What is New Rochelle’s Historic District and when did it originate? What is now known as New Rochelle’s Historic District and embodies Rochelle Park and Rochelle Heights, was once farmland and orchards until the 1870’s. The Manhattan Life Insurance Company bought the land in 1881 (through foreclosure proceedings), and while thought quite adventuresome, the owners decided to transform the somewhat rugged land to a beautiful residential neighborhood, unlike any other in New Rochelle!
An English Architect, E.A. Sargent designed the stone pillars leading into the now Rochelle Park area, and 115 building lots were laid out and nearly one third of the land was set aside for streets, sidewalks and pathways of grass. Originally as you entered into the community, there was a 54 foot wide driveway with an 8 foot blue stone sidewalk, and a 15 foot strip of grass planted with trees. All streets led to the Great Lawn with the exception of the Court and The Serpentine which was an intrinsic part of the design, and noted to be of great value within the park with its curved thoroughfare.
The Great Lawn was created for outdoor gatherings, and to also afford a grand vista of the surrounding area. It is interesting to note that in a House and Garden article (May 1904 article by Samuel Swift), he alludes to the “green breathing spot” and “the nearness of an ordinary town is quite forgotten.” (Even in 1904, people were beginning to appreciate the importance of green living. It was felt that The Serpentine offered imagination, elegance and though there could have easily been straight roads built throughout, The Serpentine was a reflection of the artistry of the landscape architect. The outcropping of rock was left to retain some rusticity, and 50 lots were initially sold for $2000 each so it would seem that the insurance company did realize a profit at the end of the day, once again confirming that real estate is the best long term investment.
As a way of protecting their investment, it was mandated that the houses built facing the Boulevard would cost no less than $3000 and no more than $5000. However, homes on other streets cost much more with stables, etc. After some 25 families bought and built in the community, the Rochelle Park Association was formed to take away the management aspects of the insurance company, and henceforth the Association held annual meetings, with each homeowner carrying one vote, and the insurance company having 30. The revenue of the Association was about $2500 a year with each lot owner contributing $25, and this tax paid for the roads to be mended, the lawns to be maintained, but there was great discussion at the time that the homeowners were taxed doubly by the city and the Association. A solution was reached when the city, in realizing the park maintained about 2 miles of city roads within the park, stated in 1903 that they would light the park road free of charge!
The Association is still in existence, but the now $50 yearly fee is not mandatory, and all are welcome to the meetings. This suggested contribution goes towards the upkeep of the Great Lawn, etc. It should also be noted that while the community was open to all when it was first built, it was closed once or twice a year in order for them to claim Rochelle Park as a private community. The homeowners felt that if in paying that secondary tax, it afforded their privacy then it was well spent money to live in an area they cherished.
Rochelle Park and Rochelle Heights was named as New Rochelle’s first local Historic area in 1986 for the purpose of preserving the architectural details of the stately mansions.
This basically means that if any home-owners wishes to change windows, siding, shingles, roofs – any exterior changes or even landscaping then they must complete an application to the New Rochelle Historical and Landmarks Review Board (HLRB).
The Historic District covers The Circle next to the I’95 and goes from North Avenue to Potter Avenue to Fifth Avenue.
Homes range in all prices and over the years some of those majestic mansion owners have sold some land, and so you will find the mid century modern home (split level) home there too! We are also honored to have some famous people living and or who lived in our Historic District including Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.