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Historical Overview of Hudson Park

in News by Barbara Davis, City Historian

New Rochelle’s Waterfront -- All along New Rochelle’s extensive shoreline, the sweeping views of Long Island Sound can just take your breath away. The way the sun hits the water, the reflection of the clouds, and the splashes of movement created by a variety of watercraft…this scene has pleased and inspired generations of residents. New Rochelle’s waterfront, its nine miles of irregular shoreline and numerous islands, has been one of the community’s greatest assets. Before the French Huguenots settled New Rochelle in the late 1600s, American Indians encamped along the shores, living off the abundance of oysters, clams and fish. By the mid-1700s Huguenots and Quakers had harnessed tidal waters, operating lucrative mills. Steamboat travel in the mid-19th century led to enormously popular resorts on New Rochelle’s islands and at water’s edge. In the early 1900s, slim sculls, world-class yachts and recreational sailboats filled the city’s harbors that had once moored whaleboats, packet ships and freighters. By the 1920s the allure of the Sound, combined with ready access to Manhattan and all the advantages of a well-established community, led to the crowning of “Queen of the Sound.” With beautifully laid-out neighborhoods known as “residential parks,” strong schools, Hudson Park, and a thriving downtown, New Rochelle had become one of the most sought-after places to live in the New York metropolitan region. 

Now graced with four distinctly beautiful, and historic city-owned parks and the county-owned Glen Island Park, New Rochelle offers unparalleled access to Long Island Sound

Echo Bay – Echoes of the Past

Echo Bay, which anchors the northeastern part of New Rochelle’s shoreline, holds a nearly perfect slice of New Rochelle’s remarkable history 325+year history. 

One of New Rochelle’s first white settlers, Huguenot Jean Bonnet, built his home on the edge of this bay in the 1680s, giving it the name seen on early maps – “Bonnet’s Point”. During the Revolutionary War, the inlet housed Joshua Ferris’ Tavern and sheltered whaleboats, while British gunboats traversed nearby Sound waters. Between 17th and early 19th centuries, packet ships laden with goods milled by local Quakers and Huguenots departed from here for far-away ports. During the ice-making industry’s big years in New Rochelle, the product was barged from the bay to Manhattan. And, well into the 20th century, small freighters transported to “New Rochelle Coal and Lumber” the goods needed for New Rochelle’s growing neighborhoods. In the 1940s, the Municipal Marina transplanted that business, and remains a hub for recreational boating. 

The Presidential yacht, "The Sylph," docked here before dashing Theodore Roosevelt over to the summer White House at Oyster Bay. "The Huguenot" ferry had regular service over to Sea Cliff. Two freight steamers, the "Mary E. Gordon" and the "Irene Elaine Davis," ran between New York, New Rochelle and Mamaroneck. From Ted Monsen's boatyard located in the marina area in the 1930's, the Water Wagon ran its owner Lou Gehrig out for "blues," bass and relaxation. Two decades before, all eyes were on The Reliance C. Oliver Iselin's America’s Cup winner, when it anchored by his bayside mansion, All Views. Meanwhile, from the edge of Hudson Park, the silent sculls of the New Rochelle Rowing Club were gliding by. The club owned four eight-oared shells and a slew of trophies by the early 1920s. 

One of the oldest municipal parks on Long Island Sound, Hudson Park sits on the south west side of the bay. Purchased from Alexander B. Hudson in 1883 by the Town of New Rochelle, it boasts two beaches, a playground, and a monument to early Huguenot settlers, a restored bathhouse, a bandstand, and pavilions from John Starin’s Glen Island resort. Crowning the hillside is the 1855 gothic cottage Wildcliff, (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) and its greenhouses. 

One of the youngest municipal parks on the Sound, Five Islands Park is across the way. Created in the early 1980s, the City park is comprised of three islands – with Oakwood being the largest, where the picnic grounds, playground, walking beach, trails and rustic pavilion are located. Footbridges bring visitors to Little Harrison Island and Big Harrison Island, the former site of the New Rochelle Yacht Club.

In between these two parks is the 1868 home of John Stephenson, inventor of the horse-drawn streetcar (now part of Salesian); the 1938 Armory Building; the 1916 Thanhouser Studios - one of America’s most popular silent movie companies (now automobile concerns); the 1906 Beacon Halls apartments; and the c.1906 Sutton Manor neighborhood – all gems along the necklace-shaped property that defines Echo Bay

Hudson Park

Nestled into a substantial knoll overlooking the calm waters of Echo Bay, the park actually comprises the northeastern section of Davenport Neck. Although years of earth-moving, filling and development have obscured this physical connection, the historical link is noteworthy. The neck, which still holds traces of Native American encampments, was the site of the earliest French Huguenot settlements. Names such as Lispenard, Rodman, Drake, Flandreau, Hewlett and Davenport pepper 17th and 18th century maps showing ownership of this property. From the early 1700's when David Bonnefoy and his wife resided on the Echo Bay tip, it was known as Bonnefoy Point.

