Many prominent people have called Croton home – some in show business, industry and retail sales. We feature just a few of them, along with their beautiful homes, who have lived or still live in our town. Above is a photo of Radnor Avenue in the wintertime.
This lovely French Mediterranean home is located on Albany Post Road below road level a bit south of the nursing home. The house was built of poured concrete which was rather unusual before the turn of the twentieth century and had a Spanish tile roof. It was built for William Starbuck who was involved, along with Westinghouse, in the invention of air brakes for the New York Central Railroad. The estate had several out buildings including guest quarters and a barn the latter of which housed horses and pigs. The property sat on some 17 acres, plenty of room for Starbuck to raise his pedigree horses and dogs. He made and sold sausage to ships harbored on the Hudson from the many pigs he raised.
Mr. Starbuck was a great friend of President William Howard Taft who came to Croton frequently to visit him. The guest house. was especially fitted to accommodate Taft’s rather robust size with an oversized tub and shower.
The home had five ornate fireplaces, a marble entry and a dumbwaiter which went from the first floor to the attic. Another unique feature on the estate was the yellow brick driveway which descended downward past the guest house to the main house with its magnificent Hudson River views. The house was next occupied by Dr. Howard T. Stewart a prominent Fifth Avenue dentist. It was Dr. Stewart who sold the house in the early 1940’s to Bettie Esther Parham, a manufacturer and distributor of beauty products and wigs for Black women and hair products for Black men.
She is from a well-to-do Black family of Henderson, North Carolina. She and her entire family were college graduates. Bettie graduated from Shaw University in 1931 at age 19 and came north and received her Master’s Degree in Chemistry from Columbia University in 1933. She went south to New Orleans to teach at Dillard University and while there she started to develop beauty formulas for women of color with the help of a local Chemist.
She moved north again around 1939 to start a beauty care business. She never was a beautician but a manufacturer who operated beauty shops as part of her beauty product empire. She eventually became the first Black international manufacturer of beauty products and hair goods to venture into the African marketplace.
As her business grew and expanded Bettie entertained a great deal at her Croton estate and her parties often
included show people, sports figures and musicians such as Roy Campanella, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and even W.e. Handy who wrote St. Louis Blues. Bettie came to Croton in the early 1940’s and lived in her beloved Parham Place for the next 3D-some years.
WHITE GATES MANSION
This estate on West -Mount Airy Road was the residence for a number of years of Allen Funt, creator of the television show Candid Camera. The show and it’s radio equivalent, Candid Microphone, aired off and on from 1948 – 1990. Before 1947 he worked as a producer on other radio and TV shows and also as a commercial artist. Allen had studied art at Pratt Institute and also Cornell University.
The estate has a swimming pool, tennis court, stables and a building Allen used as a studio to edit and screen his films.
Funt wasn’t above using locals when filming his shows although most Crotonites were wary when he approached them so he couldn’t catch too many people off guard.
In the 1960’s he had two permanent crews based in Europe, one in England and the other wandering through Italy, Denmark, Germany and France. By that time the show was pretty much known throughout the world.
The people around town were used to seeing Allen driving through town in his convertible, gassing up at Eddie Abraham’s or watching his son, Peter, playing a Little League Baseball game.
In 1990, White Gates was sold to another celebrity, Jessye Norman, a world famous opera singer. She was born in Augusta, Georgia in 1945, and after graduation from high school won a full scholarship to Howard University in Washington, DC. She graduated in 1967 with a degree in music, and went to Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore for a graduate degree and then on to Michigan State for a Masters in music, theatre and dance.
Jessye has won acclaim as one of the most popular and highest paid opera singers in the world. As a dramatic soprano, she was noted for her Wagnerian repertoire. After traveling the world in various operatic roles for so many years, Ms. Norman now concentrates more on recitals and concerts. She has moved from exclusively opera to jazz, sacred music, and even in 1996 to the opening of the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
THE TIMKEN ESTATE
In years past, if you drove out Batten Road you would find a large tract of land on the left that was enclosed by a high chain-link fence. It was to secure the estate of the Timken family, whose ancestors were the developers of roller bearings that were used in trains, elevators, aircraft engines, and eventually space vehicle landing wheels. It all started with Henry Timken, who emigrated from Germany and started a wagon-making business.
Eventually, in 1899, Henry and family located in Canton, Ohio with his new enterprise Timken Roller Bearing Company, which was later called Timken Company.
The Croton house was designed for William Timken (photo below). The house is stucco with a tile roof, which is more Spanish or California in style rather than something in the Northeast.
The Croton-on-Hudson Historical Society was formed in 1972 and is chartered by the New York State Board of Regents. The primary mission of the organization is the collection and preservation of Croton-on-Hudson historical materials and making them available to the public.
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