If there are any positives about the year of the pandemic it is an unmistakable trend of a return to gardening and beautification of our homes. During the 1920’s, 1930’s and onward to the Victory Gardens of WW2 it was very common to have sustainable home gardens that included fruits, vegetables, and an abundant flower bed.
The Mary Allen Bush homestead certainly exemplifies this lifestyle and aesthetic. Mary was a descendant of Ethan Allen; he of Green Mountain Boys fame. Her grandfather was Jacob Sloat a 19th century inventor, manufacturer and philanthropist. Mary built her modest and charming homestead in 1926, adjacent to Stony Brook and near Allen’s Pond. The property was thoughtfully laid out as
orchards, fields, vegetable and formal gardens. A small cottage on the property had been built for her mother Henrietta Sloat who gave birth to Mary in 1900 at the William Walker Allen home now Rhodes North Restaurant.
Favorite flowers were zinnias, abundant Spring peonies, fragrant French lilacs and old fashioned double headed daffodils. Mary and her husband Harrison Bush, Sr. were early proponents of organic gardening humorously referring to their property as,“Manure Farms”. Photos from the 1930s certainly testify to the success of their master level organic gardening talents! Garden ornaments included custom made
trellis, arbor, patio areas, terraced field stone walls and two small water gardens.
During WW2 virtually all home owners maintained victory gardens, including Mary. Victory gardens, also called war gardens or food gardens for defense, were vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens planted at private residences and public parks in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany during World War I and World War II. They were used along with Rationing Stamps and Cards to reduce pressure on the public food supply. Besides indirectly aiding the war effort, these gardens were also considered a civil and morale booster and in that gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown. This made victory gardens a part of daily life on the home front. Mary’s eldest son Harrison Jr. served at 18 in WW2 and was awarded a Purple Heart.
When the NYS Thruway & Seven Lakes Drive, virtually erased the historic topography of many Sloatsburg neighborhoods circa 1954 Mary had the house moved to its present location on the property. Sadly Mary died at age 55 from breast cancer in 1955. Her husband Harrison Sr. followed in October of that year. In the following decades the once pristine gardens returned to nature providing fawning and bird habitat. Brick and bluestone paths and tiered field stone walls have all been erased on the landscape by nature. This writer, grandson to Mary and Harrison Sr., recalls the surviving orchard circa the 1960’s; which included verdant Mcintosh, Summer Apples, Plum and Pear trees, to be magnificent canopies of Spring blossoms with many honey bees and birds enjoying the trees.
Other notable Sloatsburg gentleman “farms” of the 1930’s and 1940’s included the Blagden, Brown & Peckham families of Eagle Valley Road, the McCready family and the Blackmore family of Ramapo Heights now known as Pine Grove. These mini estates in diverse architectural styles were unique moments in time expressing the passion for gardening and landscape design of their owners.
Featured in the Journal News' Back In The Day, July 9, 2020 by Heather Clark