This Huguenot-sown territory, with its shoreline stretch of indigenous rock outcroppings propagated the often-repeated tale about New Rochelle's earliest colonists. Rivaling the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, legend fantasized a sturdy band of French Protestants sailing into Echo Bay, landing on this very point. In 1913, on the 225 anniversary of the founding of New Rochelle, an enormous marine pageant, complete with a replica of the "Half Moon" to represent a Huguenot caravel and costumed citizenry, reenacted the fabled, crowd-pleasing landing for the last time.

Soon after local historians published actual accounts proving that most Huguenots actually arrived here on horse-drawn carts via New York City.

The land carried the name of Bonnefoy Point into the 19th century when it was purchased by Will Burton and, later, Charles Leland. Records show that the charming location was used as a picnic spot as early as 1842, and continued to accommodate outings when it was purchased by Alexander B. Hudson and Thomas Disbrow in 1873. After Disbrow sold his share to Hudson the property became known as "Hudson's Grove." 

Described as a man with "chin whiskers, mustache and little hair on top" in a New Rochelle Trust booklet, Alexander Hudson - a charter member of that bank - was also touted as "the first real estate developer in town." Along with his recreational endeavors, he operated a coal and lumber company from the site of the present Harbor Patrol Dock and owned Sutton Manor property just across the harbor.

"Hudson Park. Bought by the City of New Rochelle July 13, 1886 from Alexander B. Hudson," reads the marker on one of twin entrance pillars to Hudson Park. The Village of New Rochelle paid $38,000 for the land that would become the community’s first public park for the sum of $38,000. (New Rochelle would not be incorporated as a City until 1899.) Over the next four decades several adjoining parcels were purchased from various individuals - bringing the final cost of the park closer to $150,000. 

On the top of the hill overlooking Hudson Park and Echo Bay, Wildcliff commands an impressive view. The Gothic Revival style cottage was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, one of the preeminent American architects of the nineteenth century. Originally called “Overcliff,” it was built in 1852 as a home for Cyrus Lawton and his wife, a member of the Davenport family for which Davenport Neck was named. Lawrence Montgomery Davenport, her father, commissioned Davis to design his mansion now known as San Souci, at 157 Davenport Avenue. He commissioned David to also design Wildcliff, as a wedding gift to the newlyweds. Wildcliff was enlarged in 1865 and again in 1919, five years after it had been purchased by banker Julius Prince and his wife, Clara. In 1940, Clara Prince bequeathed her home and its one and a half acres of land to the City of New Rochelle. After having been utilized for city offices the building housed a variety of not-for-profit groups and functions: Wildcliff Youth Museum and then Natural Science Center (1963 – 1981), East Coast Performing Arts (Dec. 1986 – 1991), and Wildcliff Center for the Arts (beginning in 1992), and Fleetwood Stage (1999 - 2004). Wildcliff was listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 2002. The interior of the building had not been used for several years; the exterior was restored with funds from the sale of adjacent property.

The greenhouses now referred to as the Wildcliff Greenhouses were built during eth early part of the 20th century. From World War I until the early 1970s, New Rochelle Parks Department employees grew multitudes of flowers for the city’s parks public buildings and street islands in the greenhouses. Rose gardens surrounding the greenhouses drew national attention.

Amidst heated controversy, Wildcliff Natural Science Center took over the greenhouses in 1974 following the death of the City Florist who had maintained them. When the natural science center closed in 1982 and the hothouses were again left unattended, the Friends of Wildcliff came to the rescue. With a budget of $20,000 from the city, the group kept the greenhouses in operation and 20 - 30 parklets and parks in the city filled with annuals and perennials. In 1990 a storm-related fire swept through the greenhouses, heavily damaging the older of the two. Three years later the City eliminated the Friends' beautification funds. The invincible Friends of Wildcliff - the team of Anne and Alice Megaro and Fred Eberle – continued fund-raising efforts by conducting workshops and bird seed sales, maintaining the intact greenhouse and some city plantings for several years. 

The Greenhouses Today (From the Hudson Park Children’s Greenhouse website): 

“The greenhouses were closed in 2009 due to structural deterioration, the poor economy, concerns about utility costs, broken glass and a failing concrete slab floor. Sadly, the entire structure is now fenced off to prevent entry and has fallen into further decay. In 2015, a group of concerned residents formed the non-profit (501-c-3) organization known as the Hudson Park Children’s Greenhouse (HPCG). Our group consists of fifty-six engaged constituents united in the purpose of resurrecting this valuable community asset and establishing a sustainable operating resource for the public…The goal of HPCG is to create a sustainable and vibrant greenhouse and activities program. Our plan is to resurrect the greenhouse and host garden programming activities for the community. This initiative will enhance the development of Hudson Park, New Rochelle and Long Island Sound’s coastline for the enjoyment and benefit of New Rochelle’s children and community. This will provide a tremendous resource to the community and will inspire future improvements throughout Hudson Park. Greenhouse visitors will learn about horticulture, propagation, nutrition, and they will experience beauty.” 

