I love looking at old pictures of places I know well, the town where I grew up for instance. It amazes me to be able to stand on the spot where a famous landmark once stood or still stands. Those pictures of Manhattan before anything existed above say Canal St. are amazing to me.
Whenever I move to a new area I like to dig around and see what I can find about the history, I especially love old photos. One day after moving to our most recent location I saw a name on the map where our neighborhood was that said Ray Hill. sometimes that’s all you need to go on, so I set off to see what I could find. I found quite a lot.
It seems that our small neighborhood is built on the grounds of an old summer camp for Jewish women known as the Ray Hill Camp. Before that the land belonged to a New York City business owner and Russian immigrant named Henry A. Dix. Mr. Dix had a successful dressmaking business that was founded in 1895 and was located at 116 West 14th St. in New York City. He designed and manufactured maid’s uniforms (see an example of one here http://emersonmerrick.blogspot.com/2009/02/wellesley-girls.html) and also uniforms for the Red Cross as well as US Army and Navy nurses during WWI. He was very progressive for his day and employed non-union workers, but treated them extremely well. He was one of the first to institute the 5 day work week without lowering wages and also offered paid vacation time. As a result of his exceptional treatment of his employees, his company never had a strike in its history.
In 1923 at the age of 72 he retired and in a shocking move left his million dollar business to his nearly 400 employees. In a New York Times article he insisted that he was not giving away his business, but that his employees had earned it with their hard work over the years. He stayed on as Director but dramatically reduced his annual salary from $60,000.00 to $.50. That’s right, 50 cents a year.
But this was not Mr. Dix’s first charitable contribution. In 1913 his wife convinced him that he should not wait until after his death to start giving back and so he established a hospital in Millville, NJ where he also had a factory. He was so pleased with the results that in 1920 he donated his country estate in Mt. Kisco, NY to the Young Women’s Hebrew Association for use as a summer camp. Along with the buildings and land he threw in a $100,000 endowment fund and $50,000 to build a recreation hall. But wait, there’s more.
A year after donating his estate he missed it terribly. When the YWHA learned of this they offered it back to him. Not only did he decline, he offered to pay them rent in exchange for staying on what was once his own property. His stance was that should they need to use his cabin for the camp they would find it much easier to put out a tenant than a guest.
Mr. Dix’s cabin was converted into a larger home over the years and still stands at the top of Ray Hill along with one smaller cabin and the recreation hall that he paid to have built. The remains of several more cabins can be found amongst the trees. Oddly enough the rec hall is now home to the Knights of Columbus a Christian fraternal organization.
In addition to the buildings there was also a large pool and tennis and basketball courts. A few days ago I took my young daughter for a walk to see what else we could find. Take a look at the two pictures below to see how things were back then and how they look today.
I’m currently in the process of researching the Ray Hill Camp and will publish more as I find it.
While looking for old pictures I came across the following site:
It’s a cool app that allows you to upload old photos and overlay them onto existing Google Street View maps.