The 180th anniversary of the founding of Yorktown Heights was officially last March 27, 1968. An act of the New York State legislature had been passed early in March, 1788, and, within two weeks the old English name Hanover was rejected in favor of Yorktown, thus commemorating the American victory at Yorktown, Virginia.
Unfortunately, the historic significance of the March 27 date slipped past local officialdom. Had it not been for work among old Yorktown Herald files, the date might have eluded The Yorktowner, as well.
But now that the facts have been established, there is still time for Yorktowners, formally and informally, to do something about the 180th anniversary before the 181st anniversary begins.
Cortland Auser, historian of the Yorktown Museum, added his support this week to the idea of an official recognition of March 27 as Yorktown Day. "March 27," Mr. Auser said, "should serve each years as a time of rededication for our town. Despite the absence of a town birthday cake last March, we all have time to make amends." Mr. Auser, in a letter to the Yorktowner, wrote: "It is only through a deep-rooted sense of community that we might collectively retain for our town its identity."
The document reproduced on the front page of this week's Yorktowner is a copy of a record in Town Hall, bound in sheepskin. "A day or two before October 26,1769," the editor of the old Yorktown Herald wrote, "a stray steer with a latch under each ear, and a ram with a crop on the near ear and a nick on the upper side of same, wandered onto the enclosed lands of Abraham Wright, of Cortlandt Manor. On his next trip to the community center, r. Wright paid Josiah Strang, the local clerk, sixpence to enter this notice on The Record of Strays." This became the town's oldest official record. The entire early record is still on file for interested residents in Town Hall, and, perhaps as the age of microfilm catches up with us, this book will be microfilmed for use in our local schools and libraries.
As Yorktown prepares for the arrival of its Master Plan, promised for early 1969, and as the town fathers evolve their plans for the Urban Renewal area, the time may be at hand again to focus attention on the historical assets of the community. Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and Williamsburg, Virginia are two examples of old towns which have deliberately recast their modern image to capitalize on their historic backgrounds. By doing so, they have given an identity and character to their communities through deliberate planning.
Bedford Hills, as an example closer to home, was faced with the problem of a run-down and small business center clustered around a fading railroad station. But a handful of business leaders and zealous townspeople made the decision to remodel their little string of shops to simulate an old English marketing area. Each shop-front got a face-lifting in keeping with a central idea. The result was remarkable, and it was done without federal aid.
What Yorktown will do with four million dollars of federal money coming into its twenty-six odd acres of Urban Renewal area and the town opportunities which will follow remains to be seen. If a design is adopted, consciously and deliberately, there can be a Yorktown revival restoring at least one core area of the town in keeping with its historical assets. If it does not design such a plan, there will be continuation of grab-bag development, in which case, the Master Plan and all the Urban Renewal money in the world will fail to undo the Humpty-Dumpty mess Yorktown is already in.
Source: George Candreva, The Yorktowner, Vol. 3 No. 10, December 26, 1968
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