Hudson Park Beach

Since the years of Hudson Grove, the days of ankle-length flannel bathing costumes for the ladies, tank-topped jumpsuits and straw boaters for the men, New Rochelleans flocked to Hudson Park to spend summer days at the beach. Holidays and weekends attracted thousands, even after the city began charging a beach fee of 10 cents that "aroused bathers' ire at Hudson Park" in 1925. The residents’ fees of 10 - 25 cents remained constant until the 1970's. 

In 1937, with Public Works Administration funding, the original wooden bathhouse - likened to a "house of horrors" in its final days, was replaced with the current stone structure. To accommodate greater numbers, a concrete sunbathing deck was completed in 1945 and enlarged in the late 1970s. The most recent repairs, which included interior building structural work and some minor exterior joint repointing, was completed in 2018.

Hudson Park Features

An appropriate starting point for an historical mapping of the park itself is at the Huguenot stone monument - located on the ridge above the entrance to the beach. Here, on the side overlooking the Sound, a tablet lists 151 Huguenot names "identified with the history of New Rochelle during the colonial period." The monument was gifted by the Huguenot Association of New Rochelle and the Westchester County Historical Society in 1898, 230 years after the founding of the community by ancestors of the Association. In 1908 the stone received its first marker of Huguenot names. During the city's 250th anniversary the original tablet was replaced with a more complete listing - names of Huguenots who settled in New Rochelle up to 1775.

At the crest of the park's knoll is the site of the erstwhile Hudson Park Cottage. The cottage was built before the turn of the century, as was the pavilion that still sits below - near the children's playground. The spot where the cottage once greeted picnickers later accommodated the great crowds that gathered for concerts at the bandshell. Built in 1929, according to City Hall records, the bandshell hosted weekly entertainment that filled the park and summer evenings with music and vivacity. The nearby rose gardens undoubtedly provided a rich perfume.

It is believed that the pavilion above the beach, overlooking the Bay, was formerly located at John Starin’s Glen Island Resort, one of the earliest theme parks (1880) on islands that now comprise Glen Island, the County-owned park. 

Hudson Park Entrance Plaques

Location: Entrance to Hudson Park

History: The bronze plaque that is embedded in the stone pillar at the entrance to the park announces that Hudson Park was bought by the City of New Rochelle July 13, 1886, from Alexander B. Hudson. (This is somewhat inaccurate, as New Rochelle did not become a city until 1899.) Hudson Park was the first public park for the community. On the reverse side of the pillar, another bronze plaque has these words: “Everybody’s Property. Your Property. Protect Your Own”

Charles L. Broder Sundial 

Location: Hudson Park


Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo) Statue

Location: Hudson Park 

Dedication:  October 14, 2001

Sculptor: Charles Clark

Historical Notes: Funded by members of the Casa Calabria Association and other individuals, the statue of Christopher Columbus is dedicated to the Italian immigrants of Westchester, The bronze statue was sculpted by Charles Clark and sits on a granite block, inscribed with the names of contributors, was crafted by Domenick DeNigris Monuments.

Leif Ericsson Monument

Location: Pelham Road and Hudson Park Road

Dedication: 1932 and 1968

Brief description and History: 

The large stone monument and small park was first dedicated to the Norwegian Viking in 1932 by the New Rochelle Chapter of the Sons of Norway. The park and memorial was upgraded and rededicated in May, 1968 by New Rochelle Chapter of the Sons of Norway, Midnatsden 263, and the Clean City Committee of New Rochelle. 

Post Script: New Rochelle Rowing Club

At one time, boathouses of the YMCA, the New Rochelle Yacht Club, and the New Rochelle Rowing Club lined what is now the parking lot. The New Rochelle Yacht Club would later move to Harrison Island (now part of Five Islands.) The New Rochelle Rowing Club, which commanded its Hudson Park location for over 130 years had its  beginning in 1882. 

Over the years the Rowing Club held three national rowing championships and participated in numerous major meets. It was the home club of Cy Cromwell and Jim Storm, silver medalists in the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. In 1910, a young New Rochelle girl by the name of Irene Foote met her husband-to-be at the Rowing Club. Irene and Vernon Castle would become an international dance sensation. The fashionable trendsetters were immortalized in a 1939 film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers.

The former building was easily identified by boaters by a 1864 clock tower on its roof. The cupola had been removed from the former City Hall on Main Street when it was demolished in the 1960s. Club members restored the cupola and lifted it to its perch on May 5, 1974, and illuminated during the City’s 300th anniversary celebrations. The Rowing Club received a New Rochelle Heritage Award in 2008, the first year of the program. The City of New Rochelle’s Heritage Award Program recognizes residential, quasi-public and public buildings and is intended to further the preservation of the City’s historical and cultural heritage. After extensive damage as a result of Hurricane Sandy, the City condemned the building and tore it down in 2015.