The name Teatown dates back to 1776 when tea was scarce due to British taxation. A man by the name of John Arthur moved to the northern Westchester area hoarding a chest full of tea with thoughts of selling it at huge profit. A group of women called Daughters of Eve found out about the tea and demanded Mr. Arthur sell the tea at a reasonable fee. After refusing, the women laid siege to the farmhouse. Mr. Arthur finally agreed to sell the tea at a fair price in exchange for a peaceful withdrawal. Hence, the area became known as “Teatown.”
The Beginnings of a Preserve
Teatown Lake Reservation was born from the generosity of one family and has continued to grow with the support of numerous additional benefactors who all share a common goal: to preserve the beauty and share the educational value of their environment.
Teatown’s property was owned by Arthur Vernay, who built “The Croft” south of Spring Valley Road. That estate subsequently passed to Dan Hanna; in 1917, he constructed the stable, which now serves as Teatown’s Nature Center and executive offices, and the adjoining Carriage House, both on the slope north of Spring Valley Road.
In 1923, Gerard Swope, Sr., Chairman of General Electric, purchased “The Croft” and all its surrounding land. He and his family enjoyed riding horses, so they stabled the animals in the English tudor outbuildings and built a network of horse trails. A few years later, he dammed Bailey Brook, which flooded a low-lying meadow, creating the 42-acre Teatown Lake.
The Swope’s Gift
After enjoying the land almost daily for many years, Mr. Swope died in 1957, leaving the property to his children. In 1963, the heirs of Gerard Swope gave the Brooklyn Botanic Garden 194 acres to provide an outreach station in Ossining. In exchange for the donation, the Swope’s directed the Botanic Garden to conserve the open space while educating the public about the resources such land could provide. Teatown began functioning with only a small staff and a few volunteers, offering nature classes and activities for both children and adults. In 1971, Teatown became formally incorporated as a separate legal entity, and 21 community members made up a board of directors. As Teatown continued to grow with the help of members and local donors, the partnership with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden became less necessary, and was eventually amicably dissolved.
As Teatown continued to grow, the community increasingly regarded Teatown Lake Reservation as an education center and a community resource, hosting a variety of classes, seminars and special events. At that time, the strong sense of community apparent in today’s members was instilled, as volunteers became involved with a wide range of activities.
Thirty years after the Swope’s first envisioned Teatown, the Reservation has grown to 1,000 acres. While environmental education and preservation of the preserve and hiking trials are still at the core of Teatown’s mission, in recent years, Teatown has also taken on a regional leadership position, providing the region with expert knowledge in land protection and conservation.