The History of Truesdale Lake
The First 100 Years
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The History of Truesdale Lake
The First 100 Years
In the early 1900s, South Salem was a quiet farming community full of natural beauty. Soon, the hills, forests and lakes that make up our town were “discovered” by wealthy families living in NYC and many of the old farms were converted to summer residences as an escape from the congested city.
Rev. Theodore Langdon Van Norden arrived in South Salem in 1894 to be the 13th minister of the South Salem Presbyterian Church. The son of a wealthy NYC banker, he became a prominent South Salem farmer and citizen. Rev. Van Norden was determined to make a name for himself in the area. He promoted the beauty and history of the town while also acquiring a lot of land, including the entire north end of what became Lake Truesdale.
Rev. Van Norden planned to dam the outlet from Hoyt’s Pond (fed by the Coal Kiln Brook) in order to turn the small pond and surrounding swamp into a lake. According to a detailed article in the August 30, 1907 Katonah Times, “It has been known for some months that Mr. Van Norden is planning a lake upon his property. Work began a few days ago upon the dam, which is to be across the stream that flows from John Lawrence’s icehouse lot around Truesdale Hill, emptying further north into the Waccabuc River.”
“The dam crosses the stream from the Sheldon tract to Truesdale Hill and when constructed, the water will flood back to Mr. Studwell’s house (later the Thaddeus Keeler House and now the Town House). This will make a lake about one half mile long covering roughly seventy-eight acres. And the lake will naturally be called Truesdale Lake after the hill that overlooks it.”
“The dam will be two hundred and thirty feet long on top, and its construction, rather complicated, because of the fact that beneath the strata is quicksand. The bottom of the stream is composed of two or three feet of muck, beneath that is a layer of hardpan two and a half feet thick and beneath that again eleven feet of quicksand. The hardpan alone would support the dam, but the quicksand would allow leakage. The method of construction, therefore, is this: After the muck is scraped off, piles of four inch boards, matched, are driven down through the quicksand. Then, resting upon the hardpan, is built a core wall of concrete two feet thick. This, with the piling beneath, will make a watertight dam. To give the necessary strength to the core wall, a dirt filling is to be put on either side. Through the bottom of the dam will run a pipe two feet in diameter, which will allow the water to be drained off in case any repairs must be made in the future.”
“After the dam is built, the swamp will have to be cleaned of trees and undergrowth. If the weather remains dry some of the work will be done immediately. The rest will be done during the winter, and some further work may have to be done in cutting bogs at the edge of the water in places. Eventually, the lake will have several wooded points and perhaps an island or two, and there is every reason to believe that it will be a beautiful feature in the landscape. All the engineering work upon the dam is being done by Mr. T.T.P. Luquer, of Bedford and New York. Mr. Van Norden will also have the advice of Mr. Charles D. Lay, the New York landscape architect.”
In A History of the Town of Lewisboro, the work is described this way: “Van Norden secured the services of a “college man” to oversee the clearing of the forest and construction of the dam. At one time, 127 men were employed on the project. Les Bouton and his team (of horses) worked on this job for 4 years at $4.00 for a 9-hour day.”
Truesdale Lake was named after the hill “that overlooks it,” which was named for William Truesdale. Truesdale was an early settler in the area and legend has him “killed by indians” and his bones discovered on this hill. However, a more likely story is that his “less than honest ways” led him from this area to prison and the loss of most of his assets. He died in 1751 in New Jersey. A much less tantalizing tale!
A notice in the September 6, 1907 Katonah Times read “Last week there appeared in the columns of this paper an article of some length headed “Lake Truesdale.” It is desired to call attention to the fact that the lake is to be called Truesdale Lake instead of Lake Truesdale.” Apparently, Rev. Van Norden was very particular about the name of his lake!
While the last stone was laid for the huge Cross River Dam on October 26, 1907, construction of the much smaller Truesdale Lake dam in 1907 was slowed due to the wet weather and the many rocks found in the “quicksand” of the swamp. The rocks made it difficult to drive the piles into the ground. Work eventually stopped for the winter. An article in the February 14, 1908 Katonah Times reads: “The Italians who stopped working for Mr. Van Norden some time since, resumed work about three weeks ago and are now clearing wood and underbrush from the land which is to be flooded by Truesdale Lake. It is quite important that this work should be done now, as it is only when the swamps are frozen sufficiently to hold teams that it can be done to advantage.”
