I was reminded of this reality in a recent article in the local paper entitled “Hotels Get Upscale Updates.” Coincidentally, the hotel is where the annual conference of social studies teachers in the Lower Hudson Valley had been held until this year. In fact, according to the article the $15,000,000 renovation followed the $12,000,000 renovation at the hotel where we will be meeting this year.
One reason cited for the renovation was the increase in travel and tourism and Westchester which totaled $1,700,000,000 last year. Note the distinction between travel and tourism. County Executive Rob Astorino is quoted as saying, “The reinvestment shows the strength of Westchester as a business and leisure destination…” Again notice the differentiation.
A previous article entitled “Economy Sparks Local Tourism” clarifies the point. This time Astorino said, “ We want more visitors. So we go after them and last year we launched Meet Me in Westchester.” The campaign worked, local taxes are up, jobs increased, and renovations followed.
Meet Me in Westchester to do what? According to the article, the county launched a new shuttle bus service twice a week to serve a dozen hotels. To take the guests where? To Yonkers gaming halls, restaurants, and performances. Again, history tourism is not important in Westchester. The situation may be different in other counties.
The County has a VisitWestchester website. On it there is an itineraries section under “Plan Your Trip”. I did see quite a few historic sites listed in various sections, but the heading for the site is revealing:
Whether you’re here with a bus tour, attending a family reunion or participating in a corporate retreat, you might want to have a few options available for interesting side trips. Here are a few itinerary ideas and a sampling of places to discover.
The county doesn’t have any bus tours itself to offer, but if you are in the neighborhood for whatever reason and have some free time and need to keep the kids occupied here are a whole bunch of places you might go, including historic sites and family fun locations.
So the primary reasons for “Meeting me in Westchester” are for a business meeting, a conference, a family event (wedding, high school or college graduation, etc.), to gamble, to shop, and to dine and maybe if you have time for a side trip to visit an historic site or ecological/recreation site/trail to hike and bike. One would never know from this website that the Path project exists. I wonder if that is true on the websites of other counties and boroughs in the state.
Yes, there should be organized paths in Westchester.
There should be a Yonkers Path through History.
There should be a Rivertown Path through History
There should be a Croton Aqueduct Path through History.
There should be an American Revolution Path through History.
There should be a Route 22 Path through History.
There should be a Mad Men Up-the-River Path through History
These and others aren’t that hard to put together. There’s just no interest.
When people from the Big Apple meet people in Westchester to dine on the Hudson River in Yonkers, no one cares if they walk up hill along the now day-lighted Saw Mill River to visit Philips Manor Hall.
When people from the Big Apple meet people in Westchester to dine on the Hudson River in Hastings-on-Hudson, no one cares if they walk (or drive) uphill to visit the Hastings Historical Society.
When people from the Big Apple meet people in Westchester to dine on the Hudson River in Dobbs Ferry, no cares if they walk (or drive) uphill to visit the Dobbs Ferry Historical Society.
When people from the Big Apple meet people in Westchester to dine on the Hudson River in Irvington, no cares if they walk (or drive) uphill to visit the Irvington Historical Society.
When people from the Big Apple meet people in Westchester to dine on the Hudson River in Tarrytown, no cares if they walk (or drive) uphill to visit the Tarrytown-Sleepy Hollow Historical Society.
Why should they? Is that why historical societies exist? The history community is in danger of falling into the trap that the purpose of historical societies is to be a tourist attraction for out-of-state and foreign visitors. I am sorry but not all 1600 communities in the state are quaint or of global importance.
Do libraries have to cost-justify themselves as tourist attractions or are they considered an essential part of the fabric of the community?
Do schools have to cost-justify themselves as tourist attractions or are they considered an essential part of the fabric of the community?
Then why should historical organizations which are chartered by the same NYSED have to? Why should history sites be forced to compete with shopping, gambling, and recreation?
Is it really the purpose of historical organizations to be a revenue provider for the community or should they be considered just as essential to the community as the local library and school?
A nationwide corporate ad by Benjamin Moore made this very point: “Our community is a place where we gather and where memories are made. As a proud local business owner we want to help it thrive.”
Benjamin Moore knows what the Governor, county executives, mayors, and town supervisors do not. The lesson for some vibrant and some desperate historical societies in the many communities in Westchester is that their purpose is to help define and maintain the community in which they are located.
The Governor isn’t listening to this because the history community is too fractured, too divided, too impotent, and too weak to deliver the message. If the history community can’t collectively make the case for its existence in the state, why should anyone care?
“(I)f I have a lot to do [on the plane] and not much time to talk I’ll tell someone I work for a small history museum in upstate New York. That’s a conversation stopper.” Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown.