Lesley Topping may have worked on films like “Missing in Action” and “Year of the Dragon” in the 1980s and many documentaries since then during her long career as a filmmaker, but the most rewarding, has- she says, were the seven films she has worked on as a director, editor and writer with the Scarsdale Historical Society documenting the history of her former hometown.
The latest film, “Scarsdale’s Quaker Ridge: Its Heritage and History,” focuses on Quaker Ridge, following further reporting on Fox Meadow and Arthur Manor.
“Quaker Ridge was a bit unusual because it was one of the last areas of Scarsdale to be really developed,” Topping said. “A lot of housing was only built after the war, and that’s quite unusual. Most of the rest of Scarsdale around the village and Greenacres and Heathcote were built much earlier.
Although Topping called the film “a broad look at the neighborhood of Quaker Ridge”, there are fascinating pieces of the puzzle that were uncovered through meticulous research by the film’s team of Topping, Barbara Shay MacDonald and Jordan. Copeland.
“He talks about the Quakers in Scarsdale and the history of the Quakers, and in particular about a pretty amazing guy, Joseph Carpenter, who is kind of a forgotten figure,” Topping said. “He was a very influential abolitionist and he came from an old Scarsdale family. Joseph Carpenter moved to New Rochelle after his marriage, but he was a very prominent abolitionist who sheltered many fugitives and runaway slaves before the war He had also donated part of his land for an integrated cemetery.
Boulder Brook Stables and the Quaker Ridge Golf Club also play key roles in the film. “We have a great streak on Boulder Brook Stables, which is a landmark; a very exclusive club at the time that a lot of celebrities went to,” Topping said. “We also discuss a bit of the history of the Quaker Ridge Golf Club. Babe Ruth was one of the guests there – he wasn’t a member, but he often went to play there.
1973 Topping’s mother, a Scarsdale High School graduate, lived in Scarsdale until recently, so her connection to the community has endured even though she lives in Brooklyn.
“It’s funny because when I grew up in Scarsdale, I didn’t know anything about Scarsdale,” Topping said. “Now I feel like I know everything about it. I recognize all the street names. History is very important for people to know where they are from in general. I studied history and I’m very interested in history.
Topping became involved in the film series at the request of her parents’ longtime neighbor MacDonald, who recently turned 90. MacDonald is the village historian and suggested Topping use her expertise to help bring Scarsdale’s history to life. The first film they worked on together was about the Cudner-Hyatt House Museum before it closed and was sold.
Topping called MacDonald her “mentor” and was honored to be asked to work on the films.
“Once you start to look into the story, as Barbara will tell you, it becomes more and more fascinating as you uncover more and more of it,” Topping said. “I’m really grateful to Barbara and the Scarsdale Historical Society for involving me in making these movies because it’s really fun. I think it’s also a throwback to the community, because people s are interested in their city [and it’s] always fun to learn more.
What followed the first film was:
“Scarsdale in the 18th and 19th centuries: from Hardscrabble farms to graceful estates”
“A River Returns, A Bronx River Story”
“The Life and Art of Anna Richards Brewster (1870-1952)”
“Pathway to a Scarsdale Community: Fox Meadow and the Butler Estate”
“Arthur Manor: Scarsdale’s First Suburban Community”.
“We had done a few films about Scarsdale and one about the Bronx River and felt that as the Scarsdale Historical Society we should make films about local neighborhoods,” said Randy Guggenheimer, president of the Scarsdale Historical Society. “I think they’ve been very well received and that really resonates with people when you talk about their neighborhood. When we did the Fox Meadow movie, everyone was trying to figure out where their house was in relation to the Butler estate. It’s something [that] introduces them to the story. It was awesome.
Under Guggenheimer’s direction, MacDonald and Topping worked together on the film series and they added associate village historian Copeland to the production team as he became heavily involved in the study and presentation of the film. local history to residents in recent years.
“We’ve worked with Lesley for a while and it’s lucky she grew up in Scarsdale and is also a documentary filmmaker. [with] enormous interest in history,” Guggenheimer said, adding that MacDonald and Copeland, who both sit on the historical society’s board of directors, were “very excited to be involved in the projects.”
Topping credited Dan Glauber of the Scarsdale Public Library with maintaining an extensive collection of historic photographs that the historical society can use for its films. “It’s quite unusual for a community to have this,” she said. “We’re very lucky because we have amazing visuals and assets, and a lot of it comes from Dan’s work.”
Award-winning cameramen John Sears, Richard Westlein and Antonio Rosario also contribute to the success of the projects.
Having made three films during the COVID-19 pandemic, this will be the first during that time to have a live screening, which is scheduled for Quaker Ridge Elementary School on Tuesday, April 19 at 7 p.m.
“What’s interesting is that there’s a building on the Quaker Ridge golf course that’s one of the original schools,” Topping said. “It’s now the caddy’s headquarters, so we filmed there. It was a one-room schoolhouse and was used by the children of Quaker Ridge School until the 1940s or 1950s before they built Quaker Ridge Elementary School. At the time, she says, the neighborhood’s population was much smaller, and “wealthy people sent their children to private school.”
Guggenheimer isn’t sure which neighborhood will be featured next, but he’s set to enjoy the movie Quaker Ridge which was filmed and edited between October 2021 and February this year.
“In this documentary, we are thrilled to present the unique history of Quaker Ridge and shine a light on its important past,” said Guggenheimer. “This is the latest in a series of films about Scarsdale neighborhoods, and we hope the community will join us in experiencing the rich history that led to the creation of Quaker Ridge.”