One of the perks of being involved in a race is the wonderful people you meet. I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of a lovely woman named De during race registration at my store, Cross Sport Woman. After chatting about all things run, she spoke about the trails of Lasdon and how she learned to drive on them in her youth. As you can imagine, her comment piqued my interest, and so began the next half hour listening to her speak of her time growing up and caring for the trails with her family who owned Lasdon Park when it was the former Voislawsky Estate. I was fascinated with her story and asked if she would be willing to write it down for all to enjoy. She ended up persuading her father (the grandson of Dr. Tony Voislawsky) to reminisce about those days.
Here is their story.
May 31, 2013
The History of the roads throughout the property originally owned by Margaret Rutgers vanRensselaer Voislawsky.
Between 1905 and 1929 the Voislawsky family lived in a converted farmhouse with a working farm. The house burned in the winter of 1929 because of a needed second bathroom It was on the third floor and the whole house caught on fire due to an overturned blowtorch used in the construction.
Immediately the family sought a new location on the property away from the road – then Route100 but later re-named Route 35, with the parochial name of “Amawalk Highway.” The house was to be constructed of local fieldstone, each stone to be tested for porosity before installation. There were many fitting in this category.
Since the property was a working farm they had plenty of milkcows and at least five saddle horses. Their work team was a pair of workhorses known as Tom and Jerry. There was also a steam tractor. Outbuildings consisted of a huge barn, milkhouses, cork crib and a stone building for the trap, later for a car.
Early on there was the question of how to use the property by the family of four. It consisted of around 600 acres of woodland with at least eight free flowing natual springs. Doctor Voislawsky (Dr. Tony) (Head of Ear, Nose, and Throat at Saint Luke’s in NYC) and his wife, son, and daughter wanted to use it for what it was-nature. They decided that roads passable by cars should be cut through the woods in such a manner that there were intersections every so often. The roads would start at the main house and fan out going to the East and West of the house, with access to the barn across the street. There was a dirt tennis court with a spring fed (very cold) concrete lined swimming pool set amongst huge weeping willow trees. Work started on the roads around 1920.
The family, together with a local “architect”, a Mr. Kipp, laid out a series of roads throughout the property. These would be used for cars, riding, enjoying nature and the wildlife that lived in it. A foreman was hired to do the work and gradually, with a team of Spaniards, they laboriously followed the plan. Cuts and fill, along with culverts, eventually completed most of the “Master Plan.” During the Depression the Doctor (Dr. Tony) hired extra work, knowing that work was hard to find and the labor pool was extensive for this kind of work. Every year the farm help and extras, if needed, would keep the roads open for cars and of course, horses. There were many side smaller roads built with various kinds of jumps and ditches designed for riding, eventually merging into the “main” road. Ultimately there were at least nine miles of these roads, carefully maintained.
One feature was outstanding, around one of the fastest flowing springs deep in the woods they built a “picnic area.” This consisted of an upper parking lot and below that a stone enclosure to the well with a peaked “hat” roof. Niches in the inside of the building held ladles, cups and plates and other things necessary for a pleasant time at a picnic. The daughter designed a heart shaped pool to contain the runoff of the spring. She planted and caused to be planted indigenous wild flowers surrounding it. One could sit still in the springhouse at dusk and see all the animals come out to drink.
There were two stone structures with gates below to keep charcoal or firewood for the grills. Each was constructed looking at a different angle in order to catch the wind, however it blew. At least four picnics were held a summer, the first of which timed so many cars-and trucks laden with food and drink-could use the roads for access. Picnic tables and seats were made from ash or hickory because they were so hardy. As many as twenty cars were parked in the space above the area for a picnic.
Dr. Voislawsky (Dr. Tony) had many ideas concerning the property. They planted all indigenous flowering trees and shrubs around the house and circle. (Now grass) The family wanted a place in the wilderness of the forest around them-few vistas and as little grass as possible. Every fall they would supervise picking apples in the huge orchard on either side of the driveway, which was bluestone. The stones had to be raked back periodically. The Doctor (Dr. Tony) wanted to cut a road which would meet one of the newly made roads all the way across the top of the hill and end up at Whitehall Corners! Sadly this could not be – the idea came too late in life.
A tragedy occurred in 1939 when Dr. Voislawsky was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. After he died there was no breadwinner in the family so the place had to be sold. At that time there was the Superintendant’s house at the corner of Woods Street, a worker’s house above the burned house’s foundation and another barn accessed from Route 35(100). The remaining family chose to sell about 250 acres and to retain 140 contiguous ones to the East.
Joseph Wittmann, Grandson