A History of Lake Peekskill
(Based on information compiled from Bertha Gragert, by Gladys Gragert Muller, 1990 Edited for clarity by Gretchen Weiglein, 2016)
Lake Peekskill was once known as Cranberry Pond because of the uncultivated cranberries once growing in the marches there. The Levino family owned about 2/3 of the land around the pond. There were no houses except for a farmhouse used by the Levino family before they moved down to Oregon Corners. The farmhouse was later burned down by unknown causes. Mrs. Gragert remembers the fruit trees, the wild plants and flowers. The pond was small and full of greenery around the edges. Bathers and fishermen used the pond in its most natural state. The pond was beautifully set with hills and trees abounding. Around 1921 a developer by the name of McGolrick bought the property and soon Lake Peekskill was to be developed. The Hudson Valley Engineering Company of Peekskill and Carmel, New York produced a map for the McGolrick Realty Company, 225 W 34th Street, New York NY. The surveys were completed by 1929 by the Hudson Valley Engineering Company. James R. Chase was the surveyor who signed the maps to the New York Title and Mortgage Company on April 29, 1929.
Another smaller lake was included in the properties for the land owners in Lake Peekskill. This lake is between Sylvan and Johnson Street and had a children’s playground and lake. There was and still is public access from Sylvan Road at the end of lots 110, on Johnson Street between lots 15 and 16, 43, 44, and on Avon Road between lots 67,68, and 60,61 as shown on the map of Lake Peekskill. This lake is known as Lake Junior.
The McGolrick Realty Company offered free bus service for buyers to see the property available. A model home was built on Argyle Street near the corner of Central Drive. This building still stands. One sales broker Fred Ernst added Bertha Eisele Gragert to the sales force. Free lunches for buyers was offered as well. The Clubhouse built off of Pleasant Road at the top of the hill offered a fine, wide view to the east in the direction of the lake and to the hills of Shrub Oak. The Clubhouse is no longer standing but the foundation, steps up from the road and benches still remain. This, too, belongs to all property owners in Lake Peekskill but has come in need of repair and upkeep. The view from here was and still is outstanding.
The small lake filled with tree stumps was eventually enlarged. The water was lowered at the dam that was built near the bridge on Lake Drive and as many stumps were removed as possible before water was again let in from the natural springs feeding the lake. There was not enough water for the summer season so a pump was installed in the Hollowbrook and filled the remainder of the lake. “We all enjoyed watching the men do the job. The pay was reasonable and well worth it. All the jobs made our inexperienced men very experienced, and they became experts in many ways,” says Mrs. Gragert. Soon Lake Peekskill was bursting with summer residents. Other summer community life spread in other areas because of the success of Lake Peekskill, mentioned Mrs. Gragert. It was not long before there were year-round residents.
There was railroad transportation from New York City to Peekskill. In the early days there was a trolley run to Oregon Corners. In time an all-day bus ran from the railroad station directly into Lake Peekskill. Monthly railroad tickets were available. Neighbors met on the train and passed the time playing cards, getting to know each other and discussing the future. Since taxes were reasonable, living in Lake Peekskill was an advantage despite some of the hardships.
Business started to grow. Mr. Vederosa made cement blocks for new landowners to build their foundations. This was the first business on the hill where the Shamrock now stands. Mr. Vederosa build this structure. Other men from the area offered their services. They would come to the lakeside to offer their labor. Jack Ramsey was one of the plumbers who later built a business at the entrance of Lake Peekskill in a small shack. The McGolrick Realty finally put water lines in on the roads so that people could have water for the summer. When year-round residents needed water, it was arranged to have daily delivery to each home. Large metal milk cans were filled to the top. People used this water for drinking and cooking, especially. There were daily deliveries of groceries in the early days. Milk was delivered or gotten from local farms. Ice was delivered for the ice boxes to keep food from spoiling.
