From the Mayor: 'In the Course of Time...One of the Finest Villages Along the Line' Print


By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor of the Village of Bronxville

Oct. 18, 2017:  I decided to take a literary break from blacktop, sewer relining, and flood mitigation topics--though they may be scintillating--and just relate some interesting fun facts about our very special one square mile.

  • From the outset, not everyone could even agree on the name of our hometown, which was named after Danish farmer Jonas Bronck, who owned huge tracts of land in Southern Westchester and the Bronx. Folks "objected to the influx of visitors on Sundays who thought the Zoological Gardens were here" due to our name. Others wanted to call it Gramatan, Gramatan Hills, Lawrenceville, or Swainsville after an early tannery owner or to keep the early 19th-century name of Underhill's Crossing.

  • Our village functioned for its first year of incorporation (1898) with no ordinances.

  • Our very first ordinance (1899) protected us from public nudity, brothels, saloons, gambling, riots, and profane language, all punishable by fines of $10 to $50. Other first-generation ordinances prohibited ball playing on Sunday; "hallooing or yelling after dark"; and gunfire "between the setting and rising sun (apparently daytime gunfire acceptable!).

  • In a bit of high aspirational thinking, fire escapes would be required on all opera houses but churches were exempt.

  • In 1899, houses could be built with no notice to the village and without regard to size or placement, as it wasn't until 1922 that our first zoning ordinance was enacted. Legend says village resident and television personality Jack Paar was responsible for our first fence ordinance. As a result of his extreme penchant for privacy, he erected a high stockade fence on Studio Lane without planning board notification. Very soon after, the trustees enacted height and density rules for village fences.

  • Two of our early "postmistresses" were maiden sisters who carefully read everyone's postcards and magazines and if they thought the information of urgency, they dispatched local boys to share the messages of often upcoming appointments in New York City. Needless to say, they were deemed "authorities on all village news."

  • Our first school in 1870 looked no different than rural structures in the Midwest. Built on a small plot of donated land on the Value Drugs space on Pondfield Road, it was a little red wooden building with a cloakroom and a potbellied stove.

  • Parental involvement in the PTA was always a signature trait in the village. Early meetings concentrated on an effective method to monitor the content of motion pictures, fearing a negative impact on our community, but, more important, a deleterious effect on our diction.

  • At a period around the turn of the 20th century, we were also home to an insane asylum, the Vernon House Retreat for the Insane, near the intersection of Pondfield and White Plains Roads. Limited to ten patients, one could be treated for "mental and nervous diseases and cases of Habit."

  • Our hospital and nearby Sarah Lawrence College were thanks to the generosity of our founder, William Van Duzer Lawrence.

  • In 1908, Mr. Lawrence's son, Dudley, was stricken with an appendicitis attack that would be fatal without an operation. He was transported on a baggage car attached to the first train heading south from White Plains furnished with a box spring and mattress from the family-owned Gramatan Hotel. Dudley survived after a twelve-hour ordeal, and his father contributed $250,000 to inaugurate the hospital's capital campaign. Monies were supplemented by the performance of a "pageant" at Sagamore Park to which thousands attended, including the sitting governor, Charles Evans Hughes.

  • Mr. Lawrence envisioned a junior college for women and enlisted the help of the Vassar College president, Dr. Henry McCracken. Named after his beloved and recently deceased wife, Sarah, the members of the first board of trustees of Sarah Lawrence College were actually those of the board of Vassar College.

  • We had the same population--approximately 6,500--in the 1930s as we do today. Stores were closed on Wednesday afternoons and a home valet truck patrolled the village. Sporting the slogan "Would you spare your appearance for fifty cents?" a gentleman came to the door and ironed your rumpled suit.

  • In 1928, in honor of his 25th jubilee, Saint Joseph's beloved pastor Father McCann was treated to an around-the-world trip thanks to donations from the entire village.

  • The village seal has a bumble bee as its symbol but no records exist explaining its origin.

  • Holding dance classes at the Gramatan Hotel, Ms. Caroline Covington, proprietress of the Miss Covington's School of Dance, started each class off with the sound of castanets and stopped immediately if "wallflowers" were minus a partner.

Clearly, we have always been a unique community, and trustee William Kraft early envisioned even greater things for us, writing on village stationery that "in the course of time, we will have one of the finest villages along the line."