The dam was finally completed in July 1908. The new lake is described in an article in the December 4, 1908 edition of the Katonah Times: “Mention has often been made of Truesdale Dam and the proposed Truesdale Lake, but Truesdale Lake is no longer a proposed one but a very new and beautiful lake. It is nestled at the foot of Truesdale Mount…Already the young people are talking of skating this winter and rowing next summer, as it is Mr. Van Norden’s wish that the lake should be enjoyed by all.” This Truesdale Lake was still relatively small compared to the current lake. More pasture and swampland would continue to be purchased and cleared before the lake would achieve its final 83 acre size.
An article in the December 30,1910 Katonah Times reports “For a week past the skating upon Truesdale Lake has been fine and the young people and children are enjoying it to the utmost. The place is easy of access from all sides. It is of good size and has always been free from dangerous places and is truly a veritable pleasure ground to the young and possibly some who have passed that point, if it is ever possible, when skating is good.”
Rumors of a new railway line through South Salem had been circulating for much of 1910. An article in the March 5, 1911 New York Tribune described “An active movement in real estate of large proportions” in Northern Westchester County by “those who foresee that plans for the extension of transportation facilities will soon become a fact.” It goes on to say “It is in the towns of Ridgefield and Danbury Conn., and North and South Salem, N.Y. that this boom is mainly taking place.” Although Rev. Van Norden chaired a committee to choose a site for the South Salem railway station, the railway was never built.
By the 1920s, cars were becoming more prevalent in Northern Westchester County as roads and parkways were greatly improved. Corporations were formed to develop summer communities on Lake Waccabuc, Lake Kitchawan and Lake Katonah. Many undeveloped lots were sold or leased to build small houses for vacation and weekend use for NYC residents.
On April 10, 1926, the Truesdale Lake Corporation, a real-estate development company, was incorporated. General John F. O’Ryan, a member of the state Public Service Commission and later NYC Police Commissioner, was named President and Rev. Van Norden became one of nine Directors in the Corporation. The corporation purchased Van Norden’s property including the dam, the lake and the land surrounding the north end of Truesdale Lake. Later that year, the corporation purchased 42 acres of pasture from the Keeler family to flood and form the south end of the now larger Lake Truesdale. The logging to clear the pasture was done by Thaddeus Keeler and his sons.
According to the Truesdale Lake sales prospectus, the corporation planned on developing 600 acres into “a recreational all-year-round colony,” with the original plans calling for a club house, tennis courts, beaches and an 18 hole golf course. An “excellent artesian well” and pipes of “90% galvanized steel and 10% cast iron” were installed in 1926 to supply water to all of the new residents by P.F. Beal of Brewster.
The lake was advertised as one of the few lakes not owned by the NYC water supply and the largest “completely restricted lake” in Westchester County. The Truesdale Lake Club was formed on May 24, 1926 to ensure exclusivity. Most ads for the colony in the late 1920s described potential members as “persons of refinement, who are acceptable.” Prospective buyers needed to be accepted for membership prior to purchasing their lot. An ad in the May 26, 1927 Brewster Standard read “Membership in the Truesdale Lake Club is a prerequisite to ownership and assures you of neighbors with interests in common.” Formal applications, personal, business and bank references and a personal interview by a Board member were required for membership. All architectural plans needed to be approved by the Truesdale Lake Corporation Board of Directors to “protect the property from unsuitable buildings” and to preserve the colony’s “charm and comfort.”
The three options for buyers at Truesdale Lake were: 1. Quarter-acre lots on or near the lake (from $1600), accessible by rock-ballasted roads; 2. An existing Country Estate from one to three acres (from $2400 per acre); 3. Land to build a rustic lodge or log cabin in Truesdale Woods (one-third acre for $800 and up). Forty-three lot sales were recorded in 1926 and sixty-seven in 1927.
By the summer of 1930, the club house next to the Gilbert St. beach was the destination for dinner, dances, parties and entertainment. The club house consisted of a kitchen, two locker rooms, bathroom, stage area, club room and sun porch. According to the By-Laws and Rules of the Truesdale Lake Club dated July, 1931,“The Club House will be opened at 9 o’clock A.M. and closed at 1 o’clock A.M., except Saturday night, daily through the summer season. No person in a bathing suit shall enter the main club room or sun porch. Loud speaking and unnecessary noise is forbidden outside of the Club House after 12 o’clock midnight.” Take-away snacks were available on the lakeside terrace.
A German couple, Mr. and Mrs. Brockhoff, cooked and served meals on the sun porch. The club house also featured a boat house for members’ sailboats and canoes. Members and their families enjoyed the beautiful sandy beach for swimming and socializing. A “servant’s beach” also known as O’Ryan’s Beach was located on the south end of the club house. The maintenance garage and tennis court were located at the corner of Red Pine Lane (now Gilbert St.) and Lakeshore Dr. The tennis court could be used by members for $.25 per hour. Trapshooting supplies were available for purchase.
