A LITTLE OF RYE HISTORY: The Parsons Family Part Two

W.H. Parsons, born in 1831, was eight years old when his father, E.L.Parsons, drowned in a shipwreck off the coast of England. His father’s death occurred just a short time after completion of Lounsberry (located next to the Jay property) as the family’s country residence.

Published November 1, 2012 3:16 PM
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W.H. Parsons, born in 1831, was eight years old when his father, E.L.Parsons, drowned in a shipwreck off the coast of England. His father’s death occurred just a short time after completion of Lounsberry (located next to the Jay property) as the family’s country residence.

 

By Paul Hicks

 

Part I of this article, which appeared in the October 5 issue, described many of the important contributions made by members of the Parsons and related families for the benefit of the Rye community. It focused especially on those of the John E. (J.E.) branch the Parsons family. Part II highlights the philanthropy and public service of the William H. (W.H.) Parsons branch.

 

W.H. Parsons, born in 1831, was eight years old when his father, E.L.Parsons, drowned in a shipwreck off the coast of England. His father’s death occurred just a short time after completion of Lounsberry (located next to the Jay property) as the family’s country residence.

 

Like his older brother (J.E.), W.H. Parsons developed a strong work ethic and civic spirit under the influence of his maternal grandfather, Ebenezer Clark. The Clark estate, called “Brookside,” was inherited by W.H. Parsons after the death of his mother in 1858 and ultimately became the site of Rye High School in 1931.

 

Instead of following his brother into the practice of law, W.H. Parsons became a corporate executive and leader of the U.S. paper manufacturing industry in the late nineteenth century. Although his business activities were mainly in New York City, he took an active interest in the Rye community and was one of the founders of the Rye National Bank.

 

Following in the footsteps of Ebenezer Clark, W.H. Parsons was, as the New York Times obituary reported, “one of the foremost laymen of the Presbyterian Church in [Westchester] County.” He headed the Rye Village Improvement Association, which led to the incorporation of the Village of Rye in 1904.

 

At the time of his death in 1905, W.H. Parsons had served only part of his term as the first President of the Board of Trustees of the Village of Rye. In recognition of all he had done for Rye, the street that separated his home from the Presbyterian Church was named Parsons Street.

 

As described in Part I, W.H. and J.E. Parsons joined with their cousin, John H. Whittemore, in purchasing, renovating and donating the Square House to the Village of Rye in 1903 for use as a Village Hall in memory of their grandfather, Ebenezer Clark.

 

Then in 1906 and 1907, W.H.’s widow, Sara Ely Parsons, donated the land that became the Village Green as well as the sites for both the Rye Free Reading Room and the Locust Avenue Firehouse. With the addition of the City Hall in 1964, a gift of John Motley Morehead, our civic center was complete.

 

Marcelis C. (M.C.) Parsons was appointed to serve out the unexpired term of his father as President of the Rye Board of Trustees. Like his father, he was very civic minded, serving as President and director of Rye National Bank, owner of the Rye Chronicle from 1919 to his death in 1941 and first President of the Manursing Island Club when it opened in 1912.

 

He and his family had lived since 1905 in a 25-room residence on land called “Furzen Hill,” stretching between the Post Road and what is now Theodore Fremd Avenue. Lying vacant after his death, that residence, burned down in 1942 under mysterious circumstances. Three years later, the City of Rye acquired the property and in the late 1950s turned it into the Rye Nature Center.

 

We are environmentally richer because of the additions of prized land to Marshlands and the Rye Nature Center. Our architectural and historical heritage is strengthened by having Lounsberry among the treasures of the Post Road Historic District. Perhaps most important, because they are most visible, are the Square House and the other land gifts that form the civic heart of downtown Rye. All these gifts by the Parsons family have been of incalculable benefit to the community.

 

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