Briarcliff Manor

Briarcliff Manor is a suburban village in Westchester County. Briarcliff Manor includes the communities of Scarborough and Chilmark, and is served by the Scarborough station of the Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson Line. A section of the village, including buildings and homes covering 376 acres, is part of the Scarborough Historic District and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The village motto is “A Village between Two Rivers”, reflecting Briarcliff Manor’s location between the Hudson and Pocantico Rivers. Although the Pocantico is the primary boundary between Mount Pleasant and Ossining, since its incorporation the village has spread into Mount Pleasant.

In the precolonial era, the village’s area was inhabited by a band of the Wappinger tribes of Native Americans. In the early 19th century, the area was known as Whitson’s Corners. Walter William Law moved to the area and purchased lands during the 1890s. Law developed the village, establishing schools, churches, parks, and the Briarcliff Lodge. Briarcliff Manor was incorporated as a village in 1902, and celebrated its centennial on November 21, 2002.

Briarcliff Manor was historically known for its wealthy estate-owning families, including the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Rockefellers. It still remains primarily residential and its population is still considered affluent by U.S. standards. It has about 180 acres of recreational facilities and parks, all accessible to the public. The village has seven Christian churches for various denominations and two synagogues. The oldest church is Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church, built in 1851. Briarcliff Manor has an elected local government, with departments including police, fire, recreation, and public works. It has a low crime rate: a 2012 study found it had the second-lowest in the state.

Briarcliff Manor’s original settlement was known as Whitson’s Corners for brothers John H., Richard, and Reuben Whitson, who owned adjoining farms in the area totaling 400 acres. Whitson’s Corners was named after the corner of Pleasantville and South State Roads, where John H. Whitson’s house, the Crossways, stood from 1820 until the 1940s. The Briarcliff Congregational Church’s parish house currently stands at its former location. The neighboring community of Scarborough was known as Weskora until it was renamed in 1864, after resident William Kemey’s ancestral hometown in Yorkshire. After the community was incorporated into Briarcliff Manor in 1906, the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad put up a sign reading “Briarcliff West” at the village’s Scarborough station. Soon afterward, attributed to the neighborhood’s pride over their name, that sign was thrown into the Hudson River and replaced with the original Scarborough sign.

Briarcliff Manor derives from “Brier Cliff”, a compound of the English words “brier” and “cliff”. The name originated in Ireland as that of the family home of John David Ogilby, a professor of ecclesiastical history at the General Theological Seminary. Ogilby had named his New York summer home Brier Cliff after his family home in Ireland. In 1890, Walter Law bought James Stillman’s 236-acre (96 ha) Briarcliff Farm and further developed it, later using the name Briarcliff for all his property. Law’s friend, Andrew Carnegie, called him “The Laird of Briarcliff Manor”; since the title appealed to all concerned, the village was named “Briarcliff Manor”. By 1897, the village post office and railroad station bore the name Briarcliff Manor. The village (and its name) were approved by its residents in a September 12, 1902 referendum; the name prevailed over other suggestions, including “Sing Sing East”. On November 21, 1902, the village of Briarcliff Manor was established.

The village is also known by several other names. It is conversationally called “Briarcliff”, and often erroneously written as “Briar Cliff Manor” (although historically there has been little distinction). The village has been called “Briarcliff on the Hudson” by Mark Twain.

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