July 19, 2021, Mayor's Column

I have written often about the unique characteristics of our one square mile but during the days of the recent deluge and resulting long stretches of indoor time, I thought I’d dig a little deeper into the unique characteristics of our county.

Westchester, named after the City of Chester in England, encompasses 500 square miles making it larger than 40 countries. The county has 43 cities, towns and villages and over 18,000 acres of park land. The highest elevation in the county is but 982 feet in the North Salem Mountain Lakes Park.

We are the proud home of many “Firsts”, be it inventions, discoveries or moments in history.

They include:

The first elevator company in the United States, the iconic Otis Elevator, based in Yonkers.

Saint Andrews in Hastings is the home of the first United States golf course built in 1888.

The Bronx River Parkway was the first of its kind in the entire country.

Irvington was the home of Madame CJ Walker, a beauty product inventor, and the first female and first African American self-made millionaire in the country.

Paddle tennis was invented in Scarsdale in 1928 at Fox Meadow Club with the first court built three years later.

In 1912, Edwin Armstrong of Yonkers invented the FM radio.

Many famous people have either lived in Westchester or momentously passed through it.

They include President Abraham Lincoln who stopped at the Peekskill train station on February 19, 1861 on the way to his inauguration and gave a rousing speech of thanks for his victory.

Not as fortunate, New York Governor Samuel T. Tilden retired to his Yonkers estate, Greystone, after winning the popular vote in the presidential election of 1876 but losing to Rutherford B Hayes. The beautiful Grecian Gardens, now a mainstay at Yonker’s Untermyer Park, was part of his estate.

President John F. Kennedy wrote much of his 1940 Harvard thesis, “Why England Slept”, while living off of Pondfield Road in Bronxville.

Norman Rockwell lived in New Rochelle for over 25 years and sold the first of his 321 Saturday Evening Post covers while living in New Rochelle in 1916.

John Peter Zenger, a Colonial era newspaper editor, wrote an article about an Eastchester election that heavily criticized the New York State Governor. The article resulted in a trial for “seditious libel” whose outcome led to the enshrinement of freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights. When you drive through Eastchester, the intersection of Mill Road and Route 22 is so named the Bill of Rights Plaza.

In 1642, Anne Hutchinson left New England because of her religious beliefs and moved to Eastchester with her children after her husband’s death.  In 1643, a band of Native Americans massacred Mrs. Hutchinson and all but one of her children.

During the 1790’s, Aaron Burr held court at St. Paul’s Church in Mount Vernon and there tried a number of consequential cases.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s daughter, a Dominican nun so named Mother Mary, built one of the first facilities for terminally ill cancer patients in Unionville in 1903. In her honor, the town was renamed the current community of Hawthorne.

Folks with lesser gravitas than the above but still quite interesting also called Westchester home during different periods of their lives.

Aerosmith front man, Steven Tyler, was born and bred in Yonkers and expelled from Roosevelt High school for drug use.

Beatle wives Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney both lived in Scarsdale and went to Sarah Lawrence College.

Howard Stern, fresh out of Boston University, started as a disc jockey on the local Briarcliff Manor radio station.

Of lasting heritage to the county are some architectural gems.

The oldest building in Westchester is the Timothy Knapp house built in 1667 in Rye when Rye was actually a part of Connecticut.

The marble from in Tuckahoe, considered the repository of some of the finest in the United States, was the raw material used to build the New York City City Hall, the New York Public Library, the Federal Reserve, the Washington Square Arch, the Washington Monument and the US Capitol.

The Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College was designed by Philip Johnson and I. M. Pei designed the MasterCard headquarters in Harrison and the IBM complex in Somers.

Of lighter lineage, the tunnel at Memorial Field in Mount Vernon was used to film the iconic Coca-Cola commercial featuring Mean Joe Greene in 1979.

The groundbreaking TV show Maude of the 1970s had star Bea Arthur living in Tuckahoe.

The Glen Island Harbour Club, formerly the Glen Island Casino, helped launch the careers of Ozzie Nelson, Les Brown, the Dorsey Brothers and Glenn Miller as a very important venue during the Big Band Era.

I close with an item from Elmsford historical records which documents that American soldiers during the Revolutionary War often stole the tail feathers of Tory owned chickens in their community before heading to O’Brien’s pub for a little libation. The resident barkeep, so named Betsy, decorated their drinks with the plumage, hence Elmsford claims to be the home of the original cocktail.