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Friday, August 31, 2007


History is always fascinating, and sometimes travel allows me to become part of history—sometimes even as it is disappearing from view like the photos in Back to the Future.

Warwick, located in New York's historic Hudson Valley claims many important historic moments of its own, and roadside markers throughout the area attest to them. Yet hidden in the town’s village of Greenwood Lake lies an area dear to students of African American history, and until a few years ago, this bit of history was in danger of being forgotten and lost forever. Thanks to some dedicated and hard-working people, that is not going to happen.

Greenwood Farms, a community near Greenwood Lake was the first African-American vacation community in New York State. Its inception in 1919 was the idea of prominent members of the African-American community in Brooklyn who were actually stymied in making international trade deals with South American countries because of the first World War. Taking their investment money, they bought 143 acres in Greenwood Lake, divided it into parcels and sold them. They formed the Greenwood Farms Association, and in the ensuing years because they were two miles from Greenwood Lake, made a lake of their own, built roads and homes, and established themselves as an integral part of the of the greater community.

Famous people vacationed at Greenwood Farms. Langston Hughes, one of America’s premier poets and writers frequented Gladys Taylor's Inn, a boarding house now the beautiful home of one of the Association’s members. Among the other people of note who had homes or vacationed here were Cecil McPherson, lyricist and composer Dr. Gertrude Curtis, the first Black female dentist in NY state, John Rosamond Johnson, composer of the Black National Anthem, and his brother James, who wrote the lyrics, Samuel J. Battle, the first African-American policeman in NYC, James Farmer, founder of CORE, playwright Owen Dodson, who was the first Black graduate of the Yale School of Drams, and many others. Quite a legacy, and quite a source of pride to the area.

As time passed and thankfully more opportunities for vacations arose, the community dwindled and Greenwood Farms became more integrated with the village. Grandsons of the original owners, seeing their history dissipating, decided several years ago to resurrect the association to try to mark this unique historical treasure.

Today the Greenwood Farms Association is alive and well. Two new road markers proclaim the community to visitors on Nelson Road.

My friend Hakima is active in the Association. I recently attended a barbecue with another friend, Pat, sponsored by the Association to thank supporters of the effort to raise awareness of this important community. Local politicians, businesspeople, descendants of the original Association members, community members, and people coming from places far away recognized the special nature of Greenwood Farms. We were treated to a tour of the area, shown the house where Langston Hughes stayed and walked around the property. We saw some of the other homes too. There was an excellent reading of Hughes’ poetry by Yvonne McFall, a young actress, singer and dancer, and Paul Kwame Johnson, and good talk with local leaders and Association members about plans for the future.

For more information: Greenwood Farms Association, PO Box 212, Greenwood Lake, NY 10925 or visit their website at

This hidden treasure calls for special directions. Coming from Warwick: Travel on Rt. 17A from Warwick to Greenwood Lake toward Sterling Forest, make a left-hand turn onto Old Tuxedo Road and then a right on Nelson Road. Be sure to view the historic markers. Coming from points south: Travel Rt. 17 to Rt. 17A. Follow 17A over Tuxedo Mt. and make a right onto Old Tuxedo Road and then a right on Nelson Rd.

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