See A free reading of the play that helped save this rockland County peak from destruction
In just 10 days from today, on Saturday, Aug. 21 and Sunday, Aug. 22, we’ll get a chance to see a performance of High Tor, a play that really did change the world.
The West Branch Conservation Association, Rockland County’s Land Trust, is producing two performances of Maxwell Anderson’s New York Drama Critics’ Circle Best Play Award winner for 1937 on the on mountain the play was written to save and from which it takes its name.
Write what you know
The old adage for writing is that you do your best when you “write what you know.” That’s what famed playwright Maxwell Anderson did in 1936.
Anderson was a resident of South Mountain Road in New City, an area that had become artists colony over the years, attracting creative folks such as Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, John Houseman, cartoonist Milton Caniff — along with Burgess Meredith and Alan Jay Lerner, who lived just over South Mountain in Pomona.
Concerned about the mountain
Anderson, like many of his neighbors, grew concerned in the late 1930s about New York Trap Rock Corp. plans to quarry the mountain, effectively destroying the beautiful peak to make crushed stone for road building.
Property owner Elmer Van Orden stood fast and refused to sell to the quarry company. But Anderson and his neighbors knew that Van Orden wouldn’t live forever, and feared the mountain was ultimately doomed unless they took definitive action.
In 1936, Anderson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, wrote what he knew, and called it High Tor. It was a fantasy that built on the local legend of Rip Van Winkle and pitted residents against quarry owners. Property owner Van Van Dorn (the name was changed for the play) fought the money hungry quarrymen who wanted to “chew the back right off this mountain ” but ultimately lost the battle.
Hesper Anderson, daughter of Maxwell and author of the Academy Award-nominated screenplay for the film “Children of a Lesser God,” said in a 1988 interview that “in a sustained rage, my father wrote the play ‘High Tor.’ He depicted the trap rock company as a bunch of money-grubbing fools, trying to displace the rightful owner of the Tor.”
The play helped start a serious movement to by galvanizing neighbors and environmentalists to preserve the peak. In 1943, after Van Orden’s death, citizens groups raised the funds to purchase some of the land and turn it over to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission for preservation. Grassroots groups also persuaded millionaire railroad magnate Archer Huntington to donate his adjacent estate of 470 acres to the park commission to the park commission. Decades after High Tor became a state park , 78 acres were added to it as a result of litigation by West Branch to prevent development. These included the Van Orden farm, the actual site of the play. West Branch is producing the play to increase public awareness of the many artists who have lived and those who still live on and near South Mountain Road, and their work.
High Tor. 3 p.m., Aug. 21 and 22. On the grounds of High Tor State Park, 417 South Mountain Road, New City, NY. Click here for directions. Totally free, including parking! Audience members can picnic in the park before the show.