From Brooklyn to Croton-on-Hudson
1906 – 1954
The year is 1900. In March of that year, the society, De Danske Vaabenbrødre - originally an organization founded in Denmark in 1859, consisting of veterans from the Three-Year War of 1848-50 - celebrated its 25th anniversary. One of the members, Fritz Schumann, proposed the establishment of an institution for Danes in the New York area, be it a meeting hall, a restaurant, bowling alley or - a home for the aged. No one took up the idea at the time, but three years later, judge Georg Rander of Weehawken, decided to revive the project. Twelve Danish organizations, among them the “Society of March 14, 1875” (De Danske Vaabenbrødre), Danish Athletic Club, Danish American Women’s Association, Aid Society “Denmark,” Society “Dagmar” and Society “Stella” formed an organization called “The Benevolent Society Denmark,” which started raising funds for the Danish Home for the Aged. The purpose of the home was “rendering aid to and caring for those persons resident in the State of New York who were born in the Kingdom of Denmark or those born within the United States to Danish parents.” The charter was amended several times; one version read, “caring for destitute Danes or those born of Danish parents.”
In 1904, the house on 1055-41st Street in Brooklyn was purchased. The next two years more funds were raised, and finally, in December 1906, The Danish Home for the Aged was ready to open. Many prominent Danes were present at the opening celebration, among them Jacob Riis, by then a renowned author and photographer, born in Ribe, Denmark, whose book, How the Other Half Lives, had captured the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt and opened America’s eyes to the appalling living conditions of immigrants in New York’s Lower East Side and other slums. Also, many of the people whose generous contributions had made the Danish Home for the Aged a reality were in attendance. Georg Rander became the first president of the Home.
As early as in 1916, there was a need to expand the Home. In 1923 a second, adjacent building was bought, primarily with funds donated by the “Frederik Lodge,” and in 1928 a third building, next to the other two, was added to The Danish Home for the Aged, which flourished in Brooklyn for the next 26 years.
In 1948, the Board of Directors realized the need to move out of the three Brooklyn town houses. They started a building fund and began exploring various options, among them building a new facility. An architect completed drawings for the “new Danish Home,” a modern two-story building. However, no action was taken at the time.
In 1953, the New York City Fire Department ordered the Danish Home to immediately vacate buildings #2 and #3, because they were in violation of the fire code, and they required installation of fire retardants in building #1. The 16 residents of buildings #2 and #3 were temporarily moved to the Odd Fellows Home in Hollis, Queens. There was an urgent need to find an alternate location for the Danish Home. A newspaper ad listing an estate in Westchester County caught the Board of Directors’ attention, and shortly after a visit to the site in the Town of Cortlandt, the 50-acre property changed hands.
The present-day Danish Home was originally part of the vast holdings of the Purdy family. Francis Purdy was born in Yorkshire, England. He came to this country in 1632 and acquired land in Fairfield, Connecticut and in Westchester County. He died in 1653. The Purdy family scattered far and wide. Many descendants still live in Westchester County, one branch moved to Long Island, and one “Loyalist” branch of the family moved to Canada after the War of Independence. In the 1920s, the Danish Home property was owned by Frederick Purdy. In the period 1930-31, Jacob Merrill Kaplan (1891-1987) purchased a large parcel, including “The Old Purdy House” on Quaker Ridge Road.
J. M. Kaplan was a successful New York businessman. He is credited with saving the grape juice industry by creating the National Grape Cooperative Association, Inc. In 1956 he sold the Welch Grape Juice Company – where he held a controlling interest - to the Association. In 1945 Mr. Kaplan established the J. M. Kaplan Fund, which was a major donor to the New School in Manhattan (where Mr. Kaplan served as board chairman for twenty years), Carnegie Hall (which he helped save), and numerous environmental and humanitarian causes. He was also a supporter of the progressive Hessian Hill School in the Mt. Airy section of Croton, established in 1927 by Elizabeth Moos.
In 1934, the Kaplan family started building a classical farm on the property, while still residing in “The Old Purdy House.” The architect, Alfred Gray, designed the buildings in the style of the chateaus of Normandy, France. As it turned out, the building also resembles a traditional Danish farm with four attached buildings surrounding a central courtyard and an arched entrance. From 1934-1938 the buildings were solely used for agricultural purposes, housing horses, cows, sheep, pigs and chickens. The present Room 6 was a separate building used as a manure shed. Farm machinery was stored in the east wing, where three impressive arches formed the entrances.
In 1938 the family converted the building into a residential home. The cow shed became the dining room and the horse barn the living room, elegantly finished with a cathedral ceiling, parquet floors and oak-panels. The manure shed was converted into a studio for Mrs. Kaplan, who was an artist. The fountain in the cobblestone courtyard was imported from France, some of the stones came from Belgium, and some interior materials were from Germany. A caretaker’s apartment had been established earlier on the second floor, above the entrance.
The gardener’s cottage used to have a large attached green house, the foundation of which is still visible. There was a large vegetable garden next to the cottage, and an orchard was established in the meadow sloping down to the barn.
The Kaplan family split up the property and sold it in 1942. The parcel, which was to become The Danish Home, changed ownership several times, until, in 1948, the Ramble Hill Resort Club, owned by Mr. Gualtorio Ullman, took over the approx. 50-acre property.
One of the Kaplan family’s legacies in Croton-on-Hudson is the Kaplan’s Pond on the idyllic Lounsbury Road, a popular ice skating spot in winter.
Mr. Ullman ran the establishment for six years as an exclusive holiday retreat and reception hall with horse riding, a tennis court and a swimming pool on the grounds. Some of the stables and barns were converted into bedrooms to house the guests. Reportedly, the resort also played host to Jewish refugees in the late 1940s. However, the place turned out to be unprofitable, and Mr. Ullman sold it to the Danish Home for $180,000.