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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41. A LONG, LONG TIME AGO
While the highest point in Westchester today is 980 feet, 230 million years ago, the pressure between Africa and what is now Connecticut created a jagged 40,000-foot mountain range in our county that dwarfed the Himalayas. Years of weathering eroded these peaks into the rolling hills we now call home, but the layers of Fordham gneiss found throughout the county also lay deep in the bedrock of Northern Africa—a testament to our shared history.
On September 29, 1909, George Tomlinson (pictured left) crash-landed his plane at Gedney Farm in White Plains (the estate of Howard Willets) during a failed race from Grant’s Tomb to Albany. The race was sponsored by George Pulitzer to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s famous voyage. The following week, Wilbur Wright had better success completing a flight of his air machine around the Statue of Liberty and up the West Side, wowing a crowd of more than a half-million people who had never seen an aircraft in what is now arguably the busiest air-space in America.
43. DOWN BY THE RIVER
They say lavish dishware is called china because the finest European porcelains came across the well-trodden Silk Road from the Far East. Little did they know, Westchester played a critical role in the creation of champion crockery. In the mid 19th century, the construction firm O’Brian and Kinkel extracted feldspar from the now eerily abandoned Baylis, Kinkel, and Oliver quarries located high above Mianus Gorge. The feldspar was crushed into a powder for china glaze and hauled by horses to the train station in Bedford Hills, from which it was shipped all over the world.
44. HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
60.1 percent of Westchesterites are homeowners.
|45. Movin' on up |
40 was the number of oxen needed to move the Bedford Historical Hall to its current location in 1837. The Bedford Historical Society now maintains the hall for private parties, meetings, and exhibitions.
46. THE AMERICAN DREAM
One in five Westchesterites can claim Hispanic ancestry.
47. HI-HO, HI-HO
Although Westchester’s mineral quarries now serve as quiet hideouts for kids to collect rocks and skip stones, they once supplied the building blocks of New York City—famous Tuckahoe marble was used as foundation and siding for many famous tri-state skyscrapers in the 19th century. The advent of steel, however, pushed the Tuckahoe quarry and many other local mines out of business.
48. WESTCHESTER’S STATESMAN
John Jay (pictured right), Westchester’s founding father, who served in every branch of the U.S. government, was buried at the private Jay Cemetery in Rye (the oldest active cemetery in the United States associated with a Revolutionary War figure). Centuries later, three bullets nicked Jay’s tombstone when a disgruntled citizen took out his anger after FDR announced his Supreme Court nominations. When Justice Harry Blackmun visited the site during the Bicentennial in 1976, he touched the bullet marks and turned to his Secret Service bodyguards to say he now knew why he would always need them.
49. UNDER THE SEA
The word "fjord" conjures images of bucolic Scandinavian mountains and forsaken ice sheets (or perhaps it conjures nothing). But the Hudson River is actually the only real fjord—a narrow inlet of water sunk beneath sea level by glacial weathering—in the northeast besides the Somes Sound in Maine.
50. That old chestnut
Chestnuts, used for tanning leather, railroad ties, and, of course, roasting on an open fire, used to cover Westchester’s forest floor. But when an invasive fungus from China, Endothia parasitica, destroyed most of the county’s native chestnut trees in 1890, the New York State Legislature dismissed the environmental threat with indifference. By 1930, the metropolitan area was no longer classified as an oak-chestnut forest.
With research assistance from: Alex Shoumatoff (author of Westchester: Portrait of a County), Bedford Historical Society, The Jay Heritage Center, North Castle Historical Society, The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, White Plains Historical Society, and Yonkers Historical Society.