Westchester’s Essential Cultural Spots
The museums, theatres, and historical sites you need to know about—and more.
Westchester’s Intellectual Capital® is also something of a cultural capital – the county is home to acclaimed concert venues and theater events as well as numerous museums and galleries, providing both enrichment and entertainment.
Westchester’s museums combine art, history and the natural world. Among these are the Peekskill Museum, located inside the Victorian‑style Herrick House, and the Ossining Historical Society Museum, which contains Native American and military artifacts.
The Yonkers‑based Hudson River Museum, considered the largest cultural institution in the county, has just added a new outdoor amphitheater, increasing residents’ access to both culture and the riverfront. The museum features six galleries, a 19th‑century mansion and a planetarium. Modern and contemporary art enthusiasts will find plenty to see at the Neuberger Museum of Art, which houses works by Georgia O’Keefe and Jackson Pollock, and the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, which features exhibits from well‑established and emerging artists. The Katonah Museum of Art includes a sculpture garden, or try your own hand at art in classes and workshops at the
Pelham Art Center, Rye Arts Center
and Clay Art Center.
History is never in the distant past in Westchester, which boasts more than 150 locations listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Stop in the legendary village of Sleepy Hollow to visit Philipsburg Manor, where a historic house, water mill and trading site date back more than 300 years to when Frederick Philipse of Yonkers was granted a royal charter for the land.
Just eight miles southeast sits the Jacob Purdy House, which dates to 1720 and was used as General George Washington’s headquarters in 1778. History buffs should also visit the Thomas Paine Cottage in New Rochelle, which houses 18th‑ and 19th‑century artifacts. For Paine’s service as author of Common Sense and a Revolutionary War hero, the New York State Legislature presented him with the cottage and 320‑acre estate in 1784.
Leland Castle, a 19th‑century Gothic revival structure, was once the residence of Simeon Leland, a New York City hotel proprietor. It is now located on the campus of the College of New Rochelle. Serving as another local architectural achievement, Kykuit is a 40‑room John D. Rockefeller Estate, with elaborate gardens overlooking the Hudson River. Several generations of Rockefellers summered at this Classical Revival mansion in Sleepy Hollow. Tours depart from nearby Philipsburg Manor.
When the lights go down, you’ll see top‑notch theater, dance, cabaret shows and children’s performances in a variety of unique venues, from silent‑film‑era movie houses to the private homes of the county’s rich and famous. You’ll also see nature programs and cultural exhibits.
Paramount Hudson Valley in Peekskill hosts the likes of the Harlem Teens Choir and comedienne Joan Rivers. Broadway‑caliber shows are being produced by the Westchester Broadway Theater, which offers a night of dining and entertainment in Elmsford. The 417‑seat White Plains Performing Arts Center presents plays, dance, musical performances and children’s theater.
Some other options: Axial Theatre in Pleasantville, gives emerging talent the chance to shine; the Classical‑revival‑style Irvington Town Hall Theater is known for its superb acoustics; The Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase has four theaters hosting more than 70 performances a year in dance, jazz, theater and classical music; Woodward Hall Theatre at Pace University features a professional company performing original plays and staged readings; and the 550‑seat Yorktown Stage in Yorktown Heights is acclaimed for its live musical theater.
Along with the many contemporary and often luxurious cinemas attached to shopping centers and showing the latest blockbusters, the Pelham Picture House in Pelham regularly runs independent, international, documentary and classic films. Built in 1921, the picture house was slated for demolition in 2001 but instead was fully restored and reemerged to offer its own distinctive brand of “Life. Art. Popcorn.”
Three screens at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville also come alive with independent, classic, foreign and documentary films. The circa‑1925, Spanish Mission‑style building was one of Westchester’s first movie theaters. Now restored, it also hosts frequent festivals, lectures and educational programs.
Talented artists, ranging from long‑established performers to aspiring musicians, play Westchester. Experience Beethoven and Mozart via the Westchester Philharmonic. Emelin Theatre, a multi‑purpose performing arts facility in Mamaroneck, features top‑notch acts ranging from jazz orchestras to Broadway favorites. The Tarrytown Music Hall is one of the most popular venues in the region, attracting more than 80,000 people annually. The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester hosts an impressive schedule of hot entertainers. Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, a 90‑acre setting with Italianate architecture and gardens, offers diverse musical performances.
Economic Impact of the Arts
A report on “The Arts & Economic Prosperity in Westchester County, NY” conducted by Americans for the Arts shows that the economic impact of the arts in Westchester increased by 189 percent from 1995 ($54.18 million) to 2010 ($156.44 million).
“Arts are a significant factor in the economy, … and a lot of what’s spent in support of the arts is returned to the state and local government in the form of sales and income taxes,” says Janet T. Langsam, CEO of ArtsWestchester, a White Plains‑based group that participated in the study and serves as a promoter, fund provider and public information source regarding the arts. “Corporations like the idea of locating here knowing that the arts play a role in the community. As long as we continue to support the arts in Westchester, we will reap the benefit.”