If you’re interested in some history of the Town of Mamaroneck, three life long residents recently shared stories at a meeting of the Local Summit:
Submitted by Nina Recio Cuddy
At its May Breakfast Program, the Local Summit of Larchmont/Mamaroneck welcomed Valerie O’Keeffe, Jack Coughlin and Jim Whittemore, three well-known and well-respected long-time Town of Mamaroneck residents, and invited them to share their memories and perspectives on the changes they’ve seen in the Town over the last fifty or more years.
O’Keeffe is a well-known, well-respected and active community resident. She served as the Supervisor of the Town of Mamaroneck from 1999 until 2012, after having served on the Town Council for six years. She explained that she first moved to the Town of Mamaroneck with her parents in 1950 to a house on the corner of Orchard Rd. and Weaver St., and described how different every-day life in the Town was in the mid-twentieth century.
O’Keeffe attended Murray Avenue School, which was built around 1923, and described how “every student walked to school each day, regardless of weather conditions,” and that most also walked home for lunch and back again. There were no crossing guards, she explained, but there was “a motorcycle cop named Johnny Caputo” who was posted on Forest Ave. and Weaver St. She recalled how they simply called him “Johnny”, perhaps a little irreverently, she mused. She also remembered that the school had originally been constructed with separate entrances for boys and girls, but those restrictions were not in effect while she was there. However, an informal dress code for students was enforced, as was typical of the era.
Speakers Jim Whittemore and Jack Coughlin also spent their entire lives as residents of the Town. Both Whittemore and Coughlin became involved in local civic affairs and went on to establish successful businesses here.
Coughlin told the audience that he moved to the Town in 1935, when he was 10 years old, and his family rented a house on Rockingstone Ave. He attended Mamaroneck High School, graduating in 1943, and later attended Iona College. He served in the United States Army during WWII, and, after returning home, began a career in insurance, founding Coughlin Insurance in 1963 in the Town. The company, still in business today, maintains its offices on Myrtle Blvd. Coughlin has been involved in many aspects of community life, but especially the Boy Scouts, the American Legion and the Lions Club.
Whittemore, also a life-long resident, described how, when he first moved to Mamaroneck, he “lived on the brook” (on Brookside Drive East), a phrase still used today. The brook, he said, “is really not a brook at all, but the Sheldrake River” that “starts in White Plains, passes through Scarsdale, ending at the duck pond”. It is located in the Larchmont Gardens section of the Town, an area developed by Clifford Harmon, thus the local road there is named Harmon Drive.
Whittemore reported that he was one of the first kindergarten students at Sts. John and Paul School (SJP), which was established in July 1949. At the time he attended SJP, there were 56 students in each class. Sts. John and Paul Church is the only house of worship in the unincorporated area of the Town of Mamaroneck. Like Coughlin, Whittemore later graduated from Mamaroneck High School. Thereafter, he attended the University of Maryland. After a stint in the Navy, he returned to Mamaroneck where he began a career in real estate at his local family-run realty firm, Sutton and Whittemore, which later merged to become Burbank Whittemore, now Sotheby’s International Realty. He remains active in the local real estate business.
The speakers discussed the many changes they have seen in the Town during their lifetimes as it evolved from a rural to a true suburban commuter community. O’Keeffe recalled that there had been a goat farm behind the Stonecrest Apartments (21 North Chatsworth Ave.) resulting in an occasional “goat on the loose” on Chatsworth Ave. According to O’Keeffe, the goat herd owner was an Italian immigrant who would sell the goat milk to New Rochelle Hospital for newborn infants in need of milk.
A small Italian immigrant community developed on North Chatsworth Avenue near Edgewood Ave, Murray Ave. and Lookout Circle. Whittemore said the housing that was there for the immigrants was inadequate and was later torn down. The Larchmont Hills Development Corp subsequently developed the area.
The speakers agreed that one of the most significant events for the development of the Town was the construction of the New England Thruway (I-95) in approximately 1954. (New England Thruway construction occurred from 1950 – 1958).
“The Thruway radically changed Larchmont,” said Coughlin. According to Coughlin, before the Thruway was built, Myrtle Blvd. was home to a Gristedes store, Plaza Pharmacy and an electronics and radio repair shop, as well as three or four very large homes. Coughlin recalled that most of the large homes burned down over a period of time. A police booth was also located on Myrtle. O’Keeffe added that there were three Gristedes stores in Larchmont at the time, one in the Town and two in Larchmont Village.
