The Edgemont Christmas carol sing began in the mid-1920s, organized by Clifford Elliott of 151 Edgemont Road, John Chamberlin of 24 Barclay Road and Thomas McNiece of 26 Barclay Road. The Elliotts’ yard, overlooking Crane’s Pond, was the perfect place to hold the soon-to-be annual event — it was large enough to hold the growing crowd and it had a view of the pond. But it lacked one thing — a suitable large evergreen, to be hung with lights.
After hearing about the idea of a neighborhood carol sing, Phil Hill of 18 Glenwood Road donated a large evergreen tree to his friend, Cliff Elliott. This tree still stands on 151 Edgemont Road, near Barclay Road. The carol sing was held annually on the Elliotts’ yard for 50 years. The head of the school music department, Frank Dunsmore, directed a volunteer band at the sing for at least 50 years before passing the baton to some of the original members’ descendants. Some years, it was so icy and snowy that the bass section’s valves froze up, mid-song!
The carol sing has always been run by neighbors assisted by able-bodied kids, who were not afraid to climb the tree. When our family arrived in 1957, the old-timers who ran the event were pleased to hear that the O’Neills had four kids, who soon would be guided into service. For 16 years, our family ran the carol sing — my father Joe, and mother Barbara, lined up Dunsmore to conduct the band, made and distributed cardboard candle holders, printed up song sheets, etc. Some years, the weather was so bad, my father lit the candles with a blow torch!
During these years, my brothers Bill and Tom, sister Nancy and myself would climb the tree, to string up the lights — a daunting task for a kid. We would run a very long extension cord from the junction at the top of the tree, string that cord over to our house, nailing it up to trees, 10 feet off the ground.
I would not trade this experience for anything — we loved doing it!
After repeated attacks by a blight, the Elliotts’ tree lost many lower branches. We were soon stringing the lights mid-air. It became apparent that a new tree was needed and the present Christmas tree was planted down by the pond, in tribute to our good friend Gen. Frank Schwengel, who had just died.
Schwengel, who lived in the large white house above the pond, was a great friend to Edgemont. He would bring hot chocolate out to the kids sledding on his lawn, a neighborhood tradition that we all enjoyed for many, many years. Many of us banged ourselves up during the ride, but there was never any thought of a lawsuit, we took responsibility for the thrill. Needless to say, the general’s yard was destroyed by the sledding, and he had it replanted every spring.
Schwengel was also a major benefactor in the creation of Our Lady Fatima Church.
The tree has thrived, as has the Edgemont neighborhood surrounding it. It is truly gratifying to see friends from many years and generations ago still making the journey, through snow, sleet and rain to attend our carol sing. It strikes a soft spot in my heart to see new friends in the neighborhood take interest in this beautiful tradition. The tree suffered complete neglect during a certain time but thankfully, new friends have taken over and the tree shines, a tradition to be cherished.
Postscript, 2019: The Christmas tree was knocked down during a hurricane a few years ago and the Elliotts’ side yard, which held the carol sing, was sold off and a new house was built. The Edgemont community has progressed over the years, but the traditions from inception on up through the years have held strong. We are truly fortunate to be a part of this — still hearing from hundreds of past Edgemonters who cherished participating in this great event.
Editor’s note: Originally printed in The Scarsdale Inquirer edition dated Dec. 24, 2009, this article is reprinted at the writer’s request, with the added postscript.