By JOE SCHIAFFINO
Special to Forgotten New York
Thorwald Heyerdahl built his stone house atop this hill in 1861-62 when he signed a five year lease indenture with property owner George Byron. In 1866, Heyerdahl purchased the nine acre property for $4,800. In 1871, he purchased two adjacent pieces of land, one 3 ½ acres and the other a little over an acre to give him access to Rockland Avenue.
Heyerdahl planted grapevines and an orchard in an attempt to establish a vineyard. Unfortunately his plans were foiled by the soil which was high in magnesium from the underlying serpentine rock and is not tolerated well by most plants.
Inset of an 1874 Beers atlas
This 1874 Beers Map shows how much work Heyerdahl put into his dream. You see graperies, orchards, a residence and cottages. There are at least two wells on the property as well as two man-made ponds. Unfortunately, Mr. Heyerdahl died sometime between 1871 and 1875 and left the property to his widow Caroline. The New York State Census for 1875 under Richmond County, Northfield E.D. 02, page 10, line 38, has the following information for House #95: made of stone, value not listed, owner C.S. Heyerdahl, female, 43 years of age, born in Rhode Island, currently widowed.
Interestingly, the census counted three servants living on the property with Mrs. Heyerdahl at this time; James Burke, male, 25 years of age, born in Richmond; Thomas Burke, male, 16 years of age, born in Richmond; and Jane Long, female, 25 years of age, born in Ireland. They may have occupied the cottages on the property.
Heyerdahl’s widow Caroline at some point remarried and became Caroline von La Roche and it was she who disposed of the 13 ½ acre property. The 1917 Beers Map identifies Eugene Graf as the owner of the nine acre piece of this property. The rectangular piece was owned by someone else by then.
In 1928 the City of New York took over all the property along this section of Rockland Avenue including Heyerdahl Hill as part of its purchase of the 560 acre Latourette Park.