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A Sense of History: Primer For Preservation

A new chapter in Yorktown's history was written by the town board at the end of 1967 with its bipartisan, unanimous and non-political decision to establish a Landmarks Preservation Committee. This action has the most profound implications for the citizens of the town.

Yorktown may now quite proudly take her place along with other communities who have set up public agencies to foster landmark preservation. Among very few in Westchester, North Castle had already established such an official committee. Nearly all states have established preservation trusts as part of their state governments.

Private organizations, of course, on national, state, and county levels, have for years expressed a growing concern over the preservation of landmarks. More recently, some readers may have noticed reports of the creation of an historical district comprising an East Side enclave of old New York in the streets of the East 60s.

Our present purpose is to examine various aspects of what the town board decision means to the people of Yorktown: How are we involved? Why the committee in the first place? What is its function?

To dispel misinterpretations, it is an article of municipal faith that the responsibility for landmark preservation is that of the citizens collectively. The town preservation policy, to echo Lincoln's words, is of, by, and for the people of Yorktown.

An excellent point of departure for our discussion is a statement issued by the National Trust for Historic Preservation: "Historic preservation is saving, for public use and enjoyments, a nation's heritage of sites, buildings, and objects significant in its history and culture."

In Yorktown, we have only to make slight changes to adapt it as a public creed of our hopes, needs, and aims in this matter: "Landmark preservation is saving, for public use and enjoyment, a town's sites, buildings, objects, and areas significant in its history, life, and culture, past and present."

It was back in 1947 that our New York State government wrote into its statues a law to empower local authorities to identify historic edifices and to take steps to preserve them. More recently, many national laws for preservation have been enacted. At another time we shall look at some of these provision which effect us.

Landmark preservation, like ancient Gaul, is divided into three parts, each distinctive, yet closely related. Landmarks themselves are visible manifestations of what a community holds important. In Yorktown we should be concerned with three sorts of preservation: Natural, Architectural and Historic.

Why landmarks for natural sites-the identification by a committee of areas of natural beauty? If we stop and consider a beautiful landscape-regardless of who owns it-is a sight for all citizens to enjoy. Our very choice of Yorktown as a place to live indicates that we love scenic greenery. Look too at the evidence of our gardens, landscaping, and flower window boxes.

Multiply this individual desire for natural beauty by the number of people of the community and landmark preservation of places of outdoor beauty is a "natural."

The delight our senses take in the great outdoors of our area is related, is it not, with the whole idea both of re-creation and recreation? If we would enjoy lakesides, landscapes, roadside parks or natural streams then we are dedicated to the main proposition of preservation. We mark the land to preserve it for ourselves and for future Yorktowners.

It is an easy transition from landscape to manscape. Buildings dating back to the days of the first settlers are standing in Yorktown. Still in use as private homes, in the course of time they have acquired an appeal for another type of preservation.

If we choose to live in a private house we often select it for elements of architecture and perhaps a combination of aesthetic and practical appeal. Its location too might add to this appeal.

Americans have been eclectic in their tastes and as a result modes of architecture have changed often over the years, from generation to generation. Within our own township we have excellent examples of different types of architecture. Besides colonial, we have homes from the Federal period, neoclassical types and a variety of Victorian and early 20th century styles.

I retaining these homes a history of building styles and beauty in our community is retained for all the citizens.

Preservation never encroaches upon the rights of private ownership. Programs of preservation are based upon voluntary cooperation. That is why the spirit of community, history and preservation exist conjointly in the minds and hearts of a citizenry. We be transplants to Yorktown but if our hearts are with this place then no more operations are necessary.

Very often preserved buildings of the past may not be private residences. An excellent example is the Old Yorktown Railroad Station. Here is a visible symbol of a bygone are representing much in the history of Yorktown.

It is also integrated into our history. The practical reason for the discontinuance of a railroad line does not wipe out recognition of the importance of the station architecturally and historically. The Amawalk Quaker Meeting House is another historical symbol worthy of preservation and retention.

A landmarks committee such as we have in Yorktown is a body of citizens working for the entire community to list, identify and attempt to preserve places of natural, historic, and architectural import. The sites chosen by the community through these appointed representatives will remind us of what we were, who we are, and what we may become.

Landmarks preserve our identity of community. Preservation makes history a living force by saving the visible manifestations of our past.

Source: Cortland P. Auser, The Yorktowner, January 18, 1968

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