The post office was a wooden shack on the edge of the lake next to where Carrara’s Beach now is. Mrs. Carrara, the postmistress, drove to Peekskill Post Office every morning to pick up the mail. When rural delivery started people put up their mailboxes on posts at the entrance to Lake Peekskill on Central Drive (now known as Morrissey Drive). The mailing address was R.F.D., Peekskill, New York. It remained so through the 1940’s.
Telephone service was not in existence except for the stone house on the lake built by Beat Keller a Swiss baker and his Austrian wife. In the 1940’s telephone service came into the lake area.
When the McGolrick Realty went bankrupt, the development was taken over by other financiers of which Mr. Archibald Kurlan was attorney. His offices were at Court Street in Brooklyn, New York. A new sales office for Lake Peekskill was built at the corner of Central and Lake Drive where the parking lot now stands. The Kurland office was open in the summer and weekends only at other times. (This parking lot is also the property of all property owners in Lake Peekskill.
Oregon Corners was the closest business area to Lake Peekskill. Bruce Adams had an insurance office. Bornschauer had a grocery, Mr. Higgs the hardware store, Jack Kappel the garage and the O’Connors restaurant with living quarters. The original O’Connor building was where Hertzel’s is now, but was swept away by a hurricane in 1938 and rebuilt where it is now on Hollowbrook Road.
Local doctors came in from Lake Mohegan. Dr. Rauch and Dr. Millman made house calls day and night without complaint. People could trust their judgment and service. The Peekskill Hospital was off of Bay Street and Lower South Street.
The Lake Peekskill Athletic Club was formed by the men of the Community. They held dances, had bingo parties and ran festivities at the beaches. On the Fourth of July they had a beauty contest for Miss Lake Peekskill along with swimming races in all categories. The highlight was when one swimmer caught the duck that was let free. It was very exciting for all. Fireworks were held in the evening over the lake. The beaches were pristine and well-kept by the Improvement District which also collected the garbage. Lake Peekskill had its own dump at the top of the hill and all other items were recycled when the peddler came to pick up metal, paper, rubber, etc. The war time was upon us and the Lake Peekskill properties were very attractive for summer getaways. More and more Jewish families came and soon a Temple was built with funds donated by many of the area residents as well. In 1937 before the Temple, the Shrine of the American Martyrs Catholic Church was under construction. Local people gave funding, had raffles, etc. The Lutheran Church started later above the Putnam Valley Post Office before Pastor Hinch was able to get a church building to reconstruct on the former Babian property on Oscawana Lake Road. Now the area close to Lake Peekskill could offer three religious institutions to prospective buyers. In the summer the Corner at Lake Peekskill was bursting with activity from Decoration Day (May 31) to Labor Day in September.
There was the stone house with restaurant, boating rental. Next door was Samuel’s Soda Fountain. Then Samuel’s Grocery with meat and then Diamonds Market which was open all year. Diamonds had a T.V. where all the neighbors could see the news, the fights popular then in the 1940’s, etc. Most people didn’t have their own television set yet like today. Everyone strolled down the mountain to the restaurant at Carrara’s but mostly to the Corner to meet friends, and the young teens their future spouses in many cases. One could not drive through the crowds. There were dances held at Sullivan’s after Joe Hill sold the Vederosa building. Bingo was played there as well. Social activities were full swing. Soon the Lake Peekskill Athletic Club started building their own Club House at the bottom of the hill on Central Drive across from Gragert’s Real Estate and Tydol Gas Station (built in 1938). This Athletic Building became an entertainment hall year round. Area bingo parties were held with Fred Ernst being the favorite caller because of his famous “sixity six”. Paul Le Favre and others enjoyed calling numbers as well. Members were the Howells, the Sullivans, the Purdys, the Meisters, the Fabers, the Gragerts, the Ianarellas, the Hertzels, the Andersens, the Christensens, etc.