According to the sales brochure, “The Lake was well stocked with small mouth bass and trout some years ago, and fisherman will find that both the lake and the brook to the north will amply reward them for a try-out. With a boat or two tied to the dock, plenty of fishing tackle on hand, golf clubs and tennis rackets where one can reach them, life becomes marvelously pleasant.”
The sales prospectus listed the many amenities available in the area including nearby motion picture theaters, nearby New York Shops and the new Ward Pound Ridge Reservation created in 1925. In addition, food deliveries were made to your door. “At this section of Westchester, it is largely populated by Estate owners and the most excellent service may be had from shops in the vicinity. The resident with a telephone can receive excellent groceries, meats, ice, milk, fresh eggs, broilers, etc.” A History of the town of Lewisboro describes an interview with a resident who worked at Klippel’s Market, now Lily’s Market & Deli, during the summers of the early 1930s. “During the summer months, Klippel’s employed nine persons and had three delivery cars. Every morning, six days a week, he and the other delivery boys would go house to house taking grocery orders. They would then spend the afternoon making deliveries.”
The Great Depression in the 1930s halted the development of the exclusive colony. Although an article in the July 16, 1934 Herald Statesman quoted the resident sales agent at Truesdale Lake as saying “We know nothing about depression here. We have read about it, that’s all.”, clearly this wasn’t true. The Truesdale Lake Corporation declared bankruptcy and reorganized in 1935. The financially troubled club continued to advertise and sell a few properties, but the depression was taking its toll. An article in the June 10, 1936 Peekskill Evening Star reported “Perhaps the favorite of the Westchester lakes is Truesdale, situated near the quaint village of South Salem. Truesdale is a lake of 600 acres. Its active social life revolves around the Truesdale Lake Club, which has facilities for all types of sports.”
Despite building Lake Shore Drive in 1937 to introduce the new “Truesdale Lake Country Club,” roadbuilders were not paid, liens were filed and the Truesdale Lake Corporation began selling off some of its undeveloped properties for cash. Lake Shore Drive was the name given to the road that circled the entire south half of the lake. An article in the August 31, 1939 Tarrytown Daily News describes “The new road encircling Truesdale Lake, which was completed last year, has added greatly to the scenic value of the property and is a source of great convenience to all landowners whose property lies on the lake and in the adjoining woods colony.”
The property owners through the Truesdale Lake Club tried to keep the colony going. The Club’s officers helped to coordinate fundraising efforts among the property owners to repair the roads and assure a supply of clean water to each home. By 1940, the roads in the colony were so poor that they were considered dangerous and the well pump on the hill failed. Unfortunately, the Truesdale Lake Corporation had no money to repair them. The colony was without any water for three full days. Some of the residents stepped in and took over the operation of the water system and paid the maintenance bills in order to avoid further interruption of the water supply to community residents.
In spite of the financial troubles of the corporation, many families were still enjoying the beauty of Lake Truesdale. Scot Evans shared a story from a relative of Rev. Czech, a charter member of the TLPOA, who lived in Scot and Holly’s home on Hoyt St. “During WWII, the Balint children spent the summers up on the lake. Because of gasoline rationing, my grandfather was not able to drive his car up to join them. On Fridays, he would take a Greyhound bus to Route 35 and walk several miles with his suitcase and briefcase to the beach across the lake from their house. Once at the beach he would yell “Come get me” across the lake and his sons would row over and pick him up.”
In a letter dated October 27, 1941, the Board of Governors of the Truesdale Lake Club listed the accomplishments made by the collection of club dues:
- Purchase and spreading of copper sulphate in the lake to control weeds;
- Repairs and painting of float and placing float in position in the lake. Also returning of float to “dry dock” for the winter;
- Purchase of new “life line” from boathouse to float;
- Purchase of new diving board;
- Removal of weeds from the beach twice;
- Purchase and spreading of sand on the beach;
- Patching of bad spots on the road;
- Sponsored highly successful dance at Club House;
- Lowered lake in October to make beach work possible by lakefront property owners.
