Tag Archives: Westchester County

Archaeology in Westchester County:
An Excavation at St. George’s – St. Mark’s Church


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ExcavationIn the town of Mount Kisco in Westchester County, there is a small graveyard known as the St. George’s/St. Mark’s Cemetery, after the two successive Episcopal churches that once stood there. Established in the 1760s, the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its role in the American Revolution. In the late 18th century, the small wooden St. George’s Church was one of the few man-made structures in a sparsely populated area that was transformed into a hostile wilderness with the onset of war.

Accordingly, the church was used by American, British, and French armies as a landmark in their journeys through Westchester County. General Washington’s troops retreated to the church to tend to the wounded and bury the slain after the Battle of White Plains in 1776; Colonel Tarleton brought his army to the church on the eve of the Burning of Bedford in 1779; and in the summer of 1781 the Comte de Rochambeau’s army camped near the church prior to the meeting with Washington that would ultimately bring their combined forces to victory at Yorktown. Continue reading

Jay Heritage Center Hosting Downton Abbey Talk


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Downtown Abbey at Jay Heritage CenterWhether you love learning about period homes or just can’t wait for Downton Abbey Season 4 to start (January 5, 2014) join the Jay Heritage Center and learn more about the architectural and cultural history of Highclere with Curt DiCamillo, a noted authority on British country estates.

In 1836, Peter Augustus Jay and his wife Mary Rutherfurd Clarkson took down the battered 1745 farmhouse that had long been the original country seat of the Jay family. The soaring Greek Revival mansion that took its place was meticulously planned in the “English stile” which Peter and Mary would have seen during trips to Europe. Continue reading

Peter Feinman: Cashing In On Halloween


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Sleepy HallowHalloween is boffo at the box office. It’s not your father’s Halloween. In recent years the holiday has soared in prominence and become an economic powerhouse. Time magazine had an article in its culture section entitled “Monsters Inc.: Inside the Weird World of Professional haunting.” This was a followup to last year’s smaller article on “Tombstone Tourism: A Second Life for Cemeteries.” The New York Times published “House Haunters” while my local paper had a front-page article “In the Lower Hudson Halloween Is SCARY-BIG BUSINESS.” Clearly something big is occurring and historic organizations often are cashing in. Continue reading

What Works: Flashback to Your Community’s Heritage


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Capitol TheatreOn September 30, the recently reopened historic Capitol Theatre in the village of Port Chester in the Town of Rye, in the county of Westchester, founded in the days of vaudeville, beloved by the Grateful Dead, rechristened by Bob Dylan, and just host to Willie Nelson, hosted Flashbacks. 

A musical to the history of the town written by local sisters and educators Camille Linen and Donna Cribari, Flashbacks tells the story of high school students who complete a historical multimedia project and are drawn to the local river that mysteriously produces figures from the town’s past as primary source documents. Continue reading

A New Academic Conference at Jay Heritage Center


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constitution week 016This past September 18 – 20, in launching the first of what it hopes to be many academic conferences at its site, the Jay Heritage Center (JHC) faced a welcome challenge: to select a topic, a keynote speaker, and partner institutions sure to generate vigorous, enlightened and thought provoking discussions.

As a member site of NY’s Path Through History for its themes on Civil Rights and suitably inspired by our nation’s observation of Constitution Week each fall, JHC asked acclaimed scholar, author and Yale Law School Professor, Akhil Reed Amar to speak “On the Nature of Constitutions.” Continue reading

The Purpose of Historical Societies:
The Westchester Experience


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Westchester CountyWestchester County decided that historical heritage is not important. It is too insignificant to waste any time, energy, and effort supporting.

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. Continue reading

Old Roads: Byways of the History Community


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US9_Freehold_NJRoute 66 is perhaps the most culturally iconic road in American history. Not to take anything away from other byways, but how many have had TV shows and become tourist destinations?

New York has its share of numbered roads with historic connections. In Westchester County where I live there is Route 1 (the Boston Post Road into New England); Route 9 (the Albany Post Road from NYC to Montreal), and Route 22  (the White Plains Post Road to the Canadian Border). These roads follow the lay of the land and have been used for centuries. We should be promoting them as access points to our history community.
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‘Three Parlors’ Exhibit Features Art History At Lyndhurst


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Herter suite and Courbet“Three Parlors,” a new exhibition using three Victorian parlor suites to track the development of a new American identity during the 19th century, will open at Lyndhurst on June 20th and will remain open through the end of 2013.

Lyndhurst is fortunate to retain the furnishings of the three families who occupied the estate over the past 175 years. The three suites of parlor furniture at Lyndhurst were installed in 1838-42, 1865 and 1882 and were created during a century in which the United States struggled to establish its national identity. Continue reading

Landmarks of New York Photography Exhibit Opening


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Landmarks Photography.jpgThe Jay Heritage Center kicks off NY Heritage Weekend and the Path Through History Weekend with the opening of their first major photography exhibit, The Landmarks of New York, on Sunday June 2nd at 3pm.

