April 25, 2020 – Ardsley, NY
Trailhead parking: Saw Mill River Parkway – Irvington, NY 10533
Great Hunger Memorial Park at V.E. Macy can only be entered by heading north on the Saw Mill River Parkway and then turning right when you reach the Great Hunger Memorial Park sign.
The Great Hunger Memorial was unveiled on June 24, 2001 at V.E. Macy Park in Ardsley to commemorate the suffering of millions of Irish peasants who died from the potato famine or were forced to leave their country.
The monument’s sculptor, Eamonn O’Doherty of Ireland, describes the memorial as comprising three related elements.
The first represents five members of an Irish family group.
The second element depicts the deserted shell of the homestead they were forced to leave.
The third element refers to the potato blight and consists of an overturned basket from which potatoes, as they spill onto the ground, metamorphose into skulls.
After its dedication in June 2001 the monument received widespread critical praise and won several awards, including American Institute of Architects’ community recognition as Most Outstanding Work of Public Art.
V.E. Macy Park History:
The Woodlands Lake area was originally owned by Frederick Philipse, a royalist, and was part of Philipse Manor. After the American Revolution, victorious patriot forces confiscated the land. In 1816, Joseph Howland purchased 100-acre tract along with the saw mill that was located there, and for many years afterward the property became known as Howland’s Mill and Howland’s Mill Pond (now Woodlands Lake). Mr. Howland lived in a mansion near the pond.
The waterfall was created by building a dam across the Saw Mill River. In the past, the water power created by this waterfall successfully powered saw mills and grist mills along the Saw Mill River during the latter part of the 18th Century and throughout all of the 19th Century.
During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Woodlands Lake Waterfall and its surrounding area, served as a popular resort. The original wooden bridge that crossed the waterfall acted as an access road connecting Saw Mill River Road to the Woodlands Lake Waterfall resorts area.
For those vacationers living far away, the “Put” Railroad Woodlands Station made arriving at the Woodlands Lake Waterfall resort areas easy. For the travelers coming from the city, they would simply disembark at the Woodlands Station and then use the original wooden bridge that crossed over the waterfall to arrive at the resort hotels and areas.
In the 1930’s when the Saw Mill River Parkway was constructed, a more substantial concrete and steel bridge replaced the original wooden bridge that crossed the waterfall. This new bridge now made it possible for automobiles to cross over the waterfall. This concrete bridge was used until 1950 when The New York Thruway construction cut off the road and the bridge thereafter saw only fishermen and strollers. Today it is used to connect Great Hunger Memorial Park to the South County Trailway.
In 1923, Westchester County purchased the Woodlands Lake Waterfall area and park, comprising of approximately 212 acres, for $157,000 from J.P. Morgan. It was originally called Woodlands Lake Park, but was renamed for Valentine Everit Macy, Sr., the first Commissioner of Public Welfare. In fact, he was the first Westchester County Commissioner of any kind. He later served as chairman of the County Parks Commission from 1926-1929. The park is located in the villages of Irvington, Ardsley, and Dobbs Ferry, in the town of Greenburgh, Westchester County, N.Y.
In the 1920’s, the Woodlands Lake area was a place of fun: it hosted the circus when it came to town; it provided picnic areas where ladies and gentlemen could go for an outing and a barbecue; and it had a place where families could park their cars in the shade while they had a family picnic and had the accessibility of having a food van nearby to provide the food they could not supply for themselves. There was also a place where a baseball game could be played and watched.
Then there was the wooden bridge over the waterfall from which bathers could dive into the cooling waters or show off the latest bathing suit fashions.
With the construction of the Saw Mill River Parkway (1930) and the NY State Thruway (1955), V.E. Macy park is now divided into three distinct areas. One section, east of the NYS Thruway, features ballfields, a playground, comfort stations and picnic pavilion. The Woodlands Lake section, sandwiched between the Saw Mill River Parkway to the west and the NYS Thruway to the east, is an excellent spot for short strolls and birdwatching, provides access to the South County Trailway. This section (that is the subject of this post) has been renamed Great Hunger Memorial Park at V.E. Macy. For nature-lovers fond of hiking and hill climbing, the rugged, heavily wooded hillside west of the Saw Mill River Parkway (lies within the Irvington Woods trailway system), is especially attractive.
In the 1930’s, Howland’s mansion was demolished when the Saw Mill River Parkway was constructed. It was at this time that the Woodlands Lake Hotel complex and the Reinhardt Hotel replaced the resorts in the Woodlands Lake Waterfall area. Eventually, the hotels were torn down. Later, the Woodlands Lake Waterfalls area was occupied by a number of restaurants including Leighton’s Restaurant and then La Cantina.
The restaurants have long since been closed down, but the structures are still standing near the Woodlands Lake Waterfall.
Today, Woodlands Lake, its waterfall and the surrounding park areas can still be enjoyed. V.E. Macy Park is now 172-acres, the Great Hunger Memorial Park section is only accessible by car via the northbound lanes of the Saw Mill River Parkway or by the South County Trailway on foot or bicycle.
A short walking path along the west side of the Saw Mill River, allows visitors to view wildlife, although some road noise from the nearby parkway and thruway can be heard.
There are some benches along the lake for those that choose to just sit and enjoy the scenery.
The “Old Put” railroad line is now the South County Trailway which is a bicycle and foot path that travels along the Old Put’s railroad tracks, now paved over. The South County Trailway starts in the Bronx at Van Cortland Park and passes right by the eastern side of the Woodlands Lake, pretty much where the Woodlands Station used to be located. You can gain access to the South County Trailway by simply crossing over the Woodlands Lake Waterfall bridge. You can then either go south towards the Bronx or north where you can then connect with the North County Trailway at Eastview.
This section of the park, which includes the Great Hunger Memorial, Saw Mill River, Woodlands Lake and waterfall, is a nice place to stop to take a break, a walk or have a picnic lunch (no grills). This is also a good place to park if wishing to connect to the South County Trailway. Definitely worth a visit if in the area.
Historical features, Great Hunger Memorial, waterfall, Woodlands Lake, Saw Mill River, access to South County Trailway.
Road noise from the Saw Mill River Parkway and NYS Thruway.
Take a walk!
- V.E. Macy Park
- Woodlands Lake Waterfall Area–Ardsley’s Summer Joy For Over 150 Years! – Ardsley Historical Society
- V. Everit Macy Park