Green Chimneys Farm


The Green Chimneys School is world renown for its unique work of combining the counseling of emotionally disturbed youths with the rehabilitation of injured wild animals. The Green Chimneys Farm is located on Doansburg Road, just over the Southeast-Patterson town line, near the Putnam Lake community.

Green Chimneys teaches children basic living and coping skills, especially anger management, by allowing them to care for injured wildlife and resident farm animals. Working with animals requires patience and the development of a bond between the child and the animal. The children who are receiving care thus become caregivers themselves to the animals. Many of the Farm's animals have become part of the Children's Petting Zoo in Central Park, New York City. Green Chimneys staff also provides family counseling and supervised family visits, if necessary. The children are considered special education students, and attend classes on the Farm. Most have come from other residential facilities where they were treated unsuccessfully. The average child stays at Green Chimneys for about 2.5 years.

Green Chimneys offers other programs at other sites in Putnam and Westchester Counties, New York City, and Northern Fairfield in Connecticut, including programs for runaway teens, developmentally delayed youth, homeless youth, and other educational services. The Farm also is involved with organic agriculture, and produces vegetables, eggs, honey, maple syrup, and wool. Hillside Outdoor Education Center, another Green Chimneys program, attracts approximately 20,000 school children each year on field trips to learn about the environment and nature.

The Green Chimneys Farm in Patterson

The Dentons were the earliest known owners of the property now known as Green Chimneys. The farm was then known as the Dell-Howe farm and was located near the area once known as DeForest Corners. The Dentons were one of the circus families that lived in the vicinity of the eastern Patterson-Southeast town border in the 19th century. Mrs. Denton is believed to have been a Howe, one of the circus familes. Mr. Denton was a bareback rider, and often could be seen practicing his riding skills within the grounds of his farm. He also kept elephants on a portion of the Dell-Howe Farm that is no longer owned by the present Green Chimneys School.

The next known owner of the farm was Col. Henry Breckenridge, who continued to use the name Dell-Howe Farm. According to local folklore, Breckenridge hired a migrant laborer to paint the chimneys on the farmhouse. The laborer found some green paint, and painted the chimneys and barn cupolas green. The green color was a novelty, since most chimneys were painted white, black, or red, and it made the Breckenridge farm easy to find and a topic of conversation. One of the Breckenridge farm hands was Blanche Saunders, who wrote several books on dog obedience training. Her earliest and most successful book was titled, Training You to Train Your Dog, published by Doubleday in 1946. She also authored, Dog Care and Training for Boys and Girls and The Blanche Saunders Obedience Training Courses: Novice; Open; Utility (with Tracking), among other books. Saunders established Carillon Kennels and was a breeder of Standard French Poodles. In the early years of the Green Chimneys School, Saunders and fellow trainer and author Catherine Reilly gave an obedience training demonstation to students of the School. Saunders died in 1964, but her memory is kept alive by the Poodle Club of America which awards an annual trophy in her name to the highest scoring poodle at the club's National Specialty competition.

In 1935, Breckenridge sold the farm to former New York State Senator Ward V. Tolbert of Pelham Manor. The farmhouse was a former stagecoach inn of colonial saltbox architecture, and was already 200 years old when Dr. S. Bernard Ross purchased the 75 acre dairy farm from Tolbert's widow in 1947. The green-colored chimneys remain, and gave the farm its new name. Dr. Ross operated the Farm as a private boarding school along with his son, Samuel B. "Rollo" Ross. The school was named "The Green Chimneys Farm for Little Folk".

A damaged 19th century photo of the Denton farm house. A 20th century photo of the Denton farm house. The structure was destroyed by fire in 1953 and had been the main building in the Green Chimneys School complex. Ward Tolbert died in 1946, and his wife, Laura decided to sell the farm. This real estate ad describes the property. The price had been reduced at the time this ad was prepared. The location is listed as "Brewster" although the farm is really in the town of Patterson.
(all photos - Dr. Samuel B. "Rollo" Ross)

