Ask Westchester, October 2011: Emerald Ash Borer Traps; Washington Irving's Sunnyside in Irvington, NY; and Information on Indian Campsites and Burial Grounds in Westchester County

Q: What are those wooden boxes with ropes that are in certain trees that I’ve seen in and around the county? One is on Taxter Road. Has the Parks and Rec department put them there? They almost look like bat houses, but I know they are new. What is their purpose?
—Judy Bernstein, Irvington

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A: We initially thought the location you speak of was in Elmsford. It’s not; it’s in Irvington. But good thing we made the error, because it was Elmsford Village Administrator Michael Mills who pointed us towards the answer. Those boxes are called “purple prisms,” or, for the less “catchy,” “emerald ash borer traps.” The emerald ash borer is a nasty little beetle that infests and kills ash trees. So far, 50 million trees have fallen victim throughout the country—and Westchester has a lot of ash trees. The boxes are hung by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to monitor the borer’s spread (go to the department’s website for updated info). Thankfully, the bugs aren’t here yet. But they’re close—Orange County close (the county north of Rockland, though we’re sure you knew that). So should you be afraid? Yes. Be very, very afraid. But think of the Halloween costume idea we just gave you.

Q: What is the history of the magnificent building at
the northwest corner of Broadway and West Sunnyside in Irvington? Who lives there now? How old is its beautiful
 —Judy Bernstein, Irvington

A: Judy Bernstein. The same Judy Bernstein from question one? What are the chances? Okay, it’s time once and for all to learn ya’ good on the big seven Hudson River historical sites. Now, there’s a darned good website for this——but here’s the CliffsNotes version. The building you’re talking about is (1) Sunnyside. Now a museum, it was the home of Washington Irving (headless horseman, flaming pumpkins, etc), who started expanding the cottage on the land in 1835. In 1951, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (philanthropy, Standard Oil, etc.), whose family lived on the estate known as (2) Kykuit (rhymes with “high cut”) and who erected the (3) Union Church of Pocantico Hills, organized an educational institute known as Sleepy Hollow Restorations, which purchased Sunnyside and restored it. The organization also purchased (4) Philipsburg Manor. That was the home of Frederick Philipse, one of the original Lords of Westchester County, and was a plantation that expanded in size and elegance as the Philipse family grew wealthier throughout the centuries (until their loyalties to the British crown got their holdings seized). In between Kykuit and Philipsburg Manor is (5) Lyndhurst. Lyndhurst is famous for housing, at varying times, William Paulding (politician), George Merritt (businessman), and Jay Gould (railroads), all of whom expanded what was originally a “country villa” into a sprawling estate. Slightly north in Croton-on-Hudson is (6) Van Cortlandt Manor. That house was first occupied fulltime by Pierre Van Cortlandt—first Lieutenant Governor of the State of New York, whose family made its money in the shipping trade. Finally, way up north of Poughkeepsie, in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, stands (7) Montgomery Place. Montgomery place was built by the wife of Revolutionary War soldier General Richard Montgomery as a working farm in honor of her late husband. It’s known for its detailed and beautiful landscapes. Got it? Good. Next inquiry about one of these buildings loses question-writing privileges for one month.

Q: For all the Indians who lived in Westchester, where can you get info on campsites, burial grounds, etc.?
—Patty Guarino, Cortlandt

A: Well, you could start by just asking. We’ll save you the trouble. It’s been about 300 years since Indian tribes inhabited the area, but thanks to some research from Professor Arnold Krupat at Sarah Lawrence and some additional input from Professor Denise Santiago at Pace, we’ve put together at least a start to a historical journey around the county.

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Begin at Dobbs Ferry Village Hall, where you’ll find some of the 18,000 artifacts recovered from nearby Wickers Creek—an Indian archeological site next to Mercy College that has, unfortunately, fallen victim to a developer’s conquest. However, there’s still a trail and monument near the college.

Next, check out Croton Point Park in Croton-on-Hudson. There’s a plaque in honor of the Native Americans who once occupied the land and a nature center with related exhibits. The park is named for the Indian sachem Kenoten, after all. And as an aside, you’ll also find the state’s oldest wine cellars there. That’s just cool.

Another short stop on your vision question of sorts should include the Pelham Oak where the Siwanoy Tribe sold much of its land to Thomas Pell. Now, we don’t generally outsource our work, but we only have so much space, and you asked “where” you can find information anyway, so here you go.

If you’re looking for events, check out for dates and places of local powwows—which are sort of American Indian arts festivals. For a great list of local museums with American Indian exhibits, browse over to There’s also the Delaware Indian Research Center in Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. And for a wigwam full of information, click on

photo by Dana Leshem

Prevention is a good thing: traps in trees help monitor the spread of the emerald ash borer beetle.

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