History of Lawrence Farms

The story of Lawrence Farms in New Castle begins in Bronxville with William Van Duzer Lawrence, the first member of the family to settle there. He was born in Horseheads, NY but, before coming to Bronxville, had lived in Michigan and Canada where he had business connections. In 1888 he purchased the eighty-seven acre Prescott Farm in Bronxville with the idea of subdivision and development. It was the site of Lawrence Park, considered a remarkable residential area. This first purchase was rapidly added to until it included a large part of the Village of Bronxville.

The Prescott home, known as the Manor House, had existed on the site since 1845 and members of the Lawrence family resided in it as late as 1970. William Van Duzer Lawrence had married Sarah Bates of Michigan, and in 1927 Sarah Lawrence College was founded by Mr. Lawrence in her memory. Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville was also built by Mr. Lawrence for its citizens.

Eventually there was little developable land in Bronxville. The Lawrences foresaw that the suburban growth in Westchester County would move northward and in 1928-1929 Dudley B. Lawrence, Sr. and Arthur W. Lawrence, sons of William Van Duzer Lawrence, Acquired more than a thousand acres of land in New Castle. This tract lay along Bedfore Road from the edge of Chappaqua to the outskirts of Mount Kisco and from the railroad to Bedford Road. It comprised both sides of Roaring Brook Road, about three quarters of a mile on Armonk Road and two miles bordering the New York Central Railroad, and overlooking the County Parkway. This land was purchased from Cowdins, Barnums, Annandale Farm, and others.

The land the Lawrences purchased was part of an historic area. After 1700, settlements had sprung up along the Sound from what is now Rye to the island of Manhattan. The same had happened earlier along the Hudson River from Yonkers to Peekskill, but in between was Middle Ground and its few inhabitants including Indians of the Wampus tribe nicknamed it "No Man's Land." It was officially called North Castle. In July 1781 General Rochambeau and the French troops traveled over Armonk Road, now Route 128, to join with General Washington and together moved southward to defeat the British at Yorktown, Virginia, a crucial battle of the Revolution. Bedford, Roaring Brook and Whippoorwill Roads had existed before the Revolution. New Castle did not become a Town until 1791 when it was set apart from North Castle by the New York State Legislature.

The Lawrences planned to build a ninety-acre picturesque village center to be known as Lawrence Farms Village, extending from the railroad along Roaring Brook Road to Bedford Road which would be a harmonious part of the approximately one thousand acres of countryside. It would be divided into estates of substantial size and planned so that it would protect those estates from the hazards and nuisances brought about by heavy traffic on country roads. This plan was developed after more than a year of study by a Commission made up of Thomas Adams, Director of the Regional Plan of New York and its Environs, Penrose V. Stout, Architect, and Dudley B. Lawrence, Sr. of Bronxville. There would be sites for churches, schools, public buildings, a town hall, a theatre, post office, railroad station, a village square and the necessary shops to serve the surrounding homes. Roaring Brook Road would divert the traffic from its center by providing a broad highway from Bedford Road via a proposed bridge over the railroad.

The plans divided the area into the ninety-acre Lawrence Farms Village and the estates of Lawrence Farms East, Lawrence Farms South, and Lawrence Farms West. Lawrence Farms East included part of the former Moses Taylor estate, Annandale Farm, and parts of the Cowdin Estate. Lawrence Farms South consisted of the estate of Glen Acres, and Lawrence Farms West comprised part of the eighteen hole golf course then under construction and the former Daly estate. Appropriate signs were erected to identify these divisions, and the roads wer named to commemorate their former owners. Some of them were Annandale Drive, Taylor Road, Cowdin Circle, Kittle Road, Cottage Road, and Ivy Hill. The latter commemorated the old Ivy Hill Nursery on Cowdin Ridge.

In 1929 Dudley B. Lawrence, Jr. and William V. Lawrence, who were cousins, had joined their fathers in the development of Lawrence Farms. Unfortunately, the well-planned Lawrence Farms Village could not be realized because of the Depression beginning in 1929. Later, part of the planned village area was sold to the Reader's Digest, which in 1939 moved from its Pleasantville headquarters to the Williamsburg style building at its present location on Bedford Road in Chappaqua.

The development of the Lawrence Farms residential area continued, however, the Depression slowed it progress considerably. Moses Taylor, owner of Annandale Farm had died in 1928 and the handling of that 500-acre estate fell to his son, Reginald Taylor, who described in The Luck of the Game the difficulty of that responsibility during those severe economic conditions. A combining of the interests of Lawrence Farms, Inc. with the interests of the Moses Taylor family in settling the affairs of Annandale Farm furthered the building of the Lawrendces' residential estates. The Lawrences took over as owners and managers to help dissolve Annandale Farm, working with a Committee of Lloyd Kitchel and Baylor Knox of National City Bank who represented the Taylor family.

