Hawthorne, N.Y.: A Neighborly Community With Strong Schools

More middle-class than nearby areas — with housing that’s relatively moderately priced — this Westchester County hamlet is “not a snooty place.”

Living In … Hawthorne, N.Y.

Hawthorne, N.Y.: A Neighborly Community With Strong Schools

Brad Dickson for The New York Times

As their family grew, Rachael and Robert Benz needed more space: another bedroom, a bigger kitchen. But rather than move, they chose to stay and renovate. Why? They loved the tight-knit community of Hawthorne, where they live.

Hawthorne is a 1.1-square-mile hamlet in the Westchester County town of Mount Pleasant, where both Mr. and Ms. Benz grew up. Mr. Benz, 47, owns Robert Benz Trucking, in Hawthorne; Ms. Benz, 46, is a teaching assistant at Virginia Road Elementary School, in nearby White Plains.

Back in 2004, a few months before proposing marriage, Mr. Benz paid $417,500 for their home, and the couple moved into the 1,900-square-foot Tudor, built in 1942 on a quarter-acre. The house had one bathroom and four bedrooms, two of which were on the second floor and were “tiny and really unusable,” Ms. Benz said.

Hawthorne, N.Y.: A Neighborly Community With Strong Schools








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By The New York Times

They began renovating right away, redoing the kitchen, the bathroom, the windows and the roof. Before they had their children — a daughter who is now 12 and a son who is 10 — they converted the second floor into a master bedroom and bathroom. And last year, they went all out, knocking down walls, building a family-and-media room in the basement, doubling the size of the kitchen and adding a third bathroom, laundry room, mudroom and an attached two-car garage.

“We went from 1,900 to 2,800 square feet,” Ms. Benz said, “and completely redesigned the flow of the house.”

While the Benzes appreciate Hawthorne’s strong schools, as well as its convenient location in central Westchester and the easy commute to New York City, what has kept them in the hamlet are their neighbors: families with whom they have formed deep friendships.

Hawthorne, N.Y.: A Neighborly Community With Strong Schools

A four-sided clock welcomes passengers to the Hawthorne Metro-North Railroad station, where the Off the Rail cafe serves breakfast and lunch.Credit…Brad Dickson for The New York Times

“We watch out for one another, and if someone is in need, we are there,” Ms. Benz said. “We’re like extended family. We knew if we moved, we would feel the loss.”

The Benzes aren’t alone in that sentiment. Carl Fulgenzi, Mount Pleasant’s supervisor, is a lifelong Hawthorne resident. He described the hamlet’s population — roughly 4,650, according to 2017 census estimates — as a mix of working class and white-collar commuters.

“A lot of people have been here for many years,” he said. “It still has a small-town feel.”

Yet change is afoot. A master plan, Envision Mount Pleasant, is in development to revitalize the town’s hamlets. In Hawthorne, Mr. Fulgenzi said, the goals include adding more sidewalks and creating a transit-oriented area around the Metro-North Railroad station.

And over the next decade, a $1.2 billion, 80-acre bioscience and technology campus, known as the North 60, is expected to rise in the southwest corner of Hawthorne, complete with shops, restaurants and a hotel and conference center.

Despite the anticipated jobs and growth this will bring, Mr. Fulgenzi said he isn’t concerned about the effect on Hawthorne’s character: “It’s on the outskirts of the hamlet, so it shouldn’t change the dynamic.”

Hawthorne lies between the hamlets of Thornwood, to the north, and Valhalla, to the south and east. It is bordered on the west by the Saw Mill River Parkway and bisected north-south by the Taconic State Parkway and, farther south, by the Sprain Brook Parkway.

There are commercial pockets on Elwood Avenue and Commerce Street, to the north, but the main business corridor is along Route 9A, to the west, with a car dealership, a Comfort Inn, a Home Depot and the Executive Diner.

The hamlet’s southern half includes part of the Grasslands Reservation (the future home of the North 60) and several large cemeteries, including Gate of Heaven, where notables such as Babe Ruth and James Cagney are buried.

Hawthorne’s residential neighborhoods are in the hamlet’s northern half, where quiet streets are arranged in tree-lined, sometimes hilly grids. Modest homes, many of them Cape Cods and ranches, sit side by side on small lots. Some, like the Benzes’, have been remodeled or rebuilt. On a few cul-de-sacs to the west, houses are newer and lots slightly larger.

