It’s an old farmhouse in the hamlet of Hartsdale in New York’s Westchester County. Many county residents, as they drive or walk along Ridge Road, never offer a second glance to the structure that has stood behind a fieldstone wall for nearly three centuries. A significant number of their neighbors, however, are well-aware of the history associated with this unique witness to liberty.
The Odell House contributed to America’s independence. The site played a crucial role in the commencement of U.S. – French relations. Today, this farmhouse is a critical component of preservation and interpretation efforts associated with local, national and international history.
During the American Revolution, the Odell House served as the headquarters of Marshal Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur (comte de Rochambeau) from July 6 to August 18, 1781. Nearby fields and hills accommodated approximately 6,000 soldiers in the French expeditionary forces under his command. The soldiers with their camp accoutrements settled in this area of the county following a 12-day march of more than 200 miles from Newport, Rhode Island.
About 4,000 Continental troops sheltered alongside America’s new ally in what became known as the Philipsburg Encampment. The American camp on the west side of Sprain Brook extended almost as far west as the Hudson River. Several friendly Native American tribes also lived among these hills, forests and streams of Westchester that once were owned by the prominent Philipse family. The family had remained loyal to the king. Their land holdings, dating to the 1600s, had been confiscated as spoils-of-war by the Revolutionary government of the Province of New York just a few years prior to the encampment.
Plans For The Yorktown Siege
The French general and several aides occupied the four-room Odell House. Other French officers lodged in nearby homes. General George Washington established his headquarters on the Joseph Appleby property. Located on the present Secor Road about three quarters of a mile west of the Odell House, the site is identified in the contemporary world by a tower for local radio station WFAS.
General Washington and his troops were familiar with the landscape. They had maneuvered among the villages and farms north of Manhattan throughout the war. The area from Kingsbridge in the present day Bronx to North Castle and then from Dobbs Ferry along the Hudson River east to the Bronx River was occupied by forts, redoubts, burned farmhouses, roving marauders and battle grounds contested by rival armies—Continental troops and patriot militias on the side of independence and loyalist militias, Hessian mercenaries and British regulars fighting for the king.
In this specific area of Westchester County (Hartsdale is situated in the present-day Town of Greenburgh), the American and French commanders planned their strategy to drive the British from America. Concluding that they would not be able to defeat the overwhelming British forces in Manhattan, Washington and Rochambeau, at the Odell House, arrived at the momentous decision to march south with their combined forces.
Their destination was Yorktown, Virginia. Following a three-week siege of that town, surrender terms were accepted by General Lord Charles Cornwallis of the British Army on October 19, 1781.
Preserving Odell House
Rochambeau and Washington discussed their plans in the 1732 and 1760 portions of the Odell House. The 1732 construction (middle section) was built the same year as Washington’s birth. The 1760 expansion is located on the east side of the original farmhouse. At the time, the house did not feature a second floor. This expansion was added during 1785. The two early portions of the Odell House feature a wood-frame construction with cedar wood shingles on a fieldstone foundation. The two-story stone structure on the west side of the home was added between 1853 and 1855.
While the dwelling has deteriorated considerably since 1965, when the last Odell family member deeded the house to the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), stabilization followed by preservation will not be forced to address the intrusion of modern conveniences. The farmhouse, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places during 1973, does not include pipes for heat and water. Electricity is limited to one wall outlet.
Tarps now cover the roof to prevent further damage to the structure. While holes in the siding and broken windows exposed the house to the elements for several years, engineers determined that repairs will preserve the structure. The house features the original floors and the mantle that witnessed the meetings between the American and French generals.
Friends Group And Town Of Greenburgh
Saviors of the historic farmhouse are the Friends of Odell House Rochambeau Headquarters and the Town of Greenburgh. The nonprofit Friends group was founded by Susan Seal, a retired real estate specialist and former president of the Westchester County Historical Society. The town, during July 2019, agreed to accept the deed to the property for one dollar when Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner and SAR chapter president Bob Stackpole signed the transfer agreement. The contents of the house, for the moment, remain the property of SAR.
Following the Supreme Court of the State of New York approval of the title transfer for the property from the nonprofit SAR to the municipality, the Town of Greenburgh received a $600,000 matching grant from the state that has been allocated to the architect’s estimate to stabilize and restore the house. The state grant must be matched by the town and the Friends organization.
Seal had lobbied for years for the Town of Greenburgh to take stewardship of the site, and she filed for incorporation of the Friends following the signing of the transfer agreement. The Friends group recently was notified of the acceptance of its nonprofit 501(c)(3) request, allowing the organization to begin to raise funds for restoration, preservation and the eventual opening of the house to welcome the public.
“Each section of the house is in its original condition,” said Seal, “and that includes the floorboards, fireplaces and molding. I feel so strongly that we need to preserve this site, which also is a rare example of an 18th century farmhouse with its original details intact, and make it accessible to the public. Our plan is to ensure that it is open to the public by 2026. Our goal is to educate present and future generations about the critical role this house played in our nation’s successful struggle for freedom during the Revolutionary War.”
Several hundred people have expressed interest to save the house, and Seal indicated more volunteers are welcome to share their expertise. Event planning, publicity and grant-writing committees are among the initial activities already in various stages of development by the organization. Donations and volunteer inquiries can be made through the Odell Website, the Friends Facebook page, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to Friends of OHRH, 14 Rochambeau Drive, Hartsdale, NY 10530.
Revolutionary Westchester 250
Cooperation and publicity for the Odell House preservation effort already has arrived from the volunteers and officers of Revolutionary Westchester 250, the local nonprofit organization working alongside the national, state and regional project that will commemorate the United States Semiquincentennial (or Quarter Millennial) of the American Revolution during 2026.
“We are confident our grassroots network across the county and region will help draw attention to this significant site,” said RW250 President Constance Kehoe.
RW250 is building awareness and appreciation for Westchester County’s revolutionary era history. The organization’s Revolutionary Westchester 250 Website and RW250 Facebook page publicize news about local events and preservation projects focused on Revolutionary War history in the county. RW250’s well-attended programs for both families and history enthusiasts have been held across the county since 2018.
The French Connection
Seal also is seeking support from French resources. The French Consul General visited the Odell House last summer and she expressed interest to assist with preservation. Seal will apply for a grant from the French government.
Following the French Revolution, according to Seal, “a lot of the heritage from France in the 18th century was destroyed, so many historical artifacts are missing. Now, they realize that documentation does exist, but not in their country. The history is in Rochambeau’s letters and several journals written by French soldiers when they were here in Harstdale, and we have this written documentation here in Westchester.”
Seal added that “everyone we’ve spoken to is excited to be able to experience this marvelous moment when the French helped us gain our independence. Besides its importance to our history, this site will be a focal point to rekindle American-French friendship. It could also become a major attraction for French tourism in the New York area.”
Upcoming Local Events
The Town of Greenburgh and the Friends are planning an Odell House Colonial Day at by Ridge Road Park on Saturday, June 14, to showcase and experience life in 18th century Greenburgh. The park is located at 287 Ridge Rd, Hartsdale, NY 10530.