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HomeCommunity GroupsGiving Rye: Meet the Jay Heritage Center

Giving Rye: Meet the Jay Heritage Center

(PHOTO: President, Board of Trustees, and Interim Executive Director Suzanne Clary of the Jay Heritage Center.)
(PHOTO: President, Board of Trustees, and Interim Executive Director Suzanne Clary of the Jay Heritage Center.)

Giving Rye is a new occasional feature highlighting non-profits and community groups in and around the City of Rye. Today meet Suzanne Clary of the Jay Heritage Center.

Your Name: Suzanne Clary

Organization: Jay Heritage Center

Your role: President, Board of Trustees, and Interim Executive Director

MyRye.com: Tell us your organization’s mission. 

(PHOTO: The Jay Heritage Center and Estate. Credit: Will McCullough.)
(PHOTO: Jay Heritage Center. Credit: Will McCullough.)

Clary: Our non-profit, the Jay Heritage Center (JHC) is dedicated to transforming the 23-acre Jay Estate into a vibrant educational campus, hosting innovative and inclusive programs about American history, historic preservation, social justice, and environmental stewardship. We hope to encourage people of all ages to understand, preserve and protect our shared heritage.  Maybe the next Annette Gordon-Reed or E. O. Wilson will start out as a young student exploring our archives or our park.

How long have you operated in Rye?

Clary: We were chartered by the New York State Board of Education in 1990.

(PHOTO: Blue Skies students from Port Chester learn about horticulture at the Jay Heritage Center.)
(PHOTO: Blue Skies students from Port Chester learn about horticulture at the Jay Heritage Center.)

What programming or work in Rye is the organization best known for?


  • School Trips and Group Tours. As a National Historic Landmark site and a member site of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area our impact is national with an emphasis on service in the New York State/Westchester County/Rye areas, but we also collaborate with partners in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and Manhattan. We offer free educational field trips (and free bus transportation thanks to the NY State Parks Connect Program) to groups of up to 150 students and chaperones, many of which attend Title 1 schools. We’re booking field trips for Spring 2024 right now and group tours of the gardens or the mansion can be scheduled anytime with advance notice. Interested groups can email us.
  • Historic Preservation. Part of our mission statement includes using the restoration of the 23-acre Jay Estate, building and landscape, as a teachable moment – what are best management practices using the standards set by the Department of the Interior? How does archaeology or SEQR fit into any capital project at a historic or environmentally sensitive site? We also aim to be sustainable and document our work so that others can learn from it. Installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system in a Greek revival building was a huge innovative achievement for us and now many other sites are following our example. Our native plantings in the Jay Estate Garden can be replicated by individual homeowners who want to have less lawn and bring biodiversity to their own backyards.
  • Author Talks, Exhibits and “Jams at Jay” Concerts. Since our inception, we have hosted renowned authors to speak about American history, historic preservation, social justice, and environmental stewardship. We’ve had Joseph Ellis, Joanne Freeman, Akhil Reed Amar, Kerri Greenidge, Doug Tallamy, Adam Gopnik, Victoria Johnson, and David Grann to name a few. People come to JHC to hear dynamic discussions.
(PHOTO: Some of the 2023 programming at the Jay Heritage Center.)
(PHOTO: Some of the 2023 programming at the Jay Heritage Center.)

We’ve curated large visual exhibits ranging in topics from the Legacy of Sailing in New York to the Jay Family’s Role in the Abolition of Slavery. We’ve hosted numerous photography exhibits featuring the Landmarks of New York (architectural photography); local photographer Robert Gambee’s Manhattan Seascapes; Alex MacLean Aerial Greenscapes; our most popular exhibits to date were trailblazer Mary Rutherfurd Jay – Garden Architect; Preserving African American History in Westchester and most recently local Greenhaven artist Fleur Spolidor’s Swimsuit Series about women’s rights. 

Music is a perfect example of our shared American heritage where the influences of many cultures are often woven together. Our “Jams at Jay” music series on the front lawn and indoors at the Wachenheim Center have featured bluegrass, jazz, opera, and classical artists.

(PHOTO: The award-winning Jay Estate Gardens at the Jay Heritage Center.)
(PHOTO: The award-winning Jay Estate Gardens at the Jay Heritage Center.)

Looking forward to 2024, what will be your top initiatives?


