Rye, Westchester County, NY
137 acre sanctuary


Located in Rye, NY. I-95 North to exit 19, Playland Pkwy. Left at first light onto Milton Rd. Left onto Parsons St. Left onto Rt. 1 (Boston Rd.) South. Conservancy is a little more than a mile on the left. Watch for long cut stone wall.


Rye is located east of Mamaroneck, on the Long Island Sound. It is about 32 miles north of New York City. In 1660, John Coe, Thomas Studwell and Peter Disbrow traveled from Greenwich and settled Rye. A year later, John Budd of Long Island joined them. The four men purchased all the land between the Byram and Mamaroneck Rivers and far inland from the Long Island Sound. Rye was an agricultural community and during the Revolutionary War was neutral ground when both the British and Americans entered the city. In the 1800's wealthy New Yorkers began moving into the area and building grand homes. These included Peter Augustus Jay, son of the first Supreme Court Justice John Jay, who built a Greek Revival Mansion in 1838. In 1904, Rye separated itself from the village of Port Chester and the unincorporated Town of Rye. In 1942, it became Westchester County's smallest city. (Westchester HarborView Realty Corporation website).

The Indians sold the land to John Bud. The Buds held it for three generations. They sold it to John Jay's father.

1745 Peter Jay (father of famous justice John Jay) built a farm house. It was called the Locusts for the large Locust trees in the yard.  John Jay's father, Peter Jay, bought 250 acres, on the Boston Post Road in Rye, on which he built the small farmhouse. Peter and his wife, Mary Van Cortlandt brought seven children to Rye, mainly for the sake of two who had been blinded by a New York smallpox epidemic.

John Jay spent most of his childhood in Rye.

In 1776 Peter and Mary moved the family further up the Hudson. In 1883 John's brother, "Blind Peter," returned to the farm where he lived 33 more years. With sensitive hands fore eyes, he became known about the Rye countryside as a great judge of horses. (Today children play "Blind Peter" at the conservancy.)

In 1836 Peter Augustus (John Jay's eldest son) constructed the present, grand Greek Revival house.

1863-1838 two large Greek Revival houses went up side by side: one by Peter Augustus Jay (son of John Jay) and one known as Lounsberry built for English-born merchant Edward Lamb Parsons.

Peter Augustus Jay built the house on the site of an earlier family farmhouse where his father John Jay had grown up.

1980s the property was threatened by development.

1992 Westchester County purchases the entire estate (managed by Jay Heritage Center).

(Pp. 124-125. Williams, Gray. 2003. Picturing Our Past: National Register Sites in Westchester County. Westchester County, NY: Westchester County Historical Society.)

The Jay family held the property until 1904. A man named Van Norden then held the land. He had zebras to pull a cart to the railroad station. He held the land for five years before the village citizens pushed him out. Then in 1910 a Mr. Palmer, of Princeton's Palmer Stadium fame, purchased the land, His daughter (Zilph) married Walter Devereux. She is the person who gave the land to Westchester County in 1967.

However, the Devereux family gave their house, outbuildings, and surrounding 23 acres to the Methodist Church for a regional headquarters and conference center. In 1979 the Methodists applied to sell 17 acres to Mrs. Millstein, a developer.

A gift of adjacent land by Mrs. John E. Parson in 1978 increased the conservancy to 137 acres. In 1983, Marshlands and adjacent properties were placed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Boton Post Road Historic District.

Tour of the saltmarsh

Descend the 40 foot hill. At the bottom you will see Phragmites, which means fence in Greek. These are largely fresh water plants, but can take some salt. Many animals hide in here including muskrats, chickadees, and raccoons. The redwing blackbirds nest here. The Indians used the grasses for the shafts of their arrows.

On the right is a Persimmon tree, which drops its fruits in October. This is a little far north for this species, but it is protected by being near the hill.

The Causeway

This causeway was constructed in the 1820s. To the right of the causeway is the high salt marsh, which is very fragile. Keep out. The grass that has fallen over (October) is salt hay. You can buy salt hay in nurseries to use as mulch.

On the left you can take the children to the edge of what looks like mud. But on closer examination the mud reveals itself as spartina gue. At the edge is located the salt marsh sedge which in October has burs.

Look for small fiddler crabs and scuds. The male fiddler crab has a large claw which he uses for defense and to attract females. In May he performs an elaborate ritual dance.
On the right is wild asparagus (foliage looks like scales) and the bush known as the marsh elder.


These are the ruins from a 1912 building. James Hayes, uncle of Mrs. Zilph Devereaux (who gave the land), built a house here. It went down in the 1938 hurricane, then a fire hit it in the 1940s, followed by further destruction in the 1950's.

