In 1926, psychiatrist Victor Anderson relocated his school for troubled youth, which he founded two years earlier on a farm in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, to the 120-acre Mansewood estate in Staatsburg. The property was originally developed in 1810 by the Rev. John McVickar, the first rector of Hyde Park’s St. James Episcopal Church. Anderson purchased it from Francis Landon.
Born in Barbourville, Kentucky in 1878, Anderson attended Harvard, worked in the Boston courts and then visited state prisons, reporting on conditions to the respective governors. Simultaneous to founding his school in 1924, Anderson worked as the director of medical research for R.H. Macy’s department store in New York City.
There, he evaluated “troublesome” employees in an effort to quash high turnover and constant retraining of new hires, and to develop a more productive workforce.
In 1926, the mansion on the Mansewood estate in Staatsburg housed Dr. Victor Anderson and his family, along with students boarding at what was then known as Anderson School. Initially established to handle “troubled youth,” the school has evolved into a learning facility exclusively dedicated to students diagnosed with autism and renamed the Anderson Center for Autism.
“He did clinical research for Macy’s and that’s where he realized that people he interviewed were smart but they couldn’t adjust to a workplace emotionally,” said Vance Gage, Anderson’s grandson, who taught at the Anderson School for 17 years.
“His theory in starting the school was that if he could get troubled youth in their teens and place them in a controlled environment like a boarding school, he could help them.”
Anderson and his family moved into the Mansewood mansion, along with the boarding students. A second mansion on the property was eventually destroyed by fire.
Anderson commuted to his job at Macy’s through 1931, when an increase in student population stimulated his resignation in order to focus solely on the school. In 1928, while driving to pick him up at the Poughkeepsie train station on hazardous, icy roads, Anderson’s wife Clara was killed in an automobile accident.
“The school was very successful in the 1940s and 1950s,” Gage said. “They had more than 100 students and grandad bought the Morgan estate in Staatsburg to house female students in its mansion and gatehouse.”
Dr. Anderson died in 1960 and his son-in-law and school headmaster, Lewis Gage (Vance’s father), died in 1964, at the age of 53. Having been a teacher at the school prior to assuming his headmaster position, Gage had a significant academic background working with children with special needs.
Upon Anderson’s death, his second wife, Margaret, assumed oversight of the school. Following Gage’s death, the commandant of the New York Military Academy stepped in to become the school’s new headmaster. That same year the school formed a coalition with Oakwood Friends School, Storm King Academy and other area schools to compete in sports.
The Anderson School’s stellar reputation attracted students from throughout the United States and even a few from Latin America. Vance Gage estimates that about 75 percent of its graduates went on to college.
“There were psychiatrists in other parts of the country that knew my grandfather and the school and they would send kids there,” Gage said. “As a result, we had many students from St. Louis, Detroit, Baltimore and New York City.”
As years passed, youth didn’t want to attend boarding schools, parents didn’t want to pay the tuition and, if necessary, they opted for psychiatric care at home. Vance Gage and his sister continued to run the school, but it got tougher and the students became more challenging to deal with.
In 1976, local businessman Dominic Giambona purchased the property from the family and decided to keep the school open. The following year, the first three students with autism entered the program, and by 1998 a decision was made to serve only those students diagnosed with autism.
Carol Weber has worked at the renamed Anderson Center for Autism since 1984.
“When I started here we had a special secondary education program for children that were classified emotionally disturbed and another program for autism,” Weber said. “I originally worked in the Mansewood mansion, which was demolished in 2014.”
Now in its 95th year, the center is located at 4885 Route 9, Staatsburg