Dr. S. Bernard Ross was born in New York City on March 30, 1891. Dr. Ross was a graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in 1912. He was a surgeon at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, and maintained a private practice until 1924. In 1924, Dr. Ross teamed with John W. Hogan, who was an associate justice of the Court of Appeals, to create the medical office at the Hotel Roosevelt. As house physician, Dr. Ross treated many celebrities from the worlds of politics and theater. Dr. Ross was also the physician for the Metropolitan Opera Company. He also worked with the Department of Health as a diagnostician in the bureau of preventable diseases for more than thirty years. In 1934, as president of the Public Health Officers Association of New York City, he fought for higher salaries for public health workers. After moving to Putnam Lake in 1947, Dr. Ross became a member of the Putnam County Medical Society, the Medical Society of the State of New York, and the American Association of Industrial Physicians and Surgeons. He continued commuting to his practice in New York City until December 31, 1955, when he retired as resident physician for the Hotel Roosevelt. He had held the position since the hotel opened in 1924. He then opened a private practice that operated from a cottage on the Green Chimneys grounds. Dr. Ross retired to Marco Island, Florida in 1977, where he died on July 13, 1979 at the age of 88.

The Green Chimneys Farm for Little Folk opened in 1948 with eleven students whose parents paid for them to be boarded at the school. From the start, the plan was to provide an environment where children and animals could live together in a farm setting. Dr. Ross, his son, Samuel ("Rollo"), and Adele MacDonald, a nurse working for Dr. Ross, established the School as a boarding school for pre-school aged children. There were few such schools for the very young, and it was anticipated that the new school would fill a void. Single parents, for example, might find the boarding school concept attractive since the demands of a job might mean little time to devote to a child. Their instinct were correct. A series of ads placed in various publications in 1948, including the New York Times and Vogue, resulted in over one hundred inquiries. Housemothers were employed to tend to the needs of each child, essentially becoming substitute parents. A night staff brushed the teeth of children and put them to bed. The School community was a large family. Teachers, staff, and children ate meals together and celebrated birthdays and holidays together. The success of the boarding school led to the demand for day classes and day camps, which were quickly added. By 1952 the mission of the school had been expanded to include childen aged 2-9. The School's continued success led to a further expansion of its mission, and children aged 2-12 were admitted in 1957, with Green Chimneys providing pre-school through 6th grade classes.

As the School expanded and grew, Rollo Ross realized that some of his students, even some of the brighest and most gifted, had social, behavorial, or emotional problems that were preventing them from reaching their full potential. He and his staff gave extra attention to those students, and many of the students were able to overcome their difficulties. By the mid-1950s it was apparent to Rollo Ross that the focus of the School was changing as it was gaining a reputation for helping children with special needs.

The Green Chimneys School

Tragedy struck Green Chimneys on Monday afternoon, February 2, 1953, when fire destroyed the old farmhouse, which was the main building in the complex. The fire was discovered at 4:30 PM when employees noticed smoke coming from basement windows. Twenty-five children ranging in age from 3 years to 8 years were quickly evacuated from the building and led to the gym. The Putnam Lake Fire Dept. was summoned, and, in turn, summoned the Patterson Fire Dept. to assist. Putnam County Sheriff Frank Lyden arrived and requested assistance from the Brewster Fire Dept. Authorities closed East Branch Road so that it could be used by emergency vehicles. Sub-zero temperatures hindered the efforts of firefighters, and three firefighters were injured when the roof of the structure collapsed. The Putnam Lake Inn sent hot coffee for the firefighters, who had to change clothes frequently as their clothing became wet from the hoses. The fire quickly destroyed the recently redecorated building, which housed the dining room, kitchen, living room, playroom, laundry, and storage room. An adjoining dormitory building was saved when firemen cut through the connecting passageway to separate the buildings. The fire was brought under control by 8:00 PM, and was thought to have begun in the basement near the boiler room. Seven women from Putnam Lake who were employed by the school, took the children home with them for the night. The school received many other offers of shelter. The next day, school manager Adele MacDonald announced that the children would return to the school dormitory building. Her home, located elsewhere on the Green Chimneys property, would be used for meals. A large recreation hall in a converted barn would be used for classes and recreation.

A new building was hastily constructed after the fire, and an open house was held in May, 1953. The building was considered modern, and had pine paneling and up-to-date school equipment. An office featured a glass window that would allow the children to be observed without them noticing. The building also contained a modern kitchen and full laundry facilities. PFC Rollo Ross of the U. S. Medical Corps. was granted a one-week leave from his base in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to be present at the event. He was an educational director at the school.