James J. Timmings, Mount Pleasant’s assessor, said Hawthorne has 1,350 single-family homes and 55 multifamily homes. There are also 56 condominiums in the Chateau on the Hill complex. There are no cooperative or rental buildings.

Mary Ann Mancini, as associate broker with Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty, said home prices in Hawthorne range from the $400,000s to the $900,000s. “Properties in the moderate range — from the $500,000s to the mid-$600,000s — attract first-time home buyers,” she said, adding that market activity has increased since last year.

Homes priced below $600,000 sell quickly, said Cynthia Leite, an associate broker with ERA Insite Realty: “Those houses get multiple bids and can go for over asking.”

In contrast, she said, sales are sluggish for houses listed over $750,000.

As for annual property taxes, Ms. Leite said they average around $15,000, which is below the 2018 Westchester median of $17,392, as calculated by ATTOM Data Solutions.

According to data from the Hudson Gateway Multiple Listing Service, as of Nov. 4, there were 13 single-family homes on the market, from a two-bedroom, 863-square-foot colonial, built in 1906 on 0.23 acres and listed for $439,999, to a five-bedroom, 2,776-square-foot house, built in 2019 and listed for $899,000. There was one two-family house for sale, for $549,000, and one condominium, a 1,797-square-foot two-bedroom, for $545,000.

The median sale price for a single-family home during the 12-month period ending Nov. 4 was $539,500, down from $563,000 during the previous 12 months. For multifamily houses, the median was $552,500, up from $527,800 last year, and for condominiums, the median was $390,000, down from $425,000 last year.

Hawthorne is “more middle class than some of the surrounding towns,” said Ms. Mancini, a 41-year resident.

“It’s warm and neighborly,” she added, echoing Ms. Benz. “It’s not a snooty place.”

Neighbors bump into one another along Elwood Avenue, where a short strip of shops forms a small downtown, and where a street fair and car show is held in August, on Mount Pleasant Day.

In October, residents gather at Broadway Field for the Fall Foliage Festival, held amid six acres of ball fields, basketball and volleyball courts, and a playground and pavilion.

The seven-acre Bradhurst Park and Community Center has another ball field and playground. And there is the town-run Mount Pleasant Community Center, a sprawling complex in Valhalla, with four pools, a branch of the Mount Pleasant Public Library and year-round activities for all ages.

Hawthorne is served by the Mount Pleasant Central School District, which also serves most of Thornwood and portions of Valhalla and the village of Pleasantville.

The district’s roughly 2,000 students attend Hawthorne Elementary School for kindergarten through second grade, Columbus Elementary School for grades three through five, Westlake Middle School for sixth through eighth grade and then Westlake High School.

Hawthorne Elementary is in Hawthorne; the other schools are in Thornwood, where the middle and high schools share a campus. The middle school offers the International Baccalaureate Middle Years program; the high school has a three-year science research program and holds an annual science fair.

On the 2018-19 state assessments, 76 percent of the district’s fourth-graders were proficient in math and 55 percent were proficient in English language arts; statewide equivalents were 50 percent and 48 percent.

Mean SAT scores for Westlake High School’s 2019 graduating class were 581 in evidence-based reading and writing and 568 in math; statewide means were 531 and 533.

Commuters to Manhattan, about 30 miles southwest, can catch Metro-North’s Harlem Line at the Hawthorne station. Rush-hour trains to and from Grand Central Terminal take 44 to 55 minutes; round-trip fare is $29.50 peak, $22.50 off-peak and $322 monthly. Breakfast and lunch are served daily at Off the Rail cafe.

Hawthorne wasn’t always known as Hawthorne. Around the time of Mount Pleasant’s incorporation, in 1788, the area was called Hammond’s Mills, after Staats Hammond, who owned a sawmill and gristmill where the Saw Mill River passed through.

Three decades later the name was changed to Unionville, because it sounded more patriotic, said James W. Maxwell, Mount Pleasant’s town historian. It wasn’t until 1901 that the hamlet became Hawthorne, named for Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, daughter of the American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne. That was the year Ms. Hawthorne, a.k.a Mother Mary Alphonsa, founded Rosary Hill Home to provide palliative care to terminally ill cancer patients. The facility, still operational, perches atop a hill, surrounded by lush grounds, in the northeast corner of the hamlet.

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