What Was There?

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.

Ray Hill Camp Pine Lodge, 1920

Pine Lodge private residence, 2011

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.

The Dix Building at 116 West 14th St.

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.

Rachel Dix Recreation Hall, 1920

Knights of Columbus/Recreation Hall, 2011

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.

Trails to bungalos hidden in hills 1920

Miranda standing on the Ray Hill Camp stairs, 2011

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:

What Was There

It’s a cool app that allows you to upload old photos and overlay them onto existing Google Street View maps.


About J

I am a happily married Father of three living in Westchester County New York.
This entry was posted in History, learning, Local, memories, Then and Now and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to What Was There?

  1. coffeeisgod says:

    Amazing site. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Steve says:

    Thanks, I love what you’re doing. I spent a couple of nights camped out at Ray Hill Camp on an overnight with my camp group. I am guessing that it was sometime in the late fifties.
    Steven Bloomfield,
    Long Island, N.Y.

  3. Steve says:

    Unfortunately not. The day camp that I was going to at the time was at The Pleasantville Cottage School grounds in Pleasantville, N.Y. We set out every weekday morning in camp buses from the Bronx. The camp was run by the Jewish Philanthropies. I remember we were trying to cook chicken for supper and all the wood was wet. We couldn’t get the fire going well enough, so the chicken ended up like rubber bands. My older brother also had some camping overnights at Ray Hill Camp. He was there when they were finishing the construction of the Saw Mill River Parkway, which opened in 1955.

  4. Lugene says:

    Hi kiscodad,
    I’ve enjoyed reading your post about Mr. Dix. I’ve also found some old pics and info about him having to do with his life in Manhattan that I’m going to be writing about in my blog, but I have some more research to do before I post about him. (That, and I have to learn how to make my wordpress software do what I want it to with greater confidence.) In the meantime, please check out my blog, exploringoldnewyork.com, only a couple weeks old. It’s got the same sort of historical perspective as yours, but with a New York City focus.

  5. randi sperber says:

    very cool to read this since i just found out that two of my aunts went to this camp

  6. Linda Miller- Maffia says:

    I live and own the property where Ray Hill Camp was. I find your info very interesting! I have always wondered what the founations are that are on my property up in the woods. I have lived here since 1985 and I thought the foundation was from one of the bungalows. However, seeing a very old Mt Kisco postcard collection from a friend I now believe the foundation was from the main house that Henry Dix lived in that was torn down.

  7. Susan says:

    Thank you for you research. If I can find them I have some pictures from the mid fifties at Ray Hill at an off season family camp.

  8. kiscodad says:

    Thanks Susan, I’d love to see them. I found a few more pictures today.

  9. Connie Harkness says:

    I think we lived on the old grounds of Ray Hill Camp back in the late 60’s – early 70’s on High Ridge Road. From what we were told, our house had been a gardener’s cottage, the neighbor’s house was a chauffeur’s cottage. The Knights of Columbus mansion was on the other side of the hill and in between was an old open air theater, a camp cabin, and a guest house that we used to poke around in and play in. The theater structure still had the push button light switches with a stage and benches around an open area. You could vaguely make out the old paint colors. The bunk house was locked and we didn’t want to get in trouble by breaking into it but spent quite a bit of time exploring the whole area. We moved out in 1971 and so don’t really know what happened to the structures after that.

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