Newspapers of the area in 1929 reported considerable activity at Lawrence Farms. Early on, William F. Kenny, Contractor, under the supervision of Westchester LIghting Co., completed the work of installing the underground conduits for light and power wiring along the roads in Lawrence Farms South which had been laid out. Similar underground installation followed in the other Lawrence Farms areas.

In 1929, Annandale Drive, another new road was built. It ran from Bedford Road directly across from the office of Lawrence Farms, Inc., now the Reader's Digest guest house, through the former Cowdin and Moses Taylor estates, and swung around into Kittle Road and then back to Bedford Road. The building of the road opened up a number of large states, some of which had already been sold. In September, 1929, Dudley B. Lawrence, Jr., an officer of the corporation, bought three acres on Cowdin Ridge which is now known as Ivy Hill Road. He now lives in the same area.

In May, 1929 steam shovels were at work on the 18-hole golf course which was designed and built by Tom Winton, a well-known planner and builder of golf courses. One and a half tons of dynamite where used to lower the bed of a large brook, known as Kisco River, three and a half feet to provide drainage for the golf course. The course was ready for use in the spring of 1930. The largest part of it, on the west side of Bedford Road, had been owned by the well-known horse breeder, James W. Daly, who died in 1910. It was at tone time a racing center.

In November of 1929 work was started on the construction of the clubhouse. The model cow barn and dairy on the old Moses Taylor estate were linked together by means of a whitewashed brick cottage of similar type architecture with a slate roof. The new building provided a lobby 24 by 33 feet in area, an office, locker rooms and lounges for men and women. The cow barn to the north was converted into a ball room, 40 by 72 feet. Additional space was used for a grill. Opposite the lobby on the east there was a wide terrace commanding a view of rolling hills and the first hole of the golf course. The effect and finish of the clubhouse was of the utmost simplicity. It was completed in time for the opening of the new eighteen-hole course in the spring of 1930.

The golf course, pool and clubhouse was called Lawrence Farms Country Club until after the end of World War II when it was changed to the Mount Kisco Country Club. The building of the country club and its facilities helped to promote the residential area development. The architectural character of the homes was determined by the owners, and no residential plot of land was less than one acre. Several mansions were built during the first year, such as the half-timbered house on what is now Ivy Hill Road for Harry S. Rowley, the residence designed for Charles Luckey in Lawrence Farms South, and a very large house on Bedord Road north of Lawrence Farms West and the golf course, built by Penrose Stout, and now used a a home for disabled elderly people. All the houses, large or small, were well-built and are still in use today.

What had been accomplished in so short a time - a year and a half - was the result of the experienced organization of Lawrence Farms, Inc. in comprehensive planning and a new high standard. But nothing could overcome the difficulties of the great Depression when there was little availability of money or interest in purchasing new homes. Although some building continued, the pace slowed appreciably, but as financial conditions improved, Lawrence Farms development began to revive in the late nineteen-thirties.

Today Lawrence Farms East is a beautiful residential area. It includes within its boundaries such lovely streets and roads as Roaring Brook Road, Cowdin Lane, Annandale Drive, Colony Row, Cowdin Circle, Ivy Hill Road, Kittle Road, Tall Timbers, White Oak Lane, Kitchel Road, Woodland Drive, ClubWay, Old Road Lane, and Cottage Road.

Lawrence Farms South is also a very special residential area with its winding roads, beautiful trees and attractive houses. Names of the streeta re North Way, By Way, West Way, High Way, and Shadow Brook Parkway. Lawrence Farms East and Lawrence Farms South wer also thoughtfully and carefully planned. They remain today in 1988 an important part of the historic and thriving community of New Castle.

Although the Lawrences have branched out into other areas of development, their business, after one hundred years, continues to be managed by members of the Lawrence family.

Researched and written by Harriet B. Risley and Phoebe S. Whitney. Published by the New Castle Historical Society August 1988)

Lawrence Farms, the village that never was

In 1889 William Van Duzer Lawrence purchased a large parcel of land near the Bronxville railroad station and began to create a suburb. As they came of age, his sons joined him in his real estate business and over time the family created modern Bronxville. The extent of the Lawrence influence is memorialized by Lawrence Hospital and Sarah Lawrence College, named for the patriarch’s wife. newcastlenow.org, October 15, 2010 [Read more]

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