  • Rehabilitation of the 1907 Carriage House into the Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Exhibit and Performance Center. We are working with Beyer, Blinder, Belle to create a refreshed space for exhibits and performances on the ground floor along with ateliers for composers and artists on the second floor. The acoustics in the building are tremendous and we can’t wait to welcome back our friends from Juilliard, Yale’s Opera Project, and other music schools.
  • Completing Restoration of the 2nd Floor of 1838 Jay Mansion. We are creating studio work spaces/ateliers on the second floor of the mansion for fellowship awardees in the areas of history, social justice, horticulture and more. These sunlit spaces with views of Long Island Sound and 10,000 years of history will be compelling idea laboratories and the fellows can present their resulting work to the public. There are naming opportunities for 5 rooms – contact us!
  • Installing ADA paths in the Jay Estate Gardens. Access for everyone is paramount at a public park like ours.
(PHOTO: African American Men of Westchester environmental workshop in gardens at the Jay Heritage Center.)
(PHOTO: African American Men of Westchester environmental workshop in gardens at the Jay Heritage Center.)

Tell us about the population you serve and how they can get involved with your programming and services.

Clary: We serve everyone though multicultural partner programming. We love collaborating with other non-profits, academic institutions and more. Our longest non-profit partners have been the African American Men of Westchester, the American Women of African Heritage and Westchester County’s African American Advisory Board led by Barbara Edwards. We have been on the African American Heritage Trail since 2004 and Black History is a pillar of our programming. We host Westchester County’s Trailblazers Awards each February.

Additional partners include the Blue Skies Campers Program, The Port Chester Youth Bureau, Rye Sustainability Committee, Carver Center, Westchester Land Trust, Japan Society of Greater Fairfield County, NY Courts Historical Society, Westchester County Historical Society, Rye Garden Club, Little Garden Club of Rye, NY State Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC), Save the Sound, Elizabeth Haub School of Environmental Law, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Princeton University -it’s a long list! And we love adding to it. Organizations with programming ideas can email us directly.

(PHOTO: Rye guy and New York State Assemblyman Steve Otis with students from the French American School at the Jay Estate.)
(PHOTO: Rye guy and New York State Assemblyman Steve Otis with students from the French American School at the Jay Estate.)

Are you a 501(c)(3) non-profit with tax exempt status?

Clary: Yes, we are a 501 (c) (3) non-profit with tax exempt status (EIN 13-3585332). We are proud to have regularly received high scores from Charity Navigator, GuideStar and other philanthropic assessment services. We also won an award from NY State Parks in 2022 for Excellence in Nonprofit Achievement. We receive no taxpayer dollars from the City of Rye, Westchester County or New York State yet almost all our programs are free and the park is open dawn to dusk.

Looking back across 2023, what were your organization’s top achievements?


  • O’Neill Fellowship. We launched the inaugural Margaret Nolan O’Neill Fellowship Presentation in memory of Maggie O’Neill, who studied Political Science and Government at Columbia University. This meaningful opportunity for a college undergraduate advances scholarship in American History and fosters respectful dialogue about topics relevant to the shaping of our democracy. Our first O’Neill Fellow, Fenway Donegan, was simply amazing. He conducted original, incisive research about the impact of forced land transfers and confiscation laws in the Revolutionary period. His work expanded to encompass seizure and transfer of Indigenous lands for a more comprehensive overview of Rye’s early history. We look forward to growing this fellowship!
  • Wachenheim Challenge Grant for Jay Mansion. We were beyond fortunate to receive a challenge grant from the Wachenheim Foundation who share our vision for the site and recognize its potential as a premier educational and cultural destination. We were able to match the challenge grant thanks to an outpouring of philanthropy and individual donations from the community this past fall – in all, the total raised was $1.5 million. The Wachenheim family were members of the original Jay Coalition and this recent gift, combined with other gifts and grants, will help us complete Phase II restoration of the 1838 Jay Mansion. It’s definitely a catalyst for future leadership gifts and naming opportunities of which there are more!
  • ICAA Award for Jay Estate Gardens. Reimagining the gardens at the Jay Estate has been a journey of more than 13 years. The resulting design by Thomas Woltz and his exceptional team at Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects just won the prestigious McKim, Mead and White Award for Excellence in Classical and New Traditional Design. The design was applauded as one “that compresses centuries into one riveting glance.” This top honor, bestowed by the Institute of Classical Art and Architecture (ICAA), recognizes achievement in individual projects in architecture, interiors, landscape, urbanism, and building craftsmanship throughout the tri-state area. Our gardens were commended for being “pleasing to the eye while being intellectually complex.”