The show fills their newly configured gallery space at the 1907 Carriage House and includes a collection of 90 black and white photos documenting a select cross-section of New York City’s best loved architectural treasures. Continue reading

Westchester Co. African-American ‘Hills’ Community Hike


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Westchester County African American Hills CommunityOn June 2, a unique history-hike will take participants into the “Hills” community, the largest, African-American community in Westchester County in 1860.

The land on which the Hills community farmed and lived is now part of Silver Lake Preserve, still very rugged territory, and will be the destination of a guided historic hike.

Naturalist Zaac Chaves will lead the hike and discuss changes to the environment and evidence of the “Hills” community on the land, while Edythe Ann Quinn, Ph.D., Professor of History at Hartwick College will provide history of the African-American community, focusing on the 1860s.  Continue reading

Westchester: The Prophet Matthias and Elijah the Tishbite


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MatthiasLong before the fictional and shocking “Peyton Place” of TV and film fame came along in the late 1950s, and early 1960s there was an actual suburban community where its residents were roiled by rampant scandal, moral and religious hypocrisy and a sensational a murder in their midst.

The year was 1834 and the place was the normally tranquil and bucolic Village of Sing Sing, now called Ossining. Actually, the extremely bad behavior took place just outside of the Village, on nearby farmland where a high-end condominium called “Beechwood” now stands in the Village of Briarcliff Manor, on the southwest intersection of Route 9 and Scarborough Station Road. Nonetheless, due to its proximity, it was the Village of Sing Sing that got the headlines in the “penny press,” and crowds of curious and outraged Villagers flocked to the “New York Road” in front of the farm hoping for a glimpse of the sequestered souls residing in the house. Continue reading

Ossining Events, Exhibits Celebrate Bicentennial


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image006On April 2nd 1813, the Village of Sing Sing (now called Ossining) became the first incorporated municipality in Westchester County. To recall and honor that historic day, the Village of Ossining will be holding a series of commemorative activities from April through October of 2013.

The bicentennial celebration, kicks of with “Ossining in 3D,” a historical photo and map show that runs through April 29th and depicts 200 years of Ossining’s history including its numerous historically and architecturally significant buildings, structures and sites. Continue reading

Whither Tourism? The Problems of ‘Path Through History’


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PathThroughHistoryHistoric Hudson Valley announced that it is removing the animals from Philipsburg Manor for a cost savings of $200,000/year. The organization manages several sites including Kykuit and Sunnyside in Westchester County. Two oxen, 18 sheep and lambs, and chickens have been relocated to farm sanctuaries.  In addition, 13 people were let go earlier this year including the site manger of Sunnyside.

Philipsburg Manor and Sunnyside were two of the sites singled out in the August, 2012, Path through History kickoff program as primary tourist destinations in the Lower Hudson Region. I had heard about the departure of the animals through the grapevine. Continue reading

Westchester County Civil War Monuments (Part Two)


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Sleepy HollowThis granite and bronze monument in the Village of Sleepy Hollow, is located near southwestern corner of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and was dedicated on May 30, 1890. by the local GAR post. Inscriptions on the front (west) face include a Latin dedication, along with “Our Union Soldiers” and the following poem: “While Freedom’s name is understood, they shall delight the wise and good; They dared to set their country free and gave her laws equality 1861-1865.”

The monument’s south, east and north faces feature bronze plaques honoring some 240 local veterans. The references to Greenburgh and Mount Pleasant reflect the fact that the Village of Sleepy Hollow lies within Mount Pleasant, which is just north of Greenburgh. The monument is surrounded by a plot containing graves of Civil War veterans. The names of soldiers killed in action are engraved into the monument’s base; those who served are listed on tablets mounted to the base. The work was made in the New York foundry of the Henry-Bonnard Bronze Company.
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Westchester’s Civil War Monuments: The Kneeling Angel


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Ossining Kneeling MonumentIn the late 19th and early 20th centuries states, counties, cities, towns and villages all across America erected thousands of commemorative statues, monuments, tablets and other memorials to honor their citizens who served in the American Civil War of 1861-1865. Additionally monuments that are national in scope such as those like Antietam and Gettysburg and in the nation’s capital city were constructed. There is even a memorial monument in Edinburgh, Scotland dedicated to the Scots who fought in the Union Army. It is exceptional as it is the only American Civil War memorial outside of the United States. Continue reading

Elijah Hunter: Revolutionary War Spy


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first baptist church ossiningSpying was a major component of the strategy and the tactics of the American Revolution. However it’s only recently that historians have focused on the intrigues, subterfuges and skullduggery that were used by all sides. Except for the spying of British Major John Andre, his collaboration with Benedict Arnold, and of the failed spying of Nathan Hale, undercover intelligence gathering operations during the Revolution is a mostly forgotten aspect of that conflict.

