A Walk through History
By Paul Hicks
In his invaluable history of Rye (published in 1871), Charles W. Baird preserved important information about the community’s past while often evoking the atmosphere of those simpler times, as in this lovely description:
<“The visitor on his way to our beach may notice at the turn of the road above Milton, the little burying-ground by Blind Brook; not as differing from other country grave-yards in its aspect of seclusion and neglect, but for the quiet beauty of the scene in which it lies. Just here the outlet of the stream, whose meanderings have proceeded through the low meadowlands, becomes visible toward the south, and the waters of the Sound appear beyond the higher banks that skirt the creek. It is a spot well chosen for its suggestions of rest and hereafter.”>
Baird was describing what is now generally known as the Milton Cemetery, which is diagonally across Milton Road from the Knapp House. The land was long part of the property of Timothy Knapp, who acquired it in 1667 and built the house at the corner of Rye Beach Avenue. Both the Knapp House, which is thought to be the oldest surviving residence in Westchester County, and the Milton Cemetery are on the National Register of Historic Places.
As you walk through the burial ground toward Blind Brook, you can find headstones that date back to the 1720s. Many bear the family names of some of the earliest settlers, including Brown, Disbrow, Halsted, Haviland, and Purdy. More members of the Purdy clan are buried in a separate cemetery on the other side of Blind Brook.
To get there, cross the footbridge that was given in 1950 to the City of Rye by John M. Morehead, former village trustee and Mayor, who also donated the funds for the Rye City Hall. As Mayor Joseph Hannan noted in his year-end message to the City Council in 1950, “This bridge is not only beautiful in design, but is also very practical in that it provides easy access to one of our recreation areas for those people living north of Oakland Beach Avenue.”
At the western side of the bridge walk right to the Purdy family burying ground. The inscription on a plaque at the entrance to the ground reads: “Pre-Revolutionary place of interment of one of Rye’s early families. This tract of land was purchased by Joseph Purdy from John Budd in 1685.” According to Baird, “This is probably one of the oldest places of interment in Rye. It contains many antique memorials of past generations; but the imperfect records of their names have been worn away by time, and none prior to the present century are now legible.” Nearly 150 years later, it appears to a visitor that nothing has changed.
The two cemeteries and the bridge are all the property of Rye and deserve to be properly protected and maintained. The railings on the bridge are rusting and are badly in need of attention. A mostly dead tree at the eastern end of the bridge should be cut down. Fortunately, the Rye Landmarks Advisory Committee has asked the City to grant landmark designation to the cemetery.
In all seasons of the year, there are fascinating things to see. As you cross the footbridge over the tidal brook, low tide may bring egrets, herons, and other wading birds to feed along the banks. Red-wing blackbirds nest in the reeds, while kingfishers fly along the course as they have done for hundreds of years. Last winter, a pair of long-eared owls roosted in the trees near the Purdy cemetery. This is a very special place.