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The history of a community is like a fine piece of cloth, which is woven in time, and ever changing. The weaving begins with the warp, the threads that form the foundation of the cloth. All of the daily events that affect a community, both good and bad, past and present, are the essence of that community, the threads that give shape to its future.

However, it’s the weft, the threads that are drawn over and under the foundation that gives the tapestry its color and beauty. The people of a community are the weft, and as their lives change, the historic picture changes, too.

Yorktown’s written history is well documented, but to know the history of its people, we must turn to the scant collection of diaries, letters and oral histories that have been left behind.

Some interesting oral histories from the last century have survived, thanks to a few dedicated people in the past who recognized the need to preserve personal recollections of Yorktown’s life-long residents. These are our window into the everyday world of early Yorktown.

One of these people was former Westchester County Historian Allison Albee, who was a former president of the Westchester County Historical Society and editor of “The Westchester Historian”. He conducted interviews with local residents from 1937 until 1977 as research for the many articles he wrote. These will be added to our Research Archives.

In the 1960’s, Yorktown Historian Cortland Auser, along with his wife Doris (Co-editors of “The Westchester Historian”), Arthur C. Lee and Estelle O’Neil, interviewed many “old timers”, some of which follow. The more extensive interviews will be added to our Research Archives, along with two memorials already published: “Oral History of Sarah M. Dingee, November 27, 1918”, which highlights the history of the Shrub Oak Methodist Church; and “Changes I Have Seen Over 85 Years” by Arthur C. Lee.

The following interviews were conducted by Estelle O’Neil on May 15-16, 1969.

Theodore (Ted) Hill, Jr., former Yorktown Supervisor from 1928 - 1937, age 72:

“Brother Cornell [is] deceased. They lived on a large farm of which they have sold 217 acres. They remain with 17-18 acres. The farm had 50 cows, which were hand-milked daily. Milking machines were installed 25 years ago. [They] still have the old dairy barns. [He] attended one-room school, then Shrub Oak School. Had 2 teachers, 2 rooms, then Oakside High School, Peekskill. He attended Amherst State College, married Susan Perry, whose father was a Doctor, has one daughter and 3 granddaughters. He attended church and went to Box Socials. There was one General Store - John W. Birdsall. Coal stove in the center of the store [and] a cracker barrel, everyone came there [until] it burned in 1916. Where the shopping center and bank is located (Ed.- Jefferson Valley) was a pasture which Hill brothers rented. The Catholic School was the Willowbrook Farm. The Methodist Church in Shrub Oak celebrated 100th anniversary 1964-66. The Library building and lands belonged to Mrs. K. Dresser, deceased. Her father was John C. Hart, druggist. Old Route 6 was [Route] 309, Crompond is Route [202] and was relocated, 1931, new Route 6. [The Westchester County] Board of Supervisors has been voted out of being.”

A more detailed interview was conducted with Mr. Hill by Doris Auser and Arthur C. Lee in 1972, which corrected some of the above information, like the name of his brother James Curry Hill, his mother Susan Curry and wife Laura Race. See Research Archives.

Lester Perry, age 72:

“[He was] born on the other side of the lake. Father [was] Munson Perry, mother Mary Austin…daughter is Mrs. Van de Hoek. Lived on Perry’s Farm [and had] 12 cows, chickens, sold calves, had an apple orchard. Grandmother (Austin) had the adjoining farm. Had a brother Henry, deceased. Went to a one-room school in Jefferson Valley near the cross-roads of Route 6 and Gomer St., then [attended] Mohegan Lake Military School. Schoolhouse had one teacher who taught 9 grades to 40-50 pupils, played tag, rode a bicycle. [Went to] church Shrub Oak Methodist. There was a Union Chapel with alternating clergy - Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian on Sunday afternoons and a Sunday School in Jefferson Valley (south side of road, building still there as house), vicinity of Gas Station. Went to private house parties and suppers, …called Sociables. Women had a Sewing Circle. The General Store was on the other side of Valley Market. This side of the market (near Perry St.) was O’Neil’s Saloon. Had a Saloon in the white apartment house near Nino’s. Sparkle and Junior [Lakes] are man made lakes on the land of Chester Hyatt. In 1924 Mr. Merk developed Sparkle Lake (Ed. - read “The Ol’ Swimmin’Hole”). The Perry Farm was sold in building lots in 1924…then again in 1940-50.”

Floyd Barger, about 72 years old:

“[He was] born on Indian Hill. In 1902-3 moved to Smith’s. From 10-14 years of age to Zickner, then Mackler’s (Dairy) Farm [with] 60-70 cows. In 1919 moved back to Indian Hill Farm. Married Minnie Magley, a Copake school teacher. She taught in the old school on Wallace’s Farm, then the school reverted to Mackler’s place. [Mr. Barger]’s daughter teaches. She is Mrs. Jo-Anne Charles Ably, has 2 sons, one [in] Air Crops, the other in Navy. [Mr. Barger]’s grandfather Mordecai Perry, married Joanne Beyea from Baldwin Place. [Mr. Barger] sold milk (hand-milked 60-70 cows) to Chester Hyatt. In Peekskill [he] took the milk to [the] railroad station. He would put his horse and wagon in his cousin’s barn on Orchard St., Peekskill, took the trolley to school (Oakside), then return and take his horse and wagon home, about 8 or 10 miles every day. He drove a school bus for the district school of Shrub Oak. At that time there were 272 children, 2 buses for Shrub Oak and Lake Mohegan areas. He raced his own horses in Maine and New Hampshire. [He] worked nights at Yonkers Raceway for 5 years as a timer on trotters and pacers. General Store in Jefferson Valley was where the Saloon is. Lester Perry is his cousin. Sparkle Lake was on Chester Hyatt’s Farm which was dammed up and formed [an] ice pond. Junior Lake was made by Col. Paine.”

