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Yorktown, Happy Birthday to You!
by Cortland P. Auser

On March 7, 1967, Yorktown was officially 179 years old -- going on 180, for the New York State legislature incorporated the town in 1788. As historians, teachers, reporters, and columnists have noted, our town was appropriately named after the place of final victory achieved by the Americans in the Revolutionary War. Despite this act of commemoration it is well that our christener did not place us in the eternal shadow of the other Yorktown by prefixing our town with a "New". This omission has proven wise, for the two centuries and more of growth, change, and development have indeed created a separate identity for Yorktown, New York.

On the national stage, the date of our township's incorporation was lost amid the dramatic events of the "new" United States. The Revolution had ended half a decade before. 1788 was the year in which Jay, Madison, and Hamilton were writing the "Federalist Papers" to win support for the Constitution. By March of the succeeding year, when George Washington was inaugurated in New York City, Yorktowners were only three days away from reaching their first milestone. As long as we do not become excessively complacent about it -- Yorktown will always be one year older than the national government.

At the 32nd milestone (1820), our post office was established, although many years later we were postally lost behind a Peekskill RFD. At the 36th marker, our school districts were enlarged. Between the 45th and the 54th points, the typography of our lands changed and local protests drowned out, and Croton, a rural stream, was transformed into an hour-glass shaped lake. Yorktown passed along a sad road which ran between the 72nd and 77th posts during the Civil War. At age ninety-one, the ties of the railroad reached us, but did not convert us to a one-track way of thinking. Later at a spry 170, Yorktown underwent another face lifting, with a Taconic treatment.

Within its boundaries, Yorktown has many houses which are as old as it is, and in some cases older. The original Davenport House, for example, predates the township by at least twenty-eight years. The Andre and Underhill houses (if we cite only two others) have reached the social security age three times over. While such houses as these are cared for properly, there are other old and historic houses which "need social security" in terms of a preservation policy.

It is, of course, especially fine and praiseworthy if any community goes on record for such preservation, but it is just as important that we, on this anniversary, recognize ourselves how much we are part of, and in, history.

Cumulatively, past history provides us with points of departure. Certainly an anniversary is an occasion for reflection upon history. In another sense, it might be said that he who has historical awareness as a citizen has hindsight and the basis for deepening his foresight. History does not mean what cynics label "ancestor worship". History is Janus-faced - - it looks to the future as much to the past. Tradition is not something static and immobile. It is the intelligent use of heritage to understand, face, and solve the problems of today.

It is only through a deep-rooted sense of community and the intelligent application of our knowledge of the past that we might collectively retain for our town its viability, its autonomy, its identity.

As one historian wrote: "Life my friends, is a local story." This is one birthday present we might just give ourselves as we blow out the 179 candles.

Source: The Yorktowner, "Yorktown, Happy Birthday To You!," by Cortland P. Auser, Vol. 1 No. 23, March 23, 1967

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