Saturday, October 20, 2018


Welcome to Everything Croton, a collection of all things Croton--our history, our homes, our issues, our businesses, our schools, our houses of worship--in short, EVERYTHING CROTON.



This past Sunday, Arboretum members, contributors and local officials gathered at the Jane E. Lytle Arboretum to celebrate two things: finally finishing the handicap-accessible Boardwalk and Tree Trails and thanking everyone who made it possible: Incredibly this added up to more than 260 names of people, businesses and organizations. Incredibly, the boardwalk project has been more than 20 years in the making.

Just last week I started writing a grant application for our current project. And one of the entries on the application was: “Describe the history of the property”. “A swamp surrounded by stone walls to keep out farm animals” wasn’t the right answer. Croton is rich in history from the day Henry Hudson sailed up the river: its role in the American Revolution, establishing the US postal service, the Old and New Croton Dams, the Old Croton Aqueduct and the railroad to name just a few, not to mention Croton’s rich cultural history. This Arboretum land has its own complex history.

The Arboretum property first appears in 1926, on the very first aerial survey of Westchester County. On the photo you can see orderly rows and blocks of trees and the old Hessian Hill Country Club, soon to burn down in the Great Depression. The future Arboretum shows up as a dark patch of trees and water surrounded by clear-cut farmland. Looking at subsequent surveys over time, you can watch the woods grow back as farming fades, then recede again as suburban housing booms in the 1960s and 70. More houses = less woods and conservation activists started to think about protecting and preserving rapidly disappearing open space.

In 1975, philanthropist Samuel Rubin donated the 20 acres that became the largest part of the Arboretum to the Croton-Cortlandt Conservation Association. His gift came with deed restrictions limiting the property’s use to “wildlife habitat and conservation education” – but no funds to make either of these happen. The CCCA transferred title to the village and there it sat, quietly, until the 1990s.

In 1994 the Arboretum’s founding fathers and mothers organized a nonprofit – the Croton Arboretum & Sanctuary Inc. (CAS) – to provide the legal framework that enabled the village to lease the land to the group and CAS to raise tax-deductible funds to create the preserve. Fundraising began with annual memberships until inspired geniuses Laura Seitz, Gill Mader and Carol Shanesy invented the annual summer garden tour, which remains our core fundraiser.

Design and development began with hiking trails with different levels of challenge. There are now three, including the handicap-accessible boardwalk trail envisioned by Dr. Dan Salzberg. Of all the projects we’ve done, I’m personally proudest of this one, since it provides access to nature for people who so rarely get the opportunity to be out and about in our beautiful outdoors.

In 1995, we named the preserve the Jane E. Lytle Memorial Arboretum in memory of one of our beloved board members. Jane’s family and friends have been stalwart supporters over the years, though most of them now are far away, except for her partner, Anton Wilson, whose task today is accepting our thanks on their behalf as well as for his own generosity in making the project possible.

In April 1998, Mayor Bob Elliot cut the ribbon for the first section of boardwalk and the gazebo. Thanks go to Laemmel’s Landscape and Construction, who cleared away snow and fallen trees with only hours to go before the event. Supervisor Linda Puglisi was on hand then as now to celebrate with us.

Since 1998, three more sections of boardwalk trail were built by Ferguson Carpentry as we raised the funds. The Fergusons finished the final connection to the parking lot this fall. Thanks to Dan Sr., Danny and Eric Ferguson for their patience.

When you visit the Arboretum you will see tree identification signs alongside the boardwalk. With some help from NYS forester George Profous, we identified about 30 species of native trees along its route. Tree signage is one of the last outstanding requirements for national certification as an arboretum. So Croton will have something else to be famous for.

In-ground sign posts were installed by Inca Brothers Landscaping, and the signs themselves were mounted by Croton’s Boy Scout Troop 28 with some help from John Bernard. Inca Brothers principal Miguel Morejon and his talented crew continue work on our current project, an outdoor classroom and learning environment for people with cognitive issues.

Last Sunday, we acknowledged more than 260 benefactors: our faithful members, our generous individual and corporate donors, the educators and media professionals who donated their talents and services, helpful village and town staff and committee members, local businesses who give us discounts on their work, buy ads in our garden tour brochures and publicize our events, and civic organizations like the Croton Lions Club, Croton Boy Scouts, CHHHS’ CHOOSE program participants, and the Croton Free Library. Special thanks go to the gracious hosts who opened their beautiful homes and gardens for garden tours and other fundraisers and the many, many volunteers who make the tours and events possible. It takes about 30 volunteers, including the hosts, to put on a garden tour – and that’s a lot of volunteers over the years. Too many to thank individually, but we thank you all from our hearts. You are amazing!

Finally, last but not least, thanks are due to our hardworking board of directors. Over our nearly 25 year history, many have invested their time, talents and expertise in our project. Some have moved away, some even to other spheres. Some have turned their talents to other charitable ventures. So if you have a skill to contribute and an interest in the uses of open space to promote education, consider joining our board. We’re already planning for the next 25 years! You can leave your contact information at the Arboretum’s phone number: 914.487.3830 and we will get back to you.

Karen Jescavage-Bernard


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