Living in Montebello, New York: A Real Estate and Lifestyle Community
Montebello, New York—from Bayard Lane Utopia to a Suburban Sanctuary
Montebello’s Cooperative Beginnings
Who knew? The relatively young village of Montebello, New York, incorporated in 1986, got its start as an experiment in communal living called Bayard Lane. Established in 1936 on 40 acres of undeveloped land at the foot of the Ramapo Mountains in Rockland County, Bayard Lane was the homestead fulfillment dream of Ralph Borsodi, an author, economist, and philosopher, who, along with 14 families, built a self-sustaining colony.
The concept of establishing a self-sufficient community appealed to struggling families during the Great Depression that needed more productive work options and less crowded living conditions than their poorly paying jobs and tenement lifestyles in New York City. Borsodi acquired the land from the Independence Foundation Inc., a nonprofit cooperative and self-governing group, where Borsodi was a trustee. The parcel was divided into one- and two-acre estates; the families owned their homes but the sites were owned cooperatively and essentially indentured to each homesteader. Homes were constructed of native fieldstone, with architects and plans provided by the Independence Foundation and the residents providing much of the labor under guidance from the designers to ensure uniformity of construction and aesthetics.
The Bayard Lane cooperative community survived until the World War II years, when American patriotism gained new momentum and allegiances shifted from self-contained utopia back toward mainstream society. Eventually, most of the original families moved away, leaving a legacy of hope and survival that improved the lives of impoverished families of the 1930s, along with the stone structures that gave Bayard Lane its character.
Where to Live in Montebello
Montebello is east of the Village of Suffern, New York, and south of Palisades Park, New Jersey. Like its area—4.5 square miles—its population is small: 4,650 residents. But lifestyles in the village can be big.
The median home price in Montebello is US$665,000, well above the United States national average, and likely would have its original Bayard Lane inhabitants ready to throw in their trowels. The most expensive homes are near the Spook Rock Golf Course, ranging from about US$800,000 for a five-bedroom home on Brentwood Drive, to a stone Colonial-style five-bedroom on Chip Circle for US$840,000, to the Hingle Estate, part of the landmarked Cobblestone Farm property, a five-bedroom mansion on Viola Road for US$1.1 million.
On the highest end of the luxury scale is the US$12 million Montebello Mansion situated beyond the village limits in Suffern, New York. Designed by Stanford White for Thomas Ryan, a New York financier, in the latter part of the 19th century, the 3,400-square-foot mansion featured 44 rooms, a bowling alley, and an electric elevator. Over the decades, the mansion changed hands and was eventually purchased in 1944 for conversion to a country club. That never happened and the structure fell into disrepair, until its purchase by Dodge Corporation to serve as its headquarters for over 35 years. The Montebello Mansion is now fully restored and for sale again as corporate space or, maybe, as a grand home in homage to a bygone era.
Living in Montebello
Coming home to Montebello, which means beautiful mountain in Italian and refers to the Ramapo Mountain views, is quiet relief worth the 30-mile (70-minute) commute by train to Hoboken, New Jersey, to catch a PATH train to Downtown Manhattan, or a ferry across the Hudson River.
It’s a good place to raise children too. The Suffern Central School District in Rockland County serves the village of Montebello with an elementary school, middle school, and high school, which was named one of the top 500 schools in the United States and a 2017 New York State High Performing Reward School. Rockland Community College, a two-year college, is part of the SUNY education system and lies just outside the village boundaries.
What to do in Montebello
Montebello is still a world apart from the big city. The main commercial street is Route 59 and the main shopping and entertainment venue is Indian Rock Shopping Center on Route 59 and Hemion Road in the village of Suffern to the west of Montebello. But most people live in Montebello to escape the city.
Entertainment among the flora and fauna can be found at Kakiat Park, which offers 376 acres of hiking and horseback riding trails. Kathryn Gorman Ponds Park has numerous (no surprise) ponds and walking trails, as does the Warren E. Berbit Park. Spook Rock Golf course is in the town of Ramapo and the Spook Rock Pool is within the village limits of Montebello.
Some historical sites still exist, including Cobblestone Farm and The Morse House. Cobblestone Farm was once the location of an estate built in 1907 by Henry von L. Meyer that overlooked a 200-acre working farm. It was built of rounded local fieldstone that resembled the cobblestones of village streets, hence its name. Today, Cobblestone Farm is a neighborhood of beautiful homes and the site of the Suffern High School. The Meyer family descendants were known for their charity work, not the least of which was with the Rockland County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the shelter they built on their farm to care for abandoned animals.
Montebello Village Hall at 1 Montebello Road was formerly the Stanley and Blanche Morse House, a 1920-reimagining of a Tudor-style estate. The Morse House was designated a Montebello Historic Landmark in 2008.
Who Was Who in Montebello
The village’s most famous son—after Ralph Borsodi, its founding father—is John Philip Sousa, an American conductor and composer who summered in Montebello, when he wasn’t marching to his own drum. His house on Haverstraw Road, built in 1880, still stands.
Montebello by the Numbers
40 percent of residents hold a Master of Arts degree or higher
26 percent of residents hold a 4-year college degree