PO Box 178, Bedford, NY
     

 

Spotlight on Bedford's Wood Family

 

by Roger Savitt

Relying on nothing more than a bucket brigade, family members were quickly outmatched by the fire that erupted in their home during the predawn hours of April 27, 1869. Frantically, they then began pulling out as much furniture as they could. Soon, even this desperate effort was being abandoned, when a grandfather's clock within the spreading canopy of smoke and flame was heard chiming the hour - no doubt its last.

Twink & Jim Wood"Well, if thee wanted to be rescued, thou has spoken up just in time," said Jim Wood, imagining what his Quaker ancestors might have said before trying to save the clock. They succeeded, and 132 years into its second lease on life, the clock tolls the hours in a gray stone house with a mansard roof built to replace the one that burned - and now home to Jim and Twink Wood.

Collectively, their forebears have witnessed most of Bedford's history. In 1809, Thomas Jefferson was just departing the White House when Jim Wood's great-great grandfather brought some 225 acres on a magnificent hill just west of the Saw Mill River, on present-day Wood and Croton Lakes Roads. While we may think wistfully about the price he paid - $34.50 an acre - this was considered fairly expensive real estate for the day. Yes, some traditions in Bedford go way, way back.

Like many new arrivals, the Wood family - which has already been in Westchester since 1730 and America since 1635 - made farming their principal livelihood. They also set up a blacksmith shop on the property. As the family grew and prospered, they built new houses not far from the original homestead, called Braewold Farm. This eclectic mix included an Italian villa in 1855 and a Gothic Revival stone cottage in 1846. For good reason, the cottage design is suggestive of "Lyndhust" in Tarrytown - A.J. Davis was the architect for both. Later came a large stone, brick and wood Victorian and another home constructed in the Tudor style. Locals began referring to this busy Bedford hilltop as the "Woodpile."

For their part, the Woods helped do some naming as well. With the arrival of the railroad in the 1840's, several of the Woods led an ad hoc effort to formally name the local train station, which had been dubbed New Castle Depot. The new name - borrowed from a neighboring hillside - was also pinned to a local post office that opened nearby in 1850, and then acquired by the village that grew up around both of them: Mount Kisco.

Through the 19th century and the 20th, the Wood family made its presence felt in many ways, locally and nationally. For example, James Wood 2nd (Bedford generation No. 3) was a town supervisor, local historian, and designer of the Bedford town seal. In 1886, he ran for Congress, claiming, with almost haunting foresight, that the top task for Washington should be about campaign finance reform. (He refused campaign donations and lost the election.) An attorney, Hollingsworth Wood (generation No. 4) was a founder and president of the National Urban League.

Jim Wood can also look back over the decades of accomplishments. After nearly 30 years with the Bank of New York, he worked for an investment firm, and found time for other activities as well; the Bedford Farmers Club, the Interfaith Food Pantry, the boards of trustees for Haverford College and Bryn Mawr College, and various conservation and environmental Causes.

With a gracious, comfortable charm, Mr. Wood can tell you about the old days. "Being a boy on a farm was great. With orchards, sheep, cattle and more, this is where the action was." While no doubt doing his share of farming, he took riding lessons at a nearby stable that now belongs to Laura Thorn.

As it turned out, Mr. Wood's riding career was short-lived. He rues a vivid memory. "I rode a donkey, who one day managed to separate me from him when he took me under the low roof of a shed." He'll also tell you about the old Private Lanes Association signs he used to see when he was growing up. At the time, some of the trails crossed Braewood Farm, which was more than 300 acres. (It's now about 50.) When the Saw Mill Parkway was built in the 1950's, the riding lanes were severed from the heart of the Bedford trails network and fell into disuse.

This long decline was reversed only last year when BRLA began restoring some of the old paths and creating some new ones. Mr. Wood, for one, appreciates the public interest in open land that BRLA represents. "For us, the land has been a big part of our heritage. It is integral to Bedford's character and we need to protect it," he said. "After all, once land is developed, it doesn't become undeveloped. When it's gone, it's gone."

The house where Jim and Twink Wood live - now listed in the National Register of Historic Places - is the last house in the "Woodpile" to be owned by a Wood. And since the Woods' two children live far away, the long story of this family's association with Bedford could be in its final chapter. But if that proves true, it won't close the book on this picturesque corner of town. The Woods have taken steps to protect a region rich in history and beauty. Recently, they provided 31 acres for a conservation easement that will be managed by the Westchester Land Trust. This land includes "schoolhouse meadow," once the site of a one-room schoolhouse and still one of the premiere vistas in Westchester County.

"Some people think of this area as a stepchild of Bedford," said Mr. Wood. "But that's okay. We know it's the best place in town."

 

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