Ed Kear:

“Wife [is] Minna Snowden, daughter of Dr. Fred A. Snowden of Peekskill. [He lived on what is now] Beaver Farm - 360 acres. 50 cattle, 5 farm horses, 4 carriage horses, chickens, geese, turkeys, ducks. [He] brought milk to the Depot. [The] barn burned in 1900, all stock lost. [Another] barn burned in 1910-1911 when Mr. Beaver owned the farm. Railroad was built about 1880. [It had] 5 switch tracks, 3 or 4 engines, water tower. Sometimes engines and trains stayed over for loading. Opposite his office was the first Catholic Church. Tompkins Hall is the Kohl Building, now one story. Carpenter Hotel or Whitney House is now gas station. Dunning Garage and apartment building is now a shell gas station on Kear St. Roak residence on Commerce St. is a gas station. McKeel residence on Commerce St. is the Catalo Bldg. Junior Lake on Col. Paine’s land was sold to a development company - Halyan Co. in Wh. Plains. [We] had church festivals, and 2 or 3 dances per year at Tompkins Hall. His son Edward, Jr. is a Cornell graduate.”

 Mrs. Katherine Wyand, former Yorktown Town Clerk:

“[Her] father was William C. Kear, born on Beaver Farm. [Her] mother was Louisa Syze [from the] Baldwin area. [Her] grandfather was Henry C. Kear and grandmother Katherine Farmer who came from Ireland. She has a son Stuart Wyand. [She] attended a 4-room schoolhouse, her first teacher was Alice Stansbury [who] taught her 1st and 8th grades. She was the first in her family (being the youngest) to complete her schooling in Yorktown. Other children went by railroad to Tarrytown, Briarcliff or Peekskill. [The] schoolhouse was where St. Patrick’s Church is located. Her second teacher was Mary Whitney who married John A. Weyant. Mrs. Wyand lives across the street from Town Hall in the house her father built. The center of Town was by the Presbyterian Church, on Route 202. In order to bring the railroad to Yorktown, her grandfather gave all the land where the tracks lie, free without remuneration, to the railroad with this one provision - that all of the trains must stop in Yorktown. Then when they needed a turntable he gave the land with a provision that when the railroad no longer used the turntable the land would revert to the family. (Ed. - the family later sued for the return of title, but lost in the courts.) McKeel’s General Store sold grain, feed, groceries, etc. situated in Tompkins Hall building opposite the Depot. On the 2nd floor [there was] dancing, plays and voting. Now it is a one-story building. There was a blacksmith’s shop where the Highway Bldg. [is]. Mitchell’s Hardware building was originally where the livery stable was.”

On November 4, 2000 the Yorktown Historical Society will sponsor a “Yorktown Memory Day." We are asking anyone from Yorktown, past and present residents, young and not so young, to share with us their memories of Yorktown through verbal accounts and photos. We’ll be on hand with video and audio tapes, scanners and computers, interviewers and just good listeners to record the stories of Yorktown’s people, the “weft” in our cloth. We hope you will spread the word, as well as join us on that day, as we weave together another segment of Yorktown’s tapestry.

Written by Linda L. Kiederer
Research material and photos courtesy of the Town Clerk’s Office

Continuation in a series of predictions about the 20th Century from The Ladies Home Journal of December 1900 (click HERE for the complete list of predictions):

Prediction #16: There will be No C, X or Q in our every-day alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary. Spelling by sound will have been adopted, first by the newspapers. English will be a language of condensed words expressing condensed ideas, and will be more extensively spoken than any other. Russian will rank second.

Prediction #17How Children will be Taught. A university education will be free to every man and woman. Several great national universities will have been established. Children will study a simple English grammar adapted to simplified English, and not copied after the Latin. Time will be saved by grouping like studies. Poor students will be given free board, free clothing and free books if ambitious and actually unable to meet their school and college expenses. Medical inspectors regularly visiting the public schools will furnish poor children free eyeglasses, free dentistry and free medical attention of every kind. The very poor will, when necessary, get free rides to and from school and free lunches between sessions. In vacation time poor children will be taken on trips to various parts of the world. Etiquette and housekeeping will be important studies in the public schools.

Prediction #18: Telephones Around the World. Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world. A husband in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting in her boudoir in Chicago. We will be able to telephone to China quite as readily as we now talk from New York to Brooklyn. By an automatic signal they will connect with any circuit in their locality without the intervention of a “hello girl”.

Prediction #19 Grand Opera will be Telephoned to private homes, and will sound as harmonious as though enjoyed from a theatre box. Automatic instruments reproducing original airs exactly will bring the best music to the families of the untalented. Great musicians gathered in one enclosure in New York will, by manipulating electric keys, produce at the same time music from instruments arranged in theatres or halls in San Francisco or New Orleans, for instance. Thus will great bands and orchestras give long-distance concerts. In great cities there will be public opera-houses whose singers and musicians are paid from funds endowed by philanthropists and by the government. The piano will be capable of changing its tone from cheerful to sad. Many devises will add to the emotional effect of music. 

The Yorktown Historical Society updates the home page with seasonally appropriate articles and information. Click here to read our past issues.