This bucolic Westchester County community is home to the popular amusement park Playland and its famous wooden roller coaster, the Dragon Coaster (remember when Glenn Close and Ellen Latzen took a ride on this roller coaster in the 1987 thriller Fatal Attraction?). You’ll also find Rye Town Park; a stunning refuge nestled on a sixty-two acre preserve on Long Island Sound that features gently rolling hills, an expansive beachfront with a 34-acre swimming area, a naturalized duck pond and park paths illuminated by old fashion street lights.
Even though Rye is home to Jarden, a Fortune 500 home equipment and furnishings’ company, Rye is primarily a place to live rather than make a living. One-third of Rye’s working residents commute to New York City, a mere 25 miles away.
With its world class schools, family friendly atmosphere and miniscule crime rate Coldwell Banker reported in 2010 that Rye was the third most expensive city in the country to buy a home.
According to the city’s history page, Rye, the oldest permanent settlement in Westchester County, began in 1660 when Peter Disbrow, John Coe and Thomas Studwell migrated from Greenwich with a small group of settlers. The following year they were joined by John Budd, a puritan from Rye, England who played a major role in the naming of the community.
The settlers’ first treaty with the Mohegan Indians gave them the land between Milton Point and the Byram River (Peningoe Neck) then the mile-long Manussing Island. Within several years the combined purchases of the settlers comprised all of what is now the City of Rye, Town of Rye, Harrison, White Plains, North Castle, Mamaroneck and parts of Greenwich.
In 1665, Connecticut merged the settlements under the name of Rye after ancestors in Rye, England. Eighteen years later, Rye was unwillingly surrendered to the Province of New York by King Charles II as a gift to his brother, the Duke of York. But when a New York court severed the Harrison area from the settlement in 1695, the Rye colonists rejoined Connecticut in protest. In 1700, Rye once again became part of New York by royal decree, this time permanently.
Early Trade and Recreation
For two centuries, Rye remained an isolated community. Land was cleared for farming and cattle grazing. Docks were erected at breakneck speed along the Long Island Sound and oystering was a popular profession. Homes along Mill Town Road (now Milton) led to grist mills on Blind Brook.
The Rye-Oyster Bay ferry began service in 1739 and the New York–Boston stagecoach made its first run in 1772 using the Square House as a stopping place. Sixteen years later, the New York State Legislature officially established the Town of Rye boundaries. The completion of the New Haven Railroad in the mid-1800s made Rye an extremely popular summer destination for weary New Yorkers. Horseracing on “The Flats” (Rye Beach) became an added attraction.
Post War Boom
The era of the trolley made surrounding communities accessible. Through a series of carefully planned transfers one could travel to New York City for only eight cents. After a late nineteenth century growth spurt by 1904 there were two schools, five churches, a library and a burgeoning population of 3,500 residents in Rye.
Soon the expanding community became dissatisfied with the service of the Rye Town Board, on which it had no representation. After a series of public meetings and letters to the editor to the local newspaper organized by The Rye Village Incorporation League urging independence, a special election was held on September 12, 1904. Taxpayers voted 155 in favor, 47 opposed—and Rye became a village.
During the 1920s, the post-war boom and the onslaught of parkways and commuter trains bought a slew of suburbanites and summer residents to the flourishing village. By 1930, there were nearly 30,000 residents in Rye as the village continued to develop at a rapid pace; by 1942, becoming a city. Careful planning and controlled growth have protected the overriding community objective—to retain the town’s residential character. Of the 5,400 households, two-thirds live in private homes; the rest are housed in condominium, cooperative, two-family or apartment buildings—a balance which has been purposely maintained to this day.
Damage was widespread in Rye following the October 2012 Superstorm Sandy. During the storm, the tidal surge was well above 11 feet and 90 percent of the city was without power for at least a week. Only ruins remained of several mansions at Rye Marshlands overlooking the Long Island Sound that were left after the storm. Massive damage also occurred at Playland amusement park. The amusement park is slated to open on May 11th for the summer season but the main Boardwalk and Pier remain closed and is currently under reconstruction. The North Boardwalk was totally destroyed and is not expected to be replaced until 2014.
Aviatrix Amelia Earhart, poet Ogden Nash, former First Lady Barbara Bush, astronaut Nicholas Patrick and actors Jason and Justine Bateman are just a few former noteworthy residents of Rye.
Christy Smith-Sloman is a staff writer at The Cooperator and other publications.