Today, New Castle's landscape is suburban, with homes and woods defining the scenery. However, for much of the town's history, the land was rural, with several farms operating.
Seeking to tell the story of the town's agrarian past, the New Castle Historical Society has a new exhibit, called New Castle’s Beginnings – Our Founding Farms. It follows farming in town from its initial European settlement during the colonial period, through the closure of the last working farm around the start of this century. A list of properties across town, including Chappaqua, Millwood and the West End, are featured.
Toni Hutin, who is in charge of exhibits for the group, said they wanted to document “the very beginnings of Chappaqua.”
At first, rural life generally geared towards subsistence farming and only somewhat more outward. Early farms in the community, she explained, farmed for "themselves and their neighbors.”
Husband Al Hutin, a fifth-generation Chappaqua resident and fellow historical society volunteer, noted that the dynamics changed with the arrival of the railroad. As a result, the location of downtown Chappaqua shifted from an area centering around today's Quaker meetinghouse (off of Route 120) to its present spot. It also meant that farmers had more trade with New York City.
New Castle farms soon became known for a variety of commercial crops and produce, notably dairy products, apple products and pickles.
Farmers in town possessed large land holdings that would be extremely expensive in today's prices and taxes. They tended to be around 100 to 150 acres, Al Hutin said, along with multiples of 40 acres.
Rural life was diverse in what it offered, too, and differed by whom was involved. The Brann farm on the West End, for instance, racked up horse show ribbons during the mid-20th century. Flowers were another commodity, with Pierson's Rose Plantation Greenhouse in Millwood being one such example. It was located near what's now the Mobile station by Route 100, and its work included a "Millwood" rose and a "Briarcliff" rose.
Even Horace Greeley, described by Toni Hutin as an "experimental farmer," is among those covered by the exhibit. Greeley once owned much of what is now downtown Chappaqua and his farm is among those described. Al Hutin explained that it ran south of Senter Street, to the railroad tracks and down what is now the library. The land, which includes today's business district, was difficult to farm, he said, because part of was swampy.
Farming declined in New Castle in the 20th century, Al Hutin explained. First, this came about when wealthy arrivals from New York City bought up their lands and consolidated them into large estates. Once the Great Depression hit, however, the estates eventually were broken down into smaller parcels, with the landscape shifting from rural to suburban (albeit, one that has preserved a rural ambiance).
The exhibit, which opened earlier this month, is at the Horace Greeley House in downtown Chappaqua, where the historical society is located. The hours for viewing are Tuesday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., although people can request appointments. There will also be an opening reception, which will be held on March 3 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.