God and Route 9A. And almost 50,000 cars—daily.
That’s the number of vehicles that motor by Briarcliff Manor’s “God Answers Prayers” sign each day. But why is the subtle, yet iconic placard there?
In short, it was done so for the simple reason that God answered the prayers of Joseph Woyden in 1953. Woyden lived in the old farmhouse adjacent to what is now 9A, near the Pleasantville Road exit. As the story goes, a young Joseph Woyden spent much of his career on the road and, upon encountering an emergency, put his faith in God to keep him safe, according to Guideposts magazine, a Christian periodical.
In 1953, a year prior to the sign being created, Woyden’s wife Dorothy was struck by a car. She survived, but her family was informed she didn’t have long to live.
After several months in the hospital, Woyden’s wife was able to come home—with doctors telling her she would never be able to walk again.
Woyden prayed some more.
But this time around, Woyden asked for a complete recovery. He retired from his business to become his wife’s full-time caregiver and, after three months, Dorothy was able to take a few steps across her room. Only a short time later, she was back to indulging in her favorite outdoor activities. It was then that Joseph Woyden built the now-familiar sign.
Still, the sign has a few challenges of its own.
The first incarnation—of wooden construction—was chopped down; the steel-bolted successor was a victim of theft; but the third sign was the charm. Secured in a bed of concrete, the current sign has been maintained for more than 50 years, even though Woyden’s property has since been subdivided, and additional houses constructed.
The sign today
Dana Herman lived in one of the houses on the old Woyden property from the 1990s through 2009 and took over the care of the sign when she first moved to Briarcliff.
“The sign began to mean so much to me,” Herman said.
In the 90s, a tumor had been discovered in Herman’s facial region and she scheduled surgery. Working to ensure her two young children were registered for school prior to her surgery, she stopped by the school district office for enrollment. Upon learning where Herman lived, the school secretary conveyed the sign’s story.
“I drove away from the school knowing I was going to be perfectly fine,” Herman said.
Upon arriving home, Herman declared to her family, “We have to take care of this sign.”
There were many times Herman would arrive home to find thank you notes on her doorstep, she said. On one occasion, Herman returned home and was surprised to discover a depressed-looking man in front of her house.
Recently divorced, he was driving on 9A praying for a sign from God that all would be well when he encountered the sign. He found the house—and Herman—grabbed her hand, and knelt to say a prayer. The placard gave him hope, he said.
Herman hasn’t lived in Briarcliff Manor for the past few years, but still has faith in the sign.
“I do, I really do,” she said. “It has given be strength at two very important times in my life.”
And who is minding the sign now?
The current caretaker—who spoke anonymously—performed an extensive overhaul several years ago after severe storm damage took its toll on the sign. Although not legally required to maintain the historic placard, he decided to renovate it with stencils, spray paint and other high-quality materials. Additionally, the village occasionally removes brush, ensuring the sign remains visible to motorists.
“I did it to keep the spirit of the sign alive,” the current homeowner said. “The story itself is beautiful.”
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