By Henry John Steiner
Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York
Not everyone’s favorites – but mine. Could I possibly have only one favorite place per village? Not possible. This is just one of three that came to mind, and three that to me are special for personal reasons, some of my choices might seem odd. I realized, after I had selected them, that while all three places to be mentioned here are beside lovely water features, none is actually on the Hudson River. They are the favorite places of one who has spent many hours treading this community’s landscape. As a local historian, I call it “field work”; others may call it meditation or contemplation, and still others – loafing.
Halsey Pond – Irvington
In the river towns, historically, farms became estates, and estates became residential developments. But little Halsey Pond has bucked that trend. Once, about thirty years ago, some person or persons did the people of Irvington a great kindness by turning this estate land into a village park. Halsey Pond is like a small spiritual oasis dropped from the sky. At least it’s that way on a rainy day when one might have it to oneself. The most perplexing dilemmas and nagging anxieties can evaporate with one walk around the pond. For me, just being there is like a quiet meditation that peals back the numbing, inconsequential concerns of daily pursuits and presents a beautiful, startling alternative.
Three years ago I wrote,”But there’s one catch – if you don’t know where Halsey Pond is – you are not likely to find out. Yes, those who have already found it are the only folks permitted to know where it is. Even the village website is bound to secrecy; after triumphantly stating that Halsey Pond is “the best kept secret in Irvington”, the web page quietly keeps the secret location under wraps. I have too much regard for my good neighbors in Irvington to let the cat out of the bag.” At least that’s what I wrote three years ago; today, courtesy of Google Maps, the village parks website is content to get you a little closer.
Long ago a friend introduced me to the wonders of Halsey Pond. It was in the off-season – a rainy day. Recently when I made a visit there, it rained too, but I was dressed for the weather and felt free to explore. I parked at the end of the village road and ascended the cinder path that runs more or less parallel to an attractive little stream. The tiny brook was brought to life by the rain. I was there at mid-afternoon on a weekday, and I was the one solitary soul in the landscape. An old stonewall snakes through the bare trees as the path and the stream lead up to a small pond just below the main pond. A little picturesque cascade at the far end of this smaller pond is how the water runs down from above.
As I got to the top of the path, raindrops dimpled the still surface of the pond. Beyond the encircling trees are a few houses and the northern edge of Ardsley Country Club golf course. An ample path of less than a half a mile makes a circuit around the pond. On its north side stands a prosaic, stone castle-keep known as Beltzhoover Teahouse. It provides a visual focus for the scene and offers some shelter from the rain. A long terrace extends from the “teahouse”; it serves as a raised vantage point for viewing the scenery. Just off shore is a small island graced by a weeping willow. Near the teahouse is a long wall over which one can see a deep, dramatic ravine.
The pond was once part of an estate called Rochroane, owned by an early village president named Melchior Beltzhoover. It was later part of the Halsey estate. As I walked back to my car, I reflected on the tranquility of the scene and how this park is refreshingly free from the blight of scolding, prohibitive signage.
Each time I visit Halsey Pond, approaching on the rising path, the pond and its landscape present themselves like old friends.
This is part one of a three-part series titled “Favorite Places.” Henry John Steiner is the village historian of Sleepy Hollow.
©2011-2016 Henry John Steiner