The legend proved false since the railroad and its overpasses were built before Ruth played for the Yankees. The club was also the location of one of the town’s marble quarries.

The river continuously crisscrosses under the pathway until two gas stations appear slightly north of the Leewood Avenue crossing. When designing the parkway in the early 1900s, attention was given to every detail and the gas stations were no exception. Respected architects of the day were called upon to maintain the rustic atmosphere of the parkway in its buildings. The architects did not disappoint. A station was built in 1935 on each side of the parkway by the prominent architect Penrose Stout, who was known for many Bronxville homes. Later, the northbound structure temporarily housed a Westchester County Tourism Center, now merely an abandoned building and parking lot. It’s a good place to park when driving north. The river’s banks are mere steps behind it.

The river crawls under the next intersection at Harney Road. Crossing here is rather dangerous with parkway traffic all around so be extremely cautious. Besides following the pathway there are two other options: Eastchester’s flagship Garth Road Park and Garth Woods. The woods are not on the pathway, but behind Garth Road’s classic pre-war Tudor apartments. Not yet suburbanized into the 1920s, Garth Road was then large land estates and was referred to as Upper Tuckahoe on maps. The cooperative apartments built from the 1930s on form Eastchester’s northern border and ends the Eastchester, Tuckahoe, Bronxville tour of the river and its banks.

That Chinese philosopher lived at a simpler time. Maybe it isn’t possible to spend an entire day on the banks of the Bronx River, but try some part.

 

JUST THE FACTS

What: Bronx River Reservation

from Bronxville to Eastchester

When: Daylight 7 days a week,

365 days a year

Parking: Free near most parkway

exits and meters near the

railroad stations

Admission:

Always free and accessible
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Lissa Halen is a resident of Eastchester of more than 35
years and a member of the Eastchester Historical Society
board. She also contributed to the upcoming book “Out of
the Wilderness: The emergence of Eastchester,
Tuckahoe and 
Bronxville, 1664-2014”