Rockefeller State Park Preserve Vies for Historic Status
Westchester’s most iconic family curated this natural masterpiece for all to enjoy. Now it’s poised to become part of history.
Photos By Heather Sommer
For years, it was not uncommon for those visiting the Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Pleasantville to encounter David Rockefeller, longtime chairman of Chase Manhattan (who died in March 2017 at age 101), out in his horse-drawn carriage, enjoying the vast acreage of what used to comprise his family’s Pocantico Hills estate. “‘Hello, Mr. Rockefeller,’ people would call, often adding a ‘thank-you,’” for the idyllic land the famed family gifted to the state, says Clare Pierson, granddaughter of US Vice President Nelson Rockefeller (David’s brother) and board member of the Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve.
That David Rockefeller’s retirement included driving his carriages over 16-foot-wide crushed-stone pathways while greeting locals would have pleased his grandfather, John D. Rockefeller Sr. This was just the sort of activity the famed industrialist envisioned when he acquired some 3,400 acres near the Hudson River after relocating Standard Oil from Ohio to New York in the 1880s. The estate’s carriage-road network, which includes about 65 miles of well-engineered loops that traverse the property’s most stunning vistas, was a pet project of John Sr. and later expanded and perfected by son John Jr. Both men believed in the health benefits of time outdoors and wanted to facilitate access to the estate’s natural wonders.
Today, the Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve are working with William Krattinger, a historic-preservation-program analyst for a division of the New York State Parks Department, to have the carriage roads designated on the National Register of Historic Places. The designation, which increases access to grants and other financial support, is vital to protecting “this unique legacy of the Rockefeller family,” says George Gumina, a Nelson Rockefeller son-in-law and founder of the Friends group. The roads and their shoulders, carefully designed to facilitate drainage, must be kept clear, Gumina points out, or the surfaces become rutted — a hazard not only for carriages but for the roughly 400,000 who visit the park annually, including the film crews of shows like Boardwalk Empire, The Blacklist, and Divorce.
The official review of the tract’s merit as a Historic Place is scheduled for June, but Krattinger is confident, declaring, “There is no question of the historic significance.”
“This park is a spectacular place,” adds Gumina. “To have access to all of this open space in Westchester County is truly an incredible gift.”