On this Arbor Day, consider Scarsdale's first Heritage Tree, the white oak in front of the Rowsley mansion at 37 Drake Road. This tree is believed to be 470 years old.
This oak is an ambassador for a great genus, with 16 species native just to New York state. Of the white oak's fruit, Henry David Thoreau wrote, "By the side of J. P. Brown’s grain-field I picked up some white oak acorns in the path by the wood-side, which I found to be unexpectedly sweet and palatable, the bitterness being scarcely perceptible" (8 October 1851. Concord, Mass.)
According to the Scarsdale Village Code, a heritage tree:
(1) is an outstanding specimen of a desirable species.
(2) is one of the largest or oldest trees in Scarsdale.
(3) possesses distinctive form, size, age, location, and/or historical significance.
The white oak at 37 Drake Road easily qualified and in 2013, a proclamation was issued.
HISTORY OF THE WHITE OAK, AND OF THE ROWSLEY MANSION
Hundreds of years ago this was the land of the Siwanoy, members of the Wappinger Confederacy. It is said that this tree was a focal point for their activities, as it already would have been mature during their time. Soon however, Siwanoy lands were coming under threat from European settlement. According to Professor Marc Abrams, "vast areas of deciduous forest in what is now the eastern United States were dominated by oak species. Among these species, white oak (Quercus alba) reigned supreme....much of the eastern forest was decimated by land clearing, extensive clear-cutting, catastrophic fires... in the few centuries following European settlement."
The Siwanoy disappeared but the tree continued until William Bailey Lang, an iron merchant, designed and built Rowsley, a manor house, in 1858 with the venerable old oak situated in front of his home. According to an article about the house, it was created in the "Second Empire style, featuring a mansard roof. It used French architectural design that was in vogue in Paris at the time but had been used in New York City only recently, and not at all in Westchester."
In 2008, Rowsley was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to all the other activities at the mansion, long owned by a nonprofit social organization, it continues its role in history by being the venue at which every new slate of Village Trustees celebrates its election.
THE 'VILLAGE IN A PARK'
Our Village has proudly been a Tree City for over 35 years. Every year, Village staff and residents attend an Arbor Day ceremony, at which a tree is planted. If you are at the Scarsdale pool, Crossway field, Chase Park or elsewhere and seeking shade, know that the tree providing you comfort on a hot day might well have been planted in one of these ceremonies.
The Village will freely provide and plant a tree in front of your house, in the right of way, if you have lost one in the past year. Every year four varieties are made available, two of which are suitable for planting under utility lines. You can also be wait-listed to receive a tree if any are still available after replacement trees are taken care of. Contact the Public Works Department at 914-722-1150 for more information.
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The Friends of Scarsdale Parks (FOSP) provided us with details about the Heritage tree process and a historical record of the proclamation submitted to the Village of Scarsdale.
Henry Thoreau's quote is from the Thoreau Log at https://www.walden.org/log-page/1851/
Architectural details of the Rowsley mansion are from a New York Times article, "A Woman's Club Is Now Truly Historic", July 27, 2008.
Photo of the Arbor Day 2013 commemoration was provided by our fabulous local news site, Scarsdale10583.com. The co-author of this feature is second from the right 🙂
Professor Marc D. Abrams' quote is from his paper, "Where Has All the White Oak Gone?" BioScience, Volume 53, Issue 10, October 2003, Pages 927–939
Oak tree photo obtained from Wikimedia Commons. Taken by user MSact at English Wikipedia and used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
Information on the Sewanoy was obtained from "The Major Alqonquin* Nations Throughout North America and What They Call Themselves" by Evan Pritchard, 2000 (revised 2002). This is a source worth perusing if you want to see just how diversely peopled the land we now occupy was, before European settlement.