Despite the BPC’s "most vigilant efforts to preserve the land," the commission did not always meet with success. In New York City, property owners granted leases for additional billboards and cut down trees within the proposed parkway reservation. Between North White Plains and Wakefield the railroad was relocated and new siding facilities built, which resulted in undesirable river diversions, unsightly embankments, and restrictions of the parkway area. A new factory of "considerable size" was constructed within the proposed parkway borders at Wakefield. Even in relatively undeveloped Scarsdale, piles of coal and lumber along the railroad right-of-way defaced the parkway. One of the major reasons that the BPC was unable to prevent these activities was that landowners would not believe the parkway was a certainty until it had been approved by New York authorities.(53)

Perhaps the most gratifying achievement for the BPC during its early years was the success it had working with landowners to secure property donations and favorable purchase options. Securing land by donation or at low cost was important for two reasons: it demonstrated public support for the parkway and it kept land acquisition costs to a minimum, both of which were important in convincing the NYC-BEA to approve the parkway.

In order to proceed with planned land acquisition, the BPC gathered initial data about property owners and land costs within the proposed parkway reservation. The commissioners learned that much of the parkway land was still held in large tracts. They used their contacts in the community as well as personal visits to meet with landowners and convince them that the parkway project was worthwhile.(54)

The BPC achieved quick success in its quest for land donations and favorable options. In 1908 wealthy landowner Emily Butler offered to donate 15 acres of her Fox Meadow Estate in Scarsdale on the condition that the BPC "build and maintain perpetually a roadway running north and south through the parcel donated." Butler also offered to sell an additional 20 acres within two years at the below-market value of $1,500 per acre. Her offers were dependent on the BPC obtaining the financial support necessary to build the entire parkway.(55)

James G. Cannon obtained a favorable option for 6 to 7 acres of land near the Hartsdale Railroad Station for $20,000.(56) By 1911, negotiations with the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Company resulted in an agreement to sell 16 acres near Woodlawn Station for approximately half the price the company would charge another buyer. These gifts and offers at below-market value indicated significant public support for the parkway and BPC work. By 1909, the generous donations included an adjacent 30 acre parcel that formed a continuous strip of parkland 2.5 miles long between Scarsdale and White Plains. In addition, 10 acres near Bronxville were donated for a recreation area and additional lands were promised for the parkway near Scarsdale.(57)

Even though the NYC-BEA repeatedly refused to commit to the parkway project and designate money for the survey, some property owners maintained their support. Butler’s 1908 offer had a deadline of two years. In late 1911 she not only renewed her first offer, but decided to donate additional lands. On the other hand, the delays caused by the NYC-BEA compromised some of the earlier land offers. Extensive development and changes in land ownership over the three-year period altered the proposal submitted by Scarsdale Estates. Its revised proposal eliminated some of the land from the donation and provided that other land be sold at half price rather than donated.(58) The commissioners claimed that many landowners were eager to cooperate and sell their holdings at reasonable prices, but were waiting for the project to get underway. The BPC repeatedly emphasized that the generous donations and offers were forthcoming because "public spirited" property owners viewed the parkway as a valuable public project that would not only protect the river, but incorporate it into a parkway.(59)

Initial Surveys

After the NYC-BEA approved the BPC’s initial request in July 1911 the commission immediately began to expand its efforts. It authorized a salary for Thayer and hired engineer Jay Downer as the commission secretary. To speed the process of producing the parkway maps without sacrificing accuracy, the commission divided the parkway into six survey sections and decided that individual contractors would be hired to work on one section apiece. Bid applications would be considered on the basis of contractor ability, familiarity with the parkway lands, and available resources. Because the commissioners were more concerned with accuracy than cost, they sought legal advice as to whether it was necessary to award contracts to the lowest bidder. The commission’s counsel determined that the "extreme delicacy" of survey work required that it be done by competent and able men, advising that "the correction of errors due to incompetent work would cost the city large sums of money." He concluded that nothing in the BPC charter obligated the commission to accept the lowest bid.(60)


(53)Bronx Parkway Commission, Report, 1914, 54.
(54)Bronx Parkway Reservation, Report, 1909, 4-5.
(55)Emily O. Butler, letter to Bronx Parkway Commissioners, May 11, 1908, attached to Bronx Parkway Commission Minutes, June 25, 1908.
(56)Bronx Parkway Commission, Minutes, June 25, 1908.
(57)Bronx Parkway Commission, Report, 1909, 4-5; Bronx Parkway Commission, Minutes, December 27, 1911, 84.
(58)Bronx Parkway Commission, Minutes, December 27, 1911, 83-86; March 17, 1913, 250.
(59)Bronx Parkway Commission, Report, 1909, 4-5; Report, 1914, 13.
(60)Bronx Parkway Commission, Minutes, July 14, 1911; August 2, 1911; September 22, 1911, 21-23; Corporation Counsel letter to BPC, September 19, 1911, 27-29, attached to Minutes.