BY CHERYL SLAVIN
He was every man’s Everyman, the beloved de facto “Mayor” and unofficial historian of a tiny enclave on the banks of the Hudson River. And when Kenneth Moorehead passed away in January at the age of 86, he was also believed to be the last of a kind, a man who was born and lived all his days in “Jones Point,” New York.
Born at a time when Jones Point still had its own railroad station and post office, Moorehead spent his childhood swimming in the Hudson River in the summer and skating across it in the winter. He hiked and hunted in the local mountains, and attended a local one room schoolhouse until the eighth grade. Then, as now, his community was solidly working class families who all knew one another and enjoyed shared riverside cookouts.
The Moorehead family first came to Jones Point by way of Tomkins Cove, where Ken’s grandparents had lived. Tragedy struck, however, when his grandfather, George Moorehead, who worked at the munitions depot then located on Iona Island, was killed in an accidental explosion. George’s widow moved the family thereafter to Jones Point, and raised both of her sons there. Ken’s father, also named George, remained in the neighborhood after he married. In 1937 he purchased the former post office/grocery store and converted it into the family home it remains to this day.
With World War II raging as he graduated from Haverstraw High School, Moorehead joined the Navy, where he served on the USS Topeka until the end of the war. He was so young, his daughter Charlotte Moorehead recounts, that his parents had to sign for him when he enlisted. He married his wife Helen in 1948, and returned to the family home his father had built. Later on Ken built a log cabin near the first house as an additional family home. He and Helen remained a loving couple until her death in 1997.
For a while after the war Moorehead worked as part of the maintenance crew aboard the “Moth Ball Fleet,” the retired warships anchored from 1948 until 1970 just off of Jones Point. Charlotte relates that after working on the ships her father began to work for Laborers Local 754 where he remained until his retirement.
“My father was very well liked, people gravitated to him,” Charlotte remembers. “More than once he was asked to run for political office, but he never wanted to. He preferred to help by supporting people he cared about, like his friends or the union he believed so strongly in.”
But although he avoided the public eye, Ken’s caring and gregarious nature made him a natural leader in his community. His sister, Charlotte Van Steyn, recalls how “once he shook your hand, you were his friend for life.” This quality, along with his deep love and knowledge of local history and genealogy, earned him the unofficial but highly affectionate title of “mayor” of Jones Point. A treasure trove of Moorehead’s lifetime collection of Jones Point photos and memorabilia still remains housed in the family residence.
Despite its somewhat isolated location, or perhaps because of it, Jones Point also had something of a wilder side. For a long time a tavern, first owned by the Scozzafava family and then later by the Castelluccios, stood across the street from the train station. Sailors who worked on the ships would gather there regularly, and daughter Charlotte remembers that it could get a little rough at times. She also recalls that her little hamlet near the river was a favorite destination for dating teenagers looking for some privacy inside their cars.
Jones Point was also reputed to have been a thriving bare knuckle boxing location, and Ken Moorehead’s other sister, Marie, confirms that her brother at least knew about the fights, held in secret in the woods, even if he didn’t necessarily take part in them. One of the nation’s first boxing champions in the 1840s hailed from the community. It is not clear when the bare knuckle fighting tradition died out.
In the 1950s Moorehead was also a racecar driver in Peekskill.
Charlotte was born and grew up in the house her grandfather built. Although more than three decades separated her childhood from that of her father’s, she too remembers summers swimming and boating on the river, days spent walking to Bear Mountain, and an early childhood education in the one room schoolhouse. She also recalls purposely playing with her friend Michael Hard on the ice outside the Moth Ball Fleet, knowing full well that Hard’s grandfather, who worked aboard the fleet, would eventually come out and invite them aboard.
The close-knit children of the neighborhood even devised their own “Jones Point Stadium” along River Road where they’d play endless games of baseball. Her father Ken, a high school football and baseball player, remained an avid Dodgers fan his whole life.
New generations are now settling into the old houses of the riverside neighborhood. Charlotte is not sure who will live next in her father’s house, but she is certain that it will remain in the family. Ken Moorehead’s legacy, however, is more than just that of a man who lived his whole life in one place. In his 86 years he touched many lives, and he will be remembered as much for his good will and integrity as for his love of Jones Point.