Nonetheless, spying was quite common in that era and George Washington was its chief proponent.  Washington made full use of the 1700s tools of the spy trade including invisible ink, hiding messages in feather quills, and small silver balls for hiding messages that could be swallowed in the event of capture. He also encouraged forging documents and making sure they fell into British hands. Continue reading

An Ossining Castle: David Abercrombie’s ‘Elda’


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Elda in 1928 Photo by Douglas LeenSince the days of the Dutch to more recent times, Ossining and its neighboring areas has been the site of magnificent homes, estates and other properties that are or once were owned by prominent New Yorkers. Many of these people were attracted to Ossining for the relatively inexpensive cost of land, the commanding views of the Hudson River and the easy commute to nearby to New York City. However, because of reduced personal circumstances, as well as changing tastes and life styles, many of these homes and estates are just memories. Continue reading

Peter Feinman: A Fork In The Path Through History


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PathThroughHistoryOn January 25, I attended the Mid-Hudson regional meeting of the Path through History project. What follows is my report on the meeting which may, or may not, be the experience and take-away of others who attended (or what is happening in other regions). The Mid-Hudson Valley region includes the Hudson River counties of Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Ulster, Orange, and Rockland, along with Sullivan County in the Catskills. Continue reading

Manumission Document Tells Story Emancipation in NY


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The Jay Heritage Center (JHC) has announce the gift of an original manumission document for its African American History collection. The word “manumission” means to emancipate or free from bondage.

Manumission documents like this one issued by a New York slaveholder are rare. In this instance, the signatory freeing a slave known only by the name of “Lewis,” is identified as Richard Hatfield, Jr. Hatfield was the son of a leading lawyer, Richard Hatfield, Sr. (1750 -1813) a delegate to the NY State Convention that ratified the constitution. It is recorded that he inherited land (and presumably slaves) that stretched “from the Scarsdale or “Indian Line of Marked Trees” to, or almost to, the then Road to Rye Neck, (now Old Mamaroneck Road, Gedney Way and Mamaroneck Avenue). His property would have passed to his son, Richard Hatfield, Jr. who was an attorney as well.

Instruments like this one were often recorded in the Libers of Conveyances in the Recorder’s Office of the City of New York, usually at the request of the freed slave as an added protection. Another signature on the paper that merits interest is that of Richard Riker (1773-1842) who served as NY Recorder, prior to and after John Jay’s eldest son, Peter Augustus Jay.

But unlike Jay and Jay’s fellow members of the NY Manumission Society who actively fought to end slave trafficking, Riker is rumored to have been complicit in the kidnapping of freed blacks for purposes of selling them back into slavery. This document helps vividly narrate a chapter in African American history when freedom was not only hard won but also uncertain to last; even elected officials could not be trusted to abide by legal writs.

The document was donated by Carol Ubosi nee Smith of the Purdy, Bell and Potter families who have resided in Westchester County since the 1700s. It was found in the 1980s by Ms. Ubosi’s mother, May Potter Smith, amongst several nineteenth century items in the attic of their family home in Harrison. Although this important story was carefully preserved in a family bible, it is still not known how “Lewis” was connected to the Purdy/Bell family of Harrison. A search for further information and context is ongoing.

Last fall, after contacting JHC president Suzanne Clary for research help about the historic African Cemetery in Rye where her ancestors are buried, Ubosi expressed her interest in making the gift to JHC where it could be made available to area schools and scholars. Ubosi grew up in Mamaroneck and New Rochelle and lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. She attended Central State University in Ohio and has taught in White Plains and Silver Spring. She is presently working on a book about the genealogy of her family with Alesia McFadden, a historian of African American History. As an educator, Ubosi hopes this manumission document will shed some light on the rich history of African-Americans living in Westchester and inspire others to explore and share their own family heritage

The Jay Heritage Center is equally delighted that this primary source will be shared with the many middle school history classes who regularly come through its doors to learn about African American History in New York and Westchester. “When students ask us, ‘What does manumission mean?’ says Clary, “this remarkable document will tangibly show them one man’s transition from servitude to freedom almost 200 years ago. The mere fact of its existence demonstrates how precious this paper was to its owner and his descendants. For those families who will see it firsthand at our site it will prompt the necessary questions that are central to an ongoing discussion about the evolution of social justice in our country.” The Jay Heritage Center has been a member site of the African American Heritage Trail since 2004; John Jay and his family played active roles in abolishing slavery in New York.