How can local residents support your organization? 

Clary: Residents can support JHC with a financial donation to our capital campaign, general operating budget, or programming budget including academic fellowships. Both novice and experienced green thumbs can volunteer in our gardens between March and November and help us with pruning roses or harvesting fresh vegetables for our weekly donations to the food pantry at Meals on Main Street. If you have an interest in history, art, or architecture, we welcome people to be docents to help give tours of our buildings and collection to the public. Additional opportunities can be found at VolunteerMatch or directly by contacting our Office Manager Meredith Slater at [email protected].

We are always excited to have volunteers with a creative spirit co-chair or be part of the committee for our annual fundraiser Jay Soirée or our biggest family friendraiser Jay Day. All our volunteer events bring people of varied backgrounds and interests together and we host regular volunteer appreciation gatherings throughout the year.

(PHOTO: I Love My Park Day grounds cleanup at the Jay Heritage Center.)
(PHOTO: I Love My Park Day grounds cleanup at the Jay Heritage Center.)

What local Rye residents and area businesses have been the longest, steadiest supporters of your organization? 

Clary: Our trustees, staff and volunteers have always been our steadiest supporters. They come from Rye but also from Mamaroneck, White Plains, Greenwich, and Manhattan. Con Edison has been our longest corporate supporter dating back to the early 90s – in addition to the grants they award for our free school trips, their local team members have helped out almost every Jay Day and I Love My Park Day, from raking leaves, pulling invasive species to planting daffodil bulbs.

NY State Parks has been a partner from our inception as a non-profit and they added our site to the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area list in 2009. NY State Assemblyman Steve Otis was one of the original government officials who helped save the Jay property from development in the 1980s and for the past four+ decades, he has remained invested in the park’s transformation to the present day, helping JHC secure grants to rehabilitate the gardens and the 1916 Palmer Tennis House. He and Senator Shelley Mayer have hosted phenomenal water quality workshops at our park for many years now.

Tell us about you:

How long have you been in your current role?

Clary: I’ve been a volunteer since 1999.

Is the role full time or part time? Paid or volunteer?

Clary: My role is pretty much full time. I like to joke that I’m in graduate school without the debt because I have met so many fascinating people over the years – archaeologists, entomologists, architects, climate experts, etc. – and learned a lot from them by osmosis. I also serve on several other non-profit boards and advisory boards including the Preservation League of New York State, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, and the Friends of American Art at Yale.

How would your friends and family describe you in one word?

Clary: Persistent

Pick one:



Select from:

Your Pick:
Coke or Pepsi? Not a soda drinker
Regular or diet? No artificial sweeteners
Action movie or rom com? Anything with Paul Rudd or Scarlett Johanssen
Cook, order in or eat out? All three – Crisfields, Piazza and Rafeles are all go-tos
Dog, cat or no pet? Had 3 Golden retrievers
Balsamic vinaigrette or ranch? Balsamic
Ruffles Original, Lay’s Barbeque or Funyuns? Barbeque
Still, sparkling or tap? Sparkling


What is the kindest thing someone has ever done for you? 

Clary: Too many instances to choose just one. Our garden volunteers are the kindest people in the world – knowing that we are understaffed and underfunded, they donate hours of their time and knowledge so unselfishly, sometimes showing up at 7:30am in the morning to help weed paths, inflate a wheelbarrow tire, or set up chairs for programs. The kindest words are “What can I do to help?”

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why, and who would you take with you?

Clary: My daughter and I have talked about sailing the San Juan Islands (a second time) and whale watching in Desolation Sound. The views are spectacular, the seafood is incredible and it’s a great mother/daughter time. London is also an overdue trip for our whole family.

What is your favorite streaming / TV series?

Clary: Pokerface

What is your favorite movie?

Clary: Top Gun – Maverick

Where do you live in Rye and how many years have you lived in the City?

Clary: We moved to Rye in 1992 and currently live on Dogwood Lane.

Thanks, Suzanne!

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