The property owners of Truesdale Lake decided that they needed to take control of their neglected community assets and the Truesdale Lake Property Owners Association (TLPOA) was incorporated on July 27, 1944. All sixty-four residents were solicited and all but two joined. The association was organized as a membership corporation to collect dues for the shared maintenance of community property, roads and recreation facilities and to keep the lake free of weeds and aquatic vegetation. The secondary purpose was to represent the interests of the homeowners before the local governing bodies. The new Association paid just over $5,500 to the Trustees of the now defunct Truesdale Lake Corporation for the water system and roads. The members also got title to the 15,000 gallon water reservoir and the pump house and bought up some empty lots as right-of-ways for the association.
According to a letter dated July 19, 1946, the club house, boat house, beaches, tennis court, garage and the last 200 acres of undeveloped lots were purchased from the Trustees by Lake Truesdale Properties, Inc., “an operator who specializes in resort type of developments. It is the expressed intention of the new owner, a Mr. Benjamin Dworkin, to develop another summer colony on the Lake.” A few properties were sold off to individual homeowners.
Unfortunately, rights to the beach and club house were not included in Truesdale Colony property owners’ deeds. They were simply an inducement by the Truesdale Lake Corporation to buy a lot at Truesdale Lake. The property owners, through the Truesdale Lake Club, tried to raise enough money to buy the club house and beach back, first from the Trustees and then from Lake Truesdale Properties Inc., but could not agree on the price. The club house and beach were eventually purchased by a private homeowner in the late 1940s and blocked off. The loss of these amenities was obviously of great concern to the TLPOA, and a compromise was sought throughout the late 1940s. Finally, in early 1950, the TLPOA was able to purchase the two beach lots and parking area from the homeowner at a cost of $1,600.
Lake Truesdale Properties Inc. purchased acreage on the southeast side of the lake including Truesdale Lake Drive, Salem Lane, some properties on Boway, several on Main Street plus all on Lower Salem Road and Stewart Road. They also purchased the lake bottom itself, and paid taxes on it, thereby “owning” the lake, subject to the rights of others. This meant they could not keep anyone off the lake who, in their own property deed, had the right to use it. The lots were originally surveyed for sale in 1951 as “Truesdale Lakeshore Estates” and later in 1953 as “Truesdale Lake Estates.” Prior to the 1953 survey, the beach/recreation area on Truesdale Lake Drive was moved from a steep hill a few lots to the north, to its current relatively flat site with room for parking.
All children in the area attended the beautiful kindergarten through eighth grade school on Bouton Road which had been completed in 1940. The general increase in building activity after WWII was very evident around Truesdale Lake. Many summer and weekend cottages built in the 1920s and 30s were turned into year-round homes. An article in the June 21, 1953 New York Times reported that at the south end of the lake, “Lake Truesdale Properties has made arrangements with manufacturers of pre-fabricated and pre-cut modular homes to provide a complete home planning, financing and building service for purchasers of sites.” The June 19, 1953 Herald Statesman reported that Lewisboro “has a population of 2,352, according to the 1950 census, a growth of 22 per cent over 1940.”
As more and more houses were built in the Truesdale Estates subdivision, social life on the lake flourished. Neighbors exchanged a “moose head” to keep track of who would hold the next house party. Sailfish races in the 1950s and Sunfish races starting in 1960, were a beautiful weekend sight. Truesdale Lake’s Sunfish Fleet #27 is one of the oldest sunfish fleets in the country and continues to sail on Sunday afternoons in the summertime.
The Truesdale Lake Club became the Truesdale Lake Beach Club and continued to run social events for the TLPOA and maintain the beach. Weed control of the lake was turned over to the TLPOA in 1952 by the Beach Club. Fishing and swimming to the floating docks were popular pastimes. Baseball games on the school field involved many Truesdale families. Swimming lessons were given by the lifeguard before her regular duties. A new 12’x12’ float was purchased for the TLPOA beach in 1951.
The minutes of the June 28, 1952 TLPOA meeting include a discussion of motor boats on the lake. “Heretofore there has existed a Gentleman’s agreement, prohibiting their use.” A motion was made “that it is the feeling, accumulated over a number of years, of the Community and members of the Property Owners’ Association that motor boats are not to be used on the lake.” The TLPOA tried to see if the town would enforce the rule but was told this could not be done. The TLPOA was pleased to learn that the new property owners at the other end of the lake (Lake Truesdale Properties Inc.) included clauses in their sales contracts which prohibited the use of power boats on the lake.
In March of 1954, the manager for Lake Truesdale Properties Inc. broached the idea of uniting the two associations to form a completely new association. After considering his proposal, the TLPOA (which was limited to those homes on the water system) decided not to pursue the idea. They asked instead that a committee be appointed to cooperate between the two associations and deal with problems of joint interest.
