BRONXVILLE, N.Y. – John F. Kennedy would become famous for the work he did from the White House, but the 35th president of the United States spent some of his formative years at his home in Bronxville.
Recollections of JFK's days in Bronxville are stronger than ever these days with the 50-year anniversary of his assassination on Friday, Nov. 22.
In 1927, the Kennedy family moved from Brookline, Mass., to the Bronx, where they spent two years before settling into a five-and-a-half acre compound on Pondfield Road in Bronxville when the future president was 12 years old.
Although he spent much of his time attending the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, Kennedy was a member of the local Boy Scout Troop 2 and attended dance classes – begrudgingly, according to historian Marilynn Hill, author of "Around Bronxville" – at the Gramatan Ballroom.
“Not too much time was spent (in Bronxville), because he was at an age where he went to private school. He didn’t do anything too dramatically good or bad while he was there,” she said. “Some of his siblings went to the Bronxville schools, and his younger brother Teddy (the late former Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy) was an alter boy at St. Joseph’s (Church).”
After attending the Choate School in Wallingford, Conn., for his high school years, Kennedy would move on to attend Harvard University. During his senior year, while his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., was touring Europe, he would return to Bronxville while writing his senior thesis, “Appeasement in Munich,” about the conflict overseas that would lead to World War II.
Kennedy would again return to the village as a senator in 1958 - five years before he would be assassinated - for Teddy Kennedy's wedding to Bronxville native Joan Bennett. The reception was held at Siwanoy Country Club on Pondfield Road.
“A friend of mine went to stand in the streets that day to try and get a glimpse of one of them,” Hill, who is also the lifetime co-chair of the Bronxville Historical Conservancy, recalled. “They didn’t totally fill the church, so people were invited in.”
The Kennedy house, which was located at 294 Pondfield Road, was torn down in 1953 at the behest of a developer, who saw potential in what was then the largest parcel of land in the village. During its heyday, it included a three-car garage, an area for chauffeurs and a gardener’s cottage.
There was a staff of as many as six employees, including a gardener, chauffeur, cook, personal secretary and housemaids. Although he was one of the country’s most popular presidents, the Democrat lost the conservative Bronxville vote in a landslide when he made his presidential run against Richard Nixon in 1960.
“Bronxville was very conservative. He ran on the Democratic ticket and didn’t get the Bronxville vote,” Hill said. “He lost by a 5-to-1 margin, though the local paper did write ‘Former Resident Elected President,’ when he was elected.”
Although his family spent several years living in Bronxville, Hill said that the village hasn’t gotten enough credit for its role in helping shape the 35th president.
“I’ve gone through a lot of the books written about the Kennedys, and Bronxville doesn’t often get much play. In certain films, they even say he’s from Westchester,” she said. “But we claim him. He’s one of ours.”
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