TONIGHT:Town honors Henriette Suhr, an early-adopter of environmental conservation and preservation

Suhr with her well-worn copy of Rachel Carson’s 1962 seminal book on environment, Silent Spring
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
by Christine Yeres

Tonight at 8:00 p.m. the Town Board and Planning Board will honor Henriette Granville Suhr for her avid and continuing interest in conservation, preservation and acquisition of open spaces within the Town.  At around 8:45 p.m. there will be a reception in the gallery of the Chappaqua Library, open to the public (enter by the theatre door).

There isn’t much at Henriette Suhr’s 13-acre gardens at ​Rocky Hills on Old Roaring Brook Road​ that hasn’t been meticulously and artfully planned and executed by her over the last 50 years.  Only the forget-me-nots are allowed to run free, making seas of blue each spring, more every year.

Yes, there is a roaring brook that runs through the property, a section of a fallen old weeping willow that has been allowed to remain and sprout new life, bright vistas framed by dark arching branches, tiny flowers cascading from between stones in walls, dark purple columbines, gigantic hostas, masses of azaleas ​and swaths of brilliant green lawn​, ​plus an all-​yellow garden.

Parsons School of Design in Paris

​As a teenager, Suhr’s family moved from Austria to Paris.  She’d had an English governess, ​and so could speak English, but learning French at that age proved difficult enough for it to occur to her parents to send Henriette and her sister to the Parson’s School of Design, just opening then in Paris on the Place des Vosges. She studied decorating, her sister studied fashion.

When she came to live in New York City, it was easy for her to get a job, she recalls. First, she spoke English; second, she was a graduate of Parsons. During the war years, she worked at Macy’s, then spent a year at Lord & Taylor, then on to Bloomingdale’s.  She met William “Billy” Suhr in 1941. He was the sole conservator of the Frick Collection.  In 1956 the couple bought the 13-acre property with a small house on Old Roaring Brook Road, at first as a weekend retreat.

She and her late husband were not gardeners, but gradually, as her interest in interior design shifted to the garden, it became their joint passion.  They let Rocky Hills make them into gardeners.  Now in her late nineties, she’s been in its gardens ever since.

​Polly Kuhn, a former supervisor of New Castle and longtime friend, admires Suhr for her persistence and dedication over the years.  “She regularly attended New Castle Planning Board meetings whenever there was proposed building in or near wetlands. She has followed the discussion in detail, and made sure that the environmental review did not slight any study of drainage or the effect of development on surrounding hydrology.  She is a familiar sight, wearing a feminine felt fedora, with feather, her intelligent eyes on the map or chart under discussion. She doesn’t necessarily speak at meetings; her presence alone often brings attention to the environmental issues she wants considered.

Rocky Hills now, in winter

Looking ahead

By an arrangement struck with the County in 2000, at her death Suhr’s Rocky Hills was to have become County park land.  “I have been deeply concerned with conservation and preservation of green spaces,” she explained this week to NCNOW, “and it had been my dream for the future to set Rocky Hills aside as a public space for people to enjoy and to learn.  Unfortunately, it turned out that under a changed County administration they felt they weren’t able to fulfill the arrangement, so it’s come back to me.  We’re in the process now of making different plans for the future.”

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