Rye Shore

Beach to the left of the causeway.  You are standing on buried salt marsh. Pull back the accumulation of dead Spartina on the beach and you will find hundreds of scuds hopping around. Scuds are amphipods. There are numerous species; a microscope is needed to distinguish between them. Scuds, along with beach fleas, are the most likely members of the order to draw the attention of casual beachcombers. They swarm in tide pools and crevices; beach fleas live higher on the shore.

If you run your hand along the blades of the Spartina and then taste your fingers you will notice a salty taste. The spartina actually deposits excess salt on its blades.
Notice the clumps of Spartina sod. Here you will find ribbed mussels with their ridges. Barnacles often grow on them. Also here is sea lavender and sea blite (related to goosefoot).
In June at low tide you will find holes all over the beach. Fiddler crabs have gone down in the sand here.

Pull up a clump of sand united with Pop-it seaweed (Fucus). Here you may find a clam worm. They make excellent fish bait for they stay alive on the hook for a long time, since they are so well adjusted to saltwater. Be careful because they can bite fiercely with horny teeth embedded in the pharynx. What looks like myriads of legs are actually gills. It burrows in the wet sand. No wonder, since the birds like to eat it. Also here we found a mud snail which has no door to close. It has a siphon like and elephant. The stringy green seaweed is Intestinal seaweed (Enteromorpha).

Why don't the trees establish themselves here in the wet sand? Because drinking saltwater leads to dehydration and death.

Chimney Beach

Here we found in October an egg case of the channel welk (a snail).
Beach to the right of the chimney (Parson's Beach)

The shore and mud flats


Marshlands has a half mile of shoreline, woods, fields, fresh water ponds and an extensive salt marsh -- one of the few in New York State accessible to the public. The area provides diverse habitat for a variety of wildlife, including mammals, shellfish, birds, and waterfowl, which use the relatively undisturbed shore to lay their eggs.

The patient and quiet visitor may see fox and hawks, herons, egrets, and many other species. With three miles of trails and the shore, it's a great place for a family nature walk (pets not allowed).


Dr. Patrick L. Cooney

Acer rubrum (red maple)
Carya ovata (shagbark hickory)
Diospyros virginiana (persimmon) 7/22/93developing
Liquidambar styraciflua (sweetgum)
Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree)
Pinus strobus (white pine)
Prunus serotina (black cherry)
Ptelea trifoliata (hop tree) 6/8/94 8/4/94
Quercus alba (white oak)
Quercus stellata (post oak)
Quercus velutina (black oak)
Rhus copallina (winged sumac)
Rhus glabra (smooth sumac) 7/10/93

Amorpha fruticosa (false indigo bush) 6/8/94
Baccharis halimifolia (groundsel bush)
Iva frutescens (marsh elder) 7/22/93 soon to bloom
Rosa multiflora (multiflora rose) 6/8/94
Rosa rugosa (wrinkled rose) 6/8/94 8/4/94
Rubus phoenicolasius (wineberry raspberry)
Rubus sp. (blackberry) 6/8/94
Sambucus canadensis (elderberry) 6/8/94
Viburnum dentatum (downy arrowwood viburnum) 6/8/94
Viburnum prunifolium (blackhaw viburnum)
Vinca minor (periwinkle) 5/2/93

Cuscuta sp. (dodder)
Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper vine)
Solanum dulcamara (bittersweet nightshade) 6/8/94
Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy)
Vitis labrusca (fox grape vine)