The thruway separated the Town at Myrtle Blvd., but the speakers explained that many residents welcomed the change because it substantially reduced the traffic, noise, and soot problem caused by the trucks that crowded the Boston Post Road. The Boston Post Rd, O’Keeffe said, was the main truck route north from New York City.
As residents of the Town know, there is no southbound exit and no northbound I-95 entrance in Larchmont. According to Coughlin, the original Thruway plans included an exit behind Chatsworth Gardens, but some residents, including Owen Mandeville, an early business associate of Coughlin who served as Town Supervisor from 1943 to 1956, did not want the Thruway near their property. Coughlin claimed that Mandeville and others vigorously and successfully opposed this proposed construction, but the result was the elimination of the southbound exit and northbound entrance.
Coughlin’s insurance business, which remains on Myrtle Blvd., is next door to the building known as the Clock Tower Building. He told the story of how, in 1940, after the draft was implemented, troops were housed in the Clock Tower Building because the Army had run out of space at Fort Slocum. On a daily basis, the troops could be seen marching up and down Myrtle Blvd. doing calisthenics. On evenings and weekends, Coughlin said, “they would go to New Rochelle for a movie” and also because “Larchmont didn’t have the right number of bars.” After WWII, Coughlin was appointed to the community committee tasked with erecting a WWII Memorial. He was the youngest member of the committee and was instrumental in having the memorial placed at the park on Myrtle Blvd, instead of at Constitution Park opposite St. Augustine’s Church.
In another interesting note of local history, O’Keeffe and Jeff Meighan, Summit member and breakfast host, described how the Leatherstocking Trail, a 2.5 mile foot trail running through the Town of Mamaroneck from New Rochelle, was originally a county owned parcel that was intended to become an alternate highway to the Hutchinson River Parkway. Instead, O’Keeffe explained, former Town Supervisor Christine Helwig ( serving from 1969 – 1975) “purchased it from the County for the Town”. Today many local runners and walkers enjoy the trail. O’Keeffe also recalled that a Frito factory had been located on Waverly Avenue.
In recalling his childhood, Whittemore described how residents used the Duck Pond during the winter for ice-skating. He described the pond as “the most famous place in town” and went on to explain how during his childhood there was a man-made island in the center. According to Whittemore, there could be as many as 300 people skating on the frozen pond during the winter and the skaters would later build a bonfire and enjoy hot cocoa on the pond’s center island. He added that this tradition largely ended after the Thruway was constructed, probably from the noise and smell of the traffic running next to the pond. He also described how the Mott family owned a cotton mill at the top of the falls leading to the pond (110 East Hickory Grove Drive). That structure later became a clubhouse for the Gardens area and today it is a private residence.
Drawing on his many years in the real estate business, Whittemore revealed a bit about the history of the Elkan Park section of the Town. He said that after WWII, forty-four returning vets pooled their money to buy the parcel currently known as Elkan Park from the Elkan family in order to build housing for returning vets. The returning vets wanted the section to be called Foxhole Estates. The Elkan family refused to accept the vets’ money. In exchange, however, the section was to be named Elkan Park. “It was the first cluster housing development in Westchester County,” stated Whittemore. According to Meighan, a life-long area resident and local attorney, each house was purchased for $12,000 through V.A. financing.
In recalling another development in the Town, Whittemore explained that Rouken Glen was developed by C. W. Moody. Althea Lane was named for Moody’s wife. The development itself, Rouken Glen, was named for a train stop in Scotland that Moody observed while on a trip through Scotland, according to Meighan.
In addition to remembrances of the way the town appeared years ago, the participants also recalled famous residents of the Town. O’Keeffe remembered that Richard Dannay (pen name Ellery Queen) lived on Byron Lane, as did Shirley MacLaine’s family. Whittemore told the audience that Denver Broncos wide receiver Billy Van Heusen was a member of the Mamaroneck High School Class of 1964 and Whittemore’s cousin, Tom Trevor (the voice of Mighty Mouse) lived on Valley Stream Road. Coughlin reported that Lou Gehrig lived in the Stonecrest Apartments for a while. A lively discussion ensued concerning the efforts of local boys to spot and track Marilyn Monroe while she was visiting Arthur Miller’s publisher, who also lived in the Town on Lansdown Drive.
This breakfast forum was hosted by The Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit, an informal community council . The next breakfast meeting will take place on June 16. Larchmont/Mamaroneck Local Summit Facebook page.
photo: Larchmont Historical Society