At the end of World War II a large barn fire was lit at the parking lot in Lake Peekskill. The monument before the bridge was still intact. Services were held there for honoring the dead. A large bronze plaque was there on the marble wall. This plaque has since disappeared and whereabouts unknown. The bridge was reconstructed and several years later in the 1970’s (I think) dedicated to a local former judge and attorney Samuel Slutzky (now deceased).
The story of Lake Peekskill would not be complete without the mentioning of Pop Melnick’s Camp Pecoho. In the 1940’s it was a haven for families from May to October. Everything was there for family pleasure and relaxation. They had their own beach area near the bridge at Lake Peekskill. A portion of this now belongs to the Shore Club.
Lake Peekskill added another store at the corner of Central Drive and Argyle Street across from Gragert’s Real Estate and Allen’s Real Estate office. Zelman’s Market offered Kosher meat as well as a full grocery line. Later Max Bittleman bought the building when the Labis family also now owned the former Samuel’s Luncheonette and Food Market. The Marvin’s then took over the Diamond Market. Both became year-round shopping for the residents. A large pot belly stove was a source of heat. Others used kerosene stoves, coal furnaces and fireplaces. More and more people were now living in the area. The Putnam Valley Central School was one of the best in the country.
School buses picked up children at Carrara’s, the Corner and at the bottom of Central Drive. All children walked to these points without problems. The old real estate office of the 1930’s became a warm place for children to wait for the school bus on cold mornings. The whereabouts of this small building is unknown.
The school became more and more a place for the community to meet. Girl Scouts met there as well as Boy Scouts. On certain Friday evenings there was a social dance for the adults and children of the entire area. Churches held teen evenings. There were hayrides, dances, parties. In the 1940’s Sullivan’s was the place for holiday gatherings. After the Athletic Club was built, it was the place where children from Lake Peekskill families were given gifts from Santa Claus. All the children felt a sense of community since there were together in the same class throughout their schooling until they went to the Peekskill High School to complete their education before going on to college, for some.
Peekskill became closer with the bus service available. More and more families had cars. The community stretched out as people were better able to travel.
What people do not see today that was there when Lake Peekskill started is the openness of the fields, the wild flowers, animals, and quiet. Children would sled down Central Drive without fear of cars. Ice skating on the lake was a family affair in the winter. The beaches in the summer had docks out a distance from the shore. The life guards kept a watchful eye on all. The matrons guarded the beach and bathhouses. Carrara’s had the largest bathhouse and next was North Beach. Singers Beach was most popular, however. Mr. North was constable and made sure that all beaches were clean. He walked the parking lot to pick up papers should he see them on the ground.
Boating in the 1940’s and 1950’s was popular. Rentals could be had behind the stone house along with the possibility to buy worms for fishing.
In winter one could hear the chains of the tires rattle down the road. Sand was the only skid prevention. Salt was not heard of yet. (Is the salt we use now a source of future problems for our lakes?) In summer one could hear the constant hum of people at the beaches enjoying the sun and water sports. When evening came the music from the Shore Club rang across the lake. A few silhouettes of boaters on the water could be seen in the moonlight.
The Lake was always a reflection of the seasons. Fall colors from the hills reflected in the water. Snow in the winter with patches cleared for ice staking was abundant. There was a time in the 1950’s when there was music for ice skating coming from the restaurant at Carrara’s. Mr. Martinsen skated every day at his advanced age with his arms folded behind his back. It made the beginners wonder if they could one day glide across the lake with his ease. When spring came the bare reflections of the trees gave way to buds and the light green colors of new leaves. As the season progressed blossoms of the early spring fruit trees reflected in the water. Summer was on the way. The air seemed to suddenly turn warm as the end of May arrived along with the summer residents. Lake Peekskill again opened its arms to all those who were seeking fun and pleasure with warm days and cool nights. From the early spring peepers song to the hollow tone of the bull frog, Lake Peekskill will be remembered by many as a place of peaceful existence.