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Letter: Mayor In Awe Of Beauty, Gravitas, and History

Bronxville Mayor Mary C. Marvin admires village beauty, gravitas, and history.
Bronxville Mayor Mary C. Marvin admires village beauty, gravitas, and history. Photo Credit: File

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In my new found role as first-time grandmother, I find myself spending more and more time on the southbound side of our train station as I head for a visit or to babysit in Brooklyn.

Always too early even for the on-time trains, I have taken to really studying the surrounding environment and I continue to be in awe of the beauty, gravitas, and history of our village.

The train system arrived in the village in 1844, over 50 years before we were the Village of Bronxville. Our first petition attempt to incorporate was invalidated by the Eastchester town supervisor, who declared the vote illegal because women had signed it! Now 53 percent of our village population is female.

In fact, the village was a hotbed of the suffrage movement and it has been chronicled that in 1911, village women clapped so vehemently for their right to vote that they "split from thumb to wrist their arm length suede gloves."

The first actual village government was formed at "Dogwoods," the home of Frances Bacon, newly installed village president, at 61 Sagamore Road. Still, familiar names, Bacon, Kraft, and Ken Chambers were our first governing body.

Suffrage was not high on the agenda; rather, our first ordinances concerned the fear of the establishment of saloons and brothels. Gambling and the use of profane language were outlawed as well. One of the first official acts was also to create a village seal.

Under the category of "history always repeats itself,” noise pollution was also an early priority.

The Parkway Road residents formed a neighborhood association in the early 1900s named Bronxville Manor Improvement Association with the goal of addressing "public improvements long neglected." As early as 1905, residents asked village government to address the decayed bridges on Parkway Road. A petition to increase the inadequate street lighting soon followed.

In 1920, when the current site on Pondfield was chosen for the public school, a village elder remarked that "the only problem was that much of it was covered by water." Chief among the tall buildings on the downtown side of the railroad is Lawrence Hospital, now part of the New York-Presbyterian network.

Its inception was born of necessity, as Dudley Lawrence, son of village founder William Van Duzer Lawrence, was struck with acute appendicitis while his parents were vacationing in Europe.

The local doctor advised that an immediate operation was required, so a baggage car was outfitted with a bed and mattress from the family-owned Gramatan Hotel and attached to the first train coming south from White Plains.

Though Dudley endured a near-fatal 12-hour delay, his life was saved, and, appreciating the tragedy averted, his parents donated the land and a $250,000 endowment to open a village hospital on the present site.

The crown jewel in the Lawrence family holdings was the Gramatan Hotel. With 300 guest rooms and 165 private baths, it was home for extended stays by such notable guests as Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, Mrs. Jefferson Davis, Teddy Roosevelt, and even Greta Garbo.

A particular poignant story relating to the Gramatan Hotel surrounds the protracted death of a young 15-year-old visitor from Pittsburgh. Margaret Brown was stricken with incurable influenza; her spiritual needs were tended to by the kind neighboring rector of Christ Church, Albert Wilson.

To show their thanks, the Browns commissioned the very first stained-glass window in Christ Church in gratitude to Rector Wilson and as a lasting Bronxville memory of their daughter. The hotel closed in 1972.

The Gramatan Hotel was also the early home for the village's Catholic community. The pastor of Tuckahoe's Immaculate Conception Church rented space at the hotel for Sunday services. The present home of St. Joseph's was not built until 1928.

As I stand on the train platform in the quiet off hours now thrice weekly, my thoughts often revert to the prophetic words of famed architectural critic Paul Goldberger, who spoke on the "power of place" at The Bronxville Historical Conservancy's First Annual Brendan Gill Lecture. He observed that Bronxville as a community has been "endlessly copied, but never matched."

Note: Special thanks to the plethora of local historical books, lectures, and journals and their esteemed authors from whom I have borrowed freely for this column.

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