2012-07-11 / Perspectives

Julia Butterfield and The Role of History

Marjorie Seitz


The Butterfield property, and the decrepit hospital. 
Chris Layton The Butterfield property, and the decrepit hospital. Chris Layton I subscribe to my hometown newspaper, the PCN&R, here in Florida and always look forward to each issue, until recent years. Now I read with distress, of rude confrontations during village meetings, legal wrangling between the Village and the Volunteer Fire Company, disputes between the Village Boards (the Planning and Zoning and Historic Review Boards), and what’s with “bollard lights” and “charrettes?” What has happened to old-fashioned Town Hall meetings?

The Butterfield Property reports cause me great concern when I read descriptions and see photos of the hospital’s demise, since I was active in its glory days, as well as volunteer work in Cold Spring.

Sometimes it takes a child to see the truth when allknowing adults fail to understand history and respect for the beginning of the Village. In the May 30 issue of the newspaper there was a special article titled “Local boys Work to Restore Butterfield Crypt,” which is about an 11-year-old boy who points out a great benefactor of our Village, Julia Butterfield, who endowed the Village with a beautiful hospital and library. She lived in an estate above Craigside Drive (named for the estate, whose name was actually “Cragside”) which after her death became the Fathers of Mercy property.

The home burned to the ground in the late 1970s and the property and remaining buildings are now part of Haldane School. Her grave and that of her family, known as the James Crypt, or “the Temple,” is now neglected and in serious need of repair. A young lad, Wilson Thorpe, with the help of a friend, Jared Wigdor, has been inspired by the history of this great lady to raise funds for the restoration of her gravesite. In the article he is quoted as saying that he felt very sad as “she was so nice and did all those great things for our town.”

There is a most significant lesson here. Our Village has seemingly forgotten its beginning with a foundry site (now being made into an historic park by an organization), an historic Hudson River town and a gracious lady who loved the Village and gave vast sums of money to bequeath a fine hospital and library. I was privileged to have the opportunity to read a copy of Julia’s bequest in her will and the conditions of the bequest as concerns the Village. Her generosity was a major factor in making our Village unique.

Circumstances sadly allowed the hospital to become a dilapidated eyesore, but the library is still a beautiful structure.

I can’t help but be distressed about the changes in the Village and the hospital situation, but in Wilson Thorpe’s sensitive, caring concern, pointing out forgotten respect and owed admiration for our own great lady, lies a possible reason for the Butterfield property dilemma.

Nowhere in the many articles and letters in this regard is there any mention of Julia Butterfield. There are only grandiose plans for government and village buildings, senior housing, retail business, market-rate projects, as space for the Post Office and maybe even the Fire Company. This conjures the vision of a massive block of a crowd of buildings and most of us could expect the usual architectural disaster. For reference, look at photos of the past and present Butterfield Hospital, the Haldane former school and its present appearance, the banks, and the modern “Mc- Mansions” appearing amidst our quaint village. When I served on the Historic District Review Board, senior housing was governmentmandated. The first building plans received were so unattractive and lacking in architectural design that I commented, “My dad (a farmer and home builder), would call these buildings chicken coops.” We held out for better plans, but finances were strictly limited. The senior complex on Chestnut Street was the best we could do under the law.

I perceive the immensity of the Butterfield project to be a fortress-like cluster of monolithic size and without one redeeming feature. Nowhere in the plans was mention of honoring Julia Butterfield, even by preserving a part of the hospital as a memorial. Perhaps if some attention had been paid to a more sensitive and respectful plan for the property, instead of financial opportunity and a crowd of proposals, it would have been seen as a necessary change, which it will likely become anyway.

Hats off to Wilson Thorpe for his inspiration and understanding of our historic village, when the movers and shakers fail to respect and honor a great lady and her love of Cold Spring.

There’s a lesson here.

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