Laura Tolbert in an undated photograph. She sold the Green Chimneys farm to Dr. Ross and his son Rollo in 1935 for $35,000. The main house in 1936. The dirt road in the foreground is the present Doansburg Road. The guest cottage, now used as a kindergarten.
The caretaker cottage in a 1930s photograph. The house is now the residence of Green Chimneys School co-founder Dr. Samuel B. "Rollo" Ross. The Mitchell family was the caretaker for the Tolberts. The rear of the main house in a 1930s photograph. A sketch of the rebuilt main house. The original structure was destroyed by fire in 1952.
(all photos - Dr. Samuel B. "Rollo" Ross)

Besides his activities in Green Chimneys, Dr. S. B. Ross was visible in the Putnam community at large. Dr. Ross was often asked to respond to emergency medical calls in Putnam Lake, and, in September, 1959, was appointed to the Putnam County Plumbing Board. The appointment was made by Patterson Supervisor Emil Buechel, who was also the chairman of the Putnam County Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors was the governing body in Putnam County before the County Executive / County Legislator form of government was adopted in 1979. County law required a physician to serve on the Plumbing Board. Dr. Ross' appointment was for a term of three years. By the mid-1960s, Dr. Samuel B. (Rollo) Ross Jr. was serving as the chairman of the Patterson Planning Board. He was also a member of the Brewster School Board.

A fireworks display on July 4, 1959 at Green Chimneys attracted large crowds from around the area. News accounts estimated the crowd at thousands, necessitating traffic control assistance from Town of Patterson Constables and the Putnam County Civil Defense Auxiliary Police. Constables Al Romer, Tony Granata, Pierre Andreu, Anthony DeBetta, and Frank Strasser were assisted by Auxiliary Officers Major Henry Dale, Capt. Anthony Castellano, Lt. Herbert Kuhlmann, Sgt. Evelyn Dale, Ptl. John Capichiano, Ptl. Sam Werber, and Ptl. Oscar Kellenberger.

Dr. S. B. Ross in 1955

In the 1960s, the Green Chimneys programs expanded, and the School taught children from pre-school to grade 8. The School was now attracting children from around the United States, and also from Canada, Central America, South America, and other countries. The programs were gradually changing to accommodate children with special needs. Green Chimneys became a social services agency in 1974, allowing it to receive some government funding. The School began to provide more services for children considered "at risk". Traditional school programs were replaced by programs for children with special needs, but these new programs continued to use animals as part of the programs. The School provided 24-hour programs with special education and mental health services, limited to children from New York State. A Residential Treatment Center (RTC) was created to care for emotionally disturbed and learning disabled children referred to Green Chimneys from social services departments and public schools around the State.

Also in the 1970s, Green Chimneys added 50 nearby acres to its complex, and created the Hillside Outdoor Education Center. The Center offered programs to the general public on topics including farming and the environment. The Center now also provides day camps for developmentally and physically challenged youth, a pre-school program for children in the community, and other programs that attract area school children to Hillside's farm and education center.

In 1971, School officials issued an appeal through radio and newspapers for a school bell to replace the School's cracked bell. The School received many offers for bells that were priced too high for its budget. In November, 1971, Ernest Wunner of Brewster donated an old fire bell to Green Chimneys. Wunner was a member of the Brewster School Board and also operated the Brewster Iron Works. He was able to build a mount that would allow the bell to hang from a pole on the School grounds. Green Chimneys students supplied the labor to remove layers of silver paint to expose the brass surface of the bell. A formal dedication of the bell took place a few days later.

The well-known wildlife conservation center was created in the 1980s, and now is home to several permanently disabled birds of prey and other wildlife. The center also provides wildlife rehabilitation and rescue for injured animals, which often can be nursed to health and released back into the wild.

Green Chimneys Farm now encompasses 160 acres, almost 400 animals, and over 40 varieties of rare birds. The school has both residential programs and day treatment programs. Most of the children are boys, and about half are from New York City. The others come from the surrounding area including Connecticut, and also from other states. Doctors, veterinarians, and social workers from around the globe have visited Green Chimneys to learn about its work. Recent construction has brought the complex a new school building and a renovated indoor pool and gymnasium. A certified organic farm operates during the growing seasons.