Achillea millefolium (yarrow) 7/10/93 7/22/93 8/4/94
Allium vineale (field garlic)
Althaea officinalis (marsh mallow) 7/22/93 8/4/94
Ambrosia trifida (great ragweed)
Apocynum cannabinum (Indian hemp dogbane) 7/10/93 7/22/93 8/4/94
Arctium sp. (common burdock) 7/22/93 8/4/94 8/20/93
Artemisia vulgaris (common mugwort)
Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) 7/10/93 7/22/93 8/4/94
Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed) 7/10/93
Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed) 7/10/93 7/22/93 8/4/94 8/11/93 8/20/93
Asparagus officinalis (asparagus) 6/8/94
Aster divaricatus (white wood aster) 8/20/93
Aster paternus (smooth aster?) 8/20/93
Atriplex patula (orache)
Bidens spp. (marsh marigolds) 5/2/93
Calystegia sepium (hedge bindweed) 7/10/93 8/4/94 8/20/93
Chenopodium sp. 7/22/93 soon to bloom
Cirsium discolor (field thistle) 8/20/93
Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) 5/2/93
Daucus carota (Queen Anne's lace) 7/10/93 7/22/93 8/4/94 8/20/93
Desmodium canadense (showy tick-trefoil) 8/11/93
Desmodium paniculatum (panicled tick trefoil) 8/4/94 8/11/93
Erigeron annuus (daisy fleabane) 6/8/94 7/10/93 8/4/94 8/20/93
Eupatorium dubium (eastern Joe-Pye-weed) 8/4/94 8/11/93 8/20/93
Eupatorium maculatum (spotted Joe-Pye-weed)
Euthamia graminifolia (grass leaved goldenrod) 8/4/94 8/20/93
Geum canadense (white avens) 7/10/93
Glechoma hederacea (gill-over-the-ground) 6/8/94
Helianthus sp. (sunflower) 8/20/93
Heracleum maximum (cow parsnip) 6/8/94
Hieracium caespitosum (field hawkweed) 6/8/94
Hypericum perforatum (common St. Johnswort) 7/10/93
Hypochoeris radicata (cat's ear)
Impatiens capensis (jewelweed) 7/10/93 8/4/94 P.P./
Iris pseudacorus (yellow flag iris) 6/8/94
Iris versicolor (blue flag iris) 6/8/94
Lactuca canadensis (wild lettuce) 8/11/93
Lathyrus latifolius (everlasting pea) 7/10/93 7/22/93 8/4/94 8/11/93 8/20/93
Lemna sp. (duckweed) big one
Limonium carolinianum (sea lavender) 8/4/94
Linaria vulgaris (butter and eggs) 7/10/93 8/4/94 8/20/93
Lonicera sp. (honey suckles)
Maianthemum canadense (Canada mayflower)
Melilotus alba (white sweet clover) 7/22/93 8/4/94
Melilotus officinalis (yellow sweet clover) 6/08/94 8/4/94
Mentha sp. (a mint)
Oenothera biennis (evening primrose) 8/4/94
Oxalis europaea (wood sorrel) 7/10/93
Oxalis stricta (yellow wood sorrel) 6/8/94
Phryma leptostachya (lopseed) 8/4/94 8/4/94
Plantago major (common plantain) 7/10/93
Polygonum cuspidatum (Japanese knotweed) 8/20/93
Polygonum virginianim (jumpseed knotweed) 8/20/93
Prunella vulgaris (self-heal) 8/4/94
Ranunculus acris (tall buttercup) 6/8/94
Rudbeckia fulgida var. speciosa (showy coneflower) 8/11/93
Rudbeckia hirta v. pulcherrima (black-eyed Susan) 7/10/93 7/22/93
Rumex acetosella (sheep sorrel dock) 6/8/94
Rumex crispus (curled dock)
Rumex obtusifolius (broad dock)
Salicornia sp. (glasswort)
Scrophularia lanceolata (hare figwort) 6/8/94
Sisyrinchium sp. (blue-eyed grass) 6/8/94
Solidago canadensis var. canadensis (Canada goldenrod?) 8/20/93
Solidago (rough-stemmed goldenrod) 8/11/93
Solidago gigantea (tall goldenrod) 8/11/93
Solidago juncea (early goldenrod) 8/4/94 8/20/93
Solidago sempervirens (seaside goldenrod) 8/11/93
Solidago sp. (goldenrod) 8/4/94
Teucrium canadense (American germander) 8/4/94
Trifolium pratense (red clover) 6/8/94 7/10/93
Trifolium repens (white clover) 6/8/94
Utricularia sp. (bladderwort)
Verbascum thapsus (common mullein) 8/4/94
Verbena urticifolia (white vervain) 8/4/94
Vernonia noveboracensis (New York ironweed) 8/20/93 almost

Rushes and Sedges:
Carex vulpinoidea (foxlike sedge)
Cyperus strigosus (umbrella sedge)
Juncus gerardii (black grass rush)
Juncus tenuis (path rush)

Anthoxanthum odoratum (sweet vernal grass)
Dactylis glomerata (orchard grass)
Distichlys spicata (spike grass)
Holcus lanatus (velvet grass)
Panicum clandestinum (deer-tongue panic grass)
Panicum virgatum (switch panic grass) 8/4/94 8/20/93
Phleum pratense (timothy grass)
Phragmites australis (giant reed grass)
Poa pratensis (Kentucky blue-grass)
Spartina alterniflora (saltmarsh cordgrass) 8/4/94
Spartina patens (saltmeadow cordgrass) 8/4/94
Tridens flavus (purpletop grass)

Ferns and Fern Allies:
Onoclea sensibilis (sensitive fern)