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Shrub Oak's scrub oak
by June Kurdell

Is there a shrub oak in Shrub Oak? Shrub oaks, or scrub oaks as they are also known, are not common in Westchester County. So this question is often raised in reference to how the hamlet got its name.

Yes, there is a shrub oak in Shrub Oak, and not only that, there are more than one. They stand on Piano Mountain behind Memorial Park, not exactly where everyone can see them, at least not without some effort. One oak was left standing by town employees who cleared the brush from the area when the park was created just after World War II. Offspring have grown since that time.

Because Shrub Oak is one of the few places in Westchester County with sandy soil, many of these trees grew in the hamlet area. Described in garden encyclopedias as shrubs or small trees growing to about 10 feet tall, they favor sandy or rock soil that is excessively drained, and abound in such areas as Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard.

The sandy soil is Shrub Oak comes from a glacial lake, which once filled the area to the east and north, and ended at the foot of Piano Mountain. The lake eventually drained itself, but the glacial sands and gravels that lines its bottom remained and became a water reservoir that still stands ready to serve Yorktown in time of emergency.

The original name of the Shrub Oak area was Shrub Oak Plain, according to Herman Herst, Jr. Mr. Herst, a former Shrub Oak resident who now lives in Boca Raton, Florida, has done considerable research to get to the root of the question of the hamlet's name. The name was always Shrub, in one form or another, Herst said.

Years ago, Herst made a visit to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and searched through old maps, Revolutionary War histories, post office and other records. The earliest references to the area were Shrub Oak Plain. It was called by a one-word name, Shruboak, in 1820.

After 1850, the name became Shrub Oak. ("Plain" may have been dropped because there is a Shrub Oak Plain in Long Island.) The area was also known as Hyatt's Plains and Hyatt's Flats, named for Joshua Hyatt, a settler in 1686 [sic].

Mr. Herst said that Shrub Oak had the only post office by that name although there was a fire station in the Pocono Mountains called Shrub Oak, where the trees are the dominant vegetation.

Reference is made to the name Shrub Oak in Robert Bolton Jr.'s History of Westchester from its First Settlement to the Present Time, which was published in 1848 and describes Shrub Oak as a small village in the northern part of Yorktown containing "a Methodist church, a post office and about 15 dwellings," but no mention of a tree.

"The Methodist Society of Shrub Oak was first incorporated using that name on September 22, 1840," the history book states. It also said that the Methodist church, erected in 1839, "is a very neat wooden structure."

Does Piano Mountain have a piano?

Piano Mountain's name has an interesting origin. According to Mr. Herst, it got its name because it was traded for a piano. He found the earliest mention of this trade in records dated 1850, and is supposed to have taken place 50 years before. The piano came by ship to Ossining and was delivered by horse and wagon to Shrub Oak. Legend has it that both the new owner of the piano and the new owner of Piano Mountain were happy with the bargain they made.

Source: June Kurdell, The Yorktowner, August 25, 1976

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