In the late 19th century, several residential parks were developed near the Bronxville train station, and along the Bronx River, for New York artists and businessmen who sought the tranquility of a more rural life within 30 minutes of Manhattan. At that time, the train trip was a bargain, costing only eight cents.
Armour Villa Park was one of the more prestigious of these residential settlements. An undated advertisement for the area claims that “the hill was blooming with pretty villas like pictures framed in white marble, with a background of living green and a bright beautiful sky overlooking it all." Added elegance came in the form of streets paved in white marble mined from the Tuckahoe quarry just up the river.
The Westchester County archives reveal that a man named Cornelius Smith bought the forty-eight acres that now constitutes Armour Villa from a local farmer in 1880. Cornelius Smith quickly sold the farm for $39,000 to a group of investors from the New York Produce Exchange. They, in turn, incorporated the Armour Villa Park Association in 1889. Several of the original founders have streets named after them: Gard Avenue, Beall Circle, and McIntyre Street.
Almost all of the original Armour Villa Park homes that were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are in existence today. Many have been meticulously restored. Even the barn and chicken coop from the old Smith farm were converted into homes that are still standing on Perry Place. As you drive through Armour Villa, it’s easy to see that this community gets its special character from the eclectic mix of architectural styles from the last 100 years.
People frequently ask if Armour Villa was named for the Armour Meat Packing Company. We don’t know for certain, but we do know that Cornelius Smith's surviving son was named H. Armour Smith, a car salesman and later director of the Hudson River Museum. He was probably named for Herman O. Armour, head of the New York House of Armour Meat Packing Company. We have only the vague indication that the property name was passed along through Cornelius Smith before the land was bought and subdivided. We can further assume that the group of original developers was associated with Herman O. Armour. To date we have no explicit documentation that Herman O. Armour or the Armour Company used this land. We do know that Armour was born in 1837, died in 1901, and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
This enormous house at 23 Cassilis Avenue was built in 1890 for Samuel S. McClure, publisher of McClure’s Magazine. McClure’s prestigious authors included Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The home was once called Idle Hour, and it contained a ballroom on the second floor. Eventually, it fell into disrepair and was demolished in the 1970s. But before the wrecking ball could hit, Armour Villa residents collected many of its treasured artifacts and materials and installed them in their own homes.
This Queen Anne Victorian at 101 Cassilis Avenue was built in 1903 by a German couple and it still exists today. Across the street remain two pillars carved with the letters “V” and “G”, which stood for Villa Germania, the name of the big house. The pillars once led to the estate’s orchard.
A real estate promotion for Armour Villa appeared in a 1906 issue of Country Living magazine. The ad describes the neighborhood as “exclusive” and further boasts that the houses were “designed to attract a class of buyers who appreciate artistic effects and good construction.” Six hundred lots were offered to purchasers who were promised that their property values would double in five years. The three houses pictured in the ad can still be seen on Parkview Avenue.