On May 23, 1955 the Truesdale Corporation was formed. This corporation was owned by the TLPOA, and was responsible for the care and management of the association water system. The fall of 1955 brought a huge and unprecedented flood, which damaged the dam and the road crossing the dam. 192 square yards of fill were brought in to replace lost soil. The main pump to the water supply system was also destroyed and replaced.
Beginning in 1956 and continuing for the next six years, the removal of coarse (non-game) fish from Truesdale Lake was requested of the N.Y. State Game Protector and the State Conservation Department by the TLPOA. The Department “seined” the lake and sorted the fish. In this way, the desirable fish (largemouth bass) would have an ample food supply and flourish. Also, at this time, some golden shiners obtained from surplus in another lake were introduced into Truesdale Lake.
The Truesdale Estates Association (TEA) was initially formed when the Truesdale Lake Corporation was liquidated and the community properties on the west side of the lake were purchased by Lake Truesdale Properties Inc. The O’Ryan Beach across from the old garage of the colony is now a TEA boat launch. The garage and tennis court, club house and boat house were sold to private homeowners. The TEA officially took ownership of the lake bed and property formerly belonging to Lake Truesdale Properties Inc. on June 28, 1957. Membership in TEA is evidenced by deeded lake rights and living on property in the original mapped subdivisions.
The weeds in the lake were so numerous in 1957 that boating, swimming and fishing were nearly impossible. A power-driven weed cutter was purchased and the cut weeds were loaded on a truck and removed. Weed and algae control had been an on-going issue for Truesdale Lake (and surrounding lakes) for many years. As early as 1941, copper sulfate was applied to the surface of the ice on the lake just before spring thaw to control weeds (it was believed at the time) and algae. In the 1950s, a sodium compound was applied by land-based sprayers to control weeds. The 1951 TLPOA Annual Report pointed out that lakefront owners should be“keeping the water in front of their property free of weeds and those members not living on the lake organize a few trips to the islands and remove the weeds collected there.”
A professional consultant was engaged in 1958 and a permit was issued for our first truly successful weed treatment. Copper sulfate continued to keep the algae under control. One half the area of the lake was treated with dry chemical applied by boat in 1960. The entire lake was again treated in 1963 and 1965 with dry chemical applied by helicopter. These operations were all overseen by an aquatic biologist from Cornell.
Throughout the 1960s, life on the lake continued as before. Parties and swimming on the beach, boating and fishing. In 1963, work was done at the TLPOA beach to build a retaining wall at the back of the beach at a level with the road to provide 10 to 12 parking spaces. The sandy beach was also expanded back to the retaining wall. For several years, the TLPOA considered using association property to build a tennis court, however, when news of a new 60-acre town park with a pool and tennis courts was publicized in 1967, the idea was abandoned.
On Sunday evenings in the 1970s and ‘80s, family volleyball games were held on the TLPOA beach. Sunfish regattas were held prior to the games in the afternoon. 1980 brought a TLPOA newsletter called “Notes & Quotes,” which delivered all of the news around the lake every month. To celebrate the town’s 250thanniversary in 1981, a Truesdale “Roots” party was held with music from the 30s, old pictures of the lake and of course, a moose head! More families were moving into the lake area and the number of boats on the lake increased greatly. Boat stickers were introduced in 1986 to ensure proper registration of all boats on the right-of-ways.
A new area called “Lakeview Close” was built on the east side of the lake in the early ‘80s with a siltation pond above the inlet to protect the lake. The water system went from volunteer monitoring to professional monitoring in 1987. Allied Biological was hired to monitor the lake starting in 1975, and in 1989, a Lake Management Committee was formed with members from TLPOA, TEA, Lakeshore Close and Lakeshore Dr. unaffiliated homeowners represented.
The original mission of the Lake Management Committee was 1.) Keep nutrients out of the lake and 2.) Reduce the amount of sediment on the lake bottom. It was estimated in 1990 that the lake had lost six inches of depth during the last 30 years. The lake is 11’ deep at its deepest points along the original stream bed up to the dam.
Memories made on and around the lake each day add to this rich history for all those who are lucky enough to call Truesdale Lake home.
Many thanks to Nick Fiegoli, President of the TLPOA, for sharing the historical documents of the association with me and Rob Cummings for maintaining the wealth of information on the Truesdale Lake website. I am grateful to Maureen Koehl, our wonderful town historian and my daughter, Emily, for their assistance with editing. I would also like to thank my husband, George, for his many years serving as TLPOA Treasurer and for his help sorting and organizing all of the historical documents.
~ Priscilla Luckow, January 2021