50 Fabulous Facts About Our History

Perhaps it’s the fault of busy commutes and crammed schedules, but few Westchesterites stop to acknowledge the extraordinary beauty and rich history of this ancient river valley we call home. The centuries-old landmarks, the ever-changing geography, the myriad inventions conceived in our county all make Westchester as fascinatingly unique and interesting as the very people who live here.


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8. ONCE UPON A FOREST
Many fear that development has caused unprecedented deforestation in Westchester, but, 100 years ago, there were actually fewer woods in our county than there are today. Before the settlers debarked their ships, roughly 80 mammoth trees had sunk their roots in each acre—it took a colonizer one year to clear just one acre for farming. Eventually the canopies of the county had almost entirely disappeared. Gustavus T. Kirby wrote that as a child he could sit atop Guard Hill in Mount Kisco with a spyglass and watch the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge more than 40 miles south. As the railroad replaced agriculture and the Model-T Ford supplanted the need for grazing horses, Westchester’s woods slowly returned and now exist as second-, third-, or fourth-generation forests.

9. THE AMERICAN DREAM
One in five Westchesterites was born outside the U.S.

Photo Courtesy of Bedford Historical Society

10. BEHIND BARS
Its rusted bars, dating from 1787, the jail cell in Bedford is the oldest in the county. The 105-square-foot holding unit is currently listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and maintained by the Bedford Historical Society.

11. ALL ABOARD!
Sure, you hop on the Metro-North to zip in and out of the city, but did you know that Yonkers was home to the world’s first elevated mass transit system? In 1867, the Yonkers Railway Company backed local resident Charles T. Harvey’s invention to establish the Third Avenue “El.” The train system played a key role in promoting suburban development in our county.

12. CASTLE ON A CLOUD
Ever wonder where names like North Castle and New Castle come from? Centuries ago, settlers named a Native American camp located where IBM’s World Headquarters now stands “North Fort” because they felt it resembled a castle. The area soon became known as “North Castle” and the northern portion of the region, which was partitioned in 1791, “New Castle.”

13. CASTLES IN THE SKY
Due to all the castle-style mansions that litter its skyline, Tarrytown used to be referred to as “Millionaire’s Colony.”

14. DID YOU KNOW?
Does even the memory of detention seem torturous? In the 19th century, Westchester students received two lashes for long fingernails and a brutal seven lashes for telling a lie, according to records from the Bedford Historical Society. Writing 100 sentences on the blackboard wasn’t that bad after all.

 

15. GET WORKIN’
Caffeine in-hand, thousands of bleary-eyed commuters traverse the Tappan Zee Bridge morning and night. Few, however, know its history. Named after the local Tappan tribe and the Dutch moniker for the Hudson River (Zee), the bridge was built in 1955 to support, at peak, 100,000 vehicles per day. The crossing now carries approximately 175,000 vehicles per day, a number expected to continue growing. AAA’s Magazine, Car & Travel, also selected the TZ along with the Kosciuszko and Goethals in New York City as the three metropolitan bridges in the worst structural condition.

16. PLATFORM TENNIS, ANYONE?
Are you a tennis buff longing for some outdoor fun this winter? Consider platform tennis—known colloquially as “paddle”—which was invented by Scarsdale neighbors James Cogswell and Fessenden Blanchard in 1928. Both men brought the sport to the Fox Meadow Tennis Club in 1931—and a new cold-weather game was born.

 

 

 

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