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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30. A GOOD THING
Martha Stewart most certainly had predecessors—the first chapter of the Garden Club of America was founded in Bedford in 1938.
31. LAND AHOY!
According to legend, in 1695 a Native American chief named Pathungo told John Harrison he could take as much land as he could ride in a day on horseback for himself. Unwilling to get his horse’s hooves wet, he marked the boundaries for a future landlocked Harrison, which is the only town close to the Long Island Sound without access to water. Another legend has it that a drunken Native American paced out the uneven boundaries of the town while selling it to a colonist for a handful of beads, bright cloth, and “white man’s wampum.”
32. MAKING ENDS MEET
$14 was the standard weekly wage for Italian construction workers in the early 1900s. Boarding houses usually charged $12 weekly per room.
33. ORDER IN THE COURT
One of just three courthouses in New York built before 1800, the Bedford Court House (1787) is Westchester County’s oldest government building. In fact, when judges used to slam their gavels at the courthouse, Bedford was more populous than White Plains.
34. SPY VERSUS SPY
The fate of the Revolutionary War was, perhaps, greatly altered when three Tarrytown militiamen caught Major John Andre, who was carrying the plans for the fortification of West Point—given to him by none other than Benedict Arnold.
Both the Americans and the British used St. Paul’s Church in Mount Vernon, now a National Historic Site, as a field hospital during the American Revolution. On October 18, 1776, the Yankees vacated the site in retreat, and, within 48 hours, the British and Hessians had settled in their wounded.
36. Pill Pusher
Perhaps the Village of Ossining’s most notable resident was its former president Benjamin Brandreth. The businessman built a manufacturing plant there in 1838 for his “Vegetable Universal Pills,” which were touted to rid the body of toxins. Brandreth’s pills became so successful that his company was once the country’s biggest advertiser, and his pills scored a mention by Herman Melville in Moby Dick. In fact, Brandreth is considered a pioneer in mass-marketing and branding.
37. DID YOU KNOW?
The word Kisco means “muddy place” in the Delaware Indian language, a suitable name for a town that sits at the floor of the Harlem River Valley. Today, the omniscient Chief Kisco towers over the intersection of Routes 172 and 117 with buckskin breeches, a feather tiara, and bow in-hand. Records, however, provide no evidence that such a leader existed. Identical zinc statues nonetheless stand in Barberton, Akron, Cincinnati, Lodi, all in Ohio, and Calhoun, Georgia. A WPA guidebook to Ohio says the statue was “not worth a second glance from the standpoint of art.”
38. TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL
Even centuries ago, Westchester was known for its schools. The site of the Bedford Free Library originally housed the Bedford Academy, a private school that boasted alumni including John McCloskey (the first U.S. Cardinal, pictured right), John Jay II (the grandson of Chief Justice John Jay), and William H. Vanderbilt (the son of railroad titan Cornelius Vanderbilt).
39. LAND FOR SALE
An early prospectus for Bronxville boasted: “Few New Yorkers know that within three miles of the City Limits is a varied and undulating country… There are no fences; everyone appears to own everything. You will find the lawn of one resident winding curiously into that of another, whose grounds, in turn, merge into still another occupant’s. There are no flat lawns or level gardens, but the slopes are dotted with trees, ribbed with fine rock, and starred with wildflowers.” And cue urban flight.
40. BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE
And you think this winter is cold? Seventeen thousand years ago, the mile-thick Wisconsin Glacier suffocated Westchester and most of New England in icy abandon. As it pushed from the Midwestern plains to the East Coast, the mighty Wisconsin made the county’s northwest corner hillier than its southeast (think Cortlandt versus Port Chester) and the southeast slope of Westchester’s hills the steepest. The glacier also left “eskers” (long thin ribs of debris, such as Long Ridge, High Ridge, and Ponus Ridge on the Connecticut border); “kettle holes” (deep ponds formed by glacial melting, such as Wampus Pond in Armonk); and “terminal moraines” (piles of debris left when a glacier recedes, such as Long Island).