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Mavis Cain on the front porch of the Keeper’s House

Dobbs Ferry resident Mavis Cain, president of the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct (FOCA) since 2000, is being doubly honored today (Dec. 4). 

Westchester County is bestowing a Special Recognition Award on Cain and inducting her into its Senior Citizens Hall of Fame, Class of 2020, while Dobbs Ferry Mayor Vincent Rossillo has declared today Mavis Cain Day in the village.

Cain is one of four seniors earning Special Recognition. The County will celebrate them and 45 other Hall of Famers at a virtual awards presentation. 

To be nominated, seniors must have made significant and enduring contributions to enhance Westchester’s quality of life through their professional work, volunteer achievements, or both. Nominations are made by members of the community. A panel of judges then selects the honorees, whose names are engraved on plaques displayed at the Department of Senior Programs and Services (DSPS) office in Mount Vernon. Since 1982 when the Hall was established, 1,200 seniors have been inducted.

County Board of Legislators Majority Leader MaryJane Shimsky nominated Cain for the award. Shimsky, a Dobbs Ferry resident, is a regular attendee at FOCA events.

Cain, a former ad agency creative director from Montreal who has lived in Dobbs for more than 50 years, is being recognized for her work on behalf of the Old Croton Aqueduct, a New York State Historic Park, and the restoration of its 1857 Keeper’s House at 15 Walnut Street, the last such structure remaining in its original location. 

She has organized exhibits, workshops, events, and a docent program at the Keeper’s House; worked on fundraising and liaised with the state parks department; and led OCA Trail cleanups and vine-cutting events in partnership with the City of Yonkers, Groundwork Hudson Valley, and other organizations to help improve the overall ecology of the 26-mile linear park. 

Cain told the Enterprise she’s been attracted to working in preservation and conservation all her life, and became involved with the OCA in 1994. She estimates that she spends approximately 20 hours a week on FOCA activities during its busiest times.

FOCA has won awards from United Way, Greater Hudson Heritage Network, and the New York Preservation League, and raised more than $1 million to save the Keeper’s House from decay, transforming it into an educational center.

The house is closed until further notice, but the parks department has allowed FOCA to resume safely controlled walking tours of attractions along the trail: the Ossining Weir, Croton Dam, and the High Bridge. Small-group walks and tours beginning Dec. 9, by reservation only, will requiremasks and proper social distancing. 

Cain is excited about even incremental changes in pandemic precautions. “Our annual meeting in April may be live,” she enthused. “We are also having live mini-events at the Keeper’s House on occasional Sunday afternoons — impromptu entertainment — and walkers love it.” 

“When the pandemic is over, we will continue our events with major speakers and celebrations of new features in the Keeper’s House,” Cain asserted. “We plan two major installations this spring.”

She pointed out that the trail attracts international visitors, and the Keeper’s House has become a destination for dedicated walkers. “Up to the pandemic we were receiving visitors from all over the world,” she stated. “I remember people from Iceland, China, Germany, France, Quebec. I am fluent in French and German, and loved the weekend afternoons when we received so many visitors.”

Cain has appeared at countless village board meetings to apprise the trustees of the number of tourists who walk through the village on the trail and spend money at local businesses. Keeper’s House visitor statistics show an increase from 1,628 to 1,782 between 2018 and 2019. “It’s a real advantage to the village merchants,” she added. 

FOCA and the Dobbs Ferry Historic District Task Force have been discussing the possibility of having the downtown portion of the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail declared a historic district, from the Keeper’s House north to Cedar Street. The idea arose because new construction — even the vibration of machinery — too close to the trail could damage the aqueduct beneath it, which began carrying water to New York City in 1842. FOCA also wants to preserve the trail’s Hudson River views, which are at risk of being blocked by development projects.

New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, marking the 175th anniversary of the Aqueduct in 2017, spoke at the Keeper’s House and presented Cain with a proclamation recognizing the OCA’s importance. Rossillo, in his Nov. 25 email newsletter, suggested marking Mavis Cain Day in a less formal way: “That would be a great day to hit the trail in her honor.”

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