Preserving the Past and Enlightening the Future

What seven-letter word begins with "h" and ends with "story"? Every community has one and there is always at least one more story to tell.

The Yorktown Historical Society, undaunted by the most puzzling questions about the area’s history, is looking for stories and storytellers alike, inviting anyone who loves to ferret out history’s recorded and unrecorded past to join them.

The group, which has grown from 71 members in 1998 to 153 members by the close of 1999, hopes to continue this trend and tell as many of the community’s stories as they can unearth.

With the approach of the 225th anniversary of the Revolutionary War, the Society is bracing for a busy time. This increased activity brings the need for additional volunteers.

"We’re an all-volunteer organization," said Ralph Rogers, acting corresponding secretary. "We have a strong base of support from the community, but there is a lot to do and we can use all the help that’s available."

Rogers said the milestones commencing on April 19, 2000 -- when the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired at Lexington -- and continuing through 2008 will create various projects in which the group hopes to participate.

One high on their priority list is a collaboration with Greenway Conservancy for the Hudson River Valley. The project would create a historic trail to mark Rochambeau’s march from Rhode Island, where he and his troops came ashore, through Yorktown, New York [which at the time was Crompond], onward to Yorktown, Virginia.

The Yorktown Historical Society would be a partner in the project by helping the Conservancy put historical markers along the trail.

One of the sites they hope to mark is the old Hunt’s Tavern on Route 202, now Freyer’s Nursery.

"I recently was contacted by James Johnson, who is the military historian for the Greenway Conservancy and we talked about Rochambeau’s French encampments in 1781 and 1782, which were right around Hunt’s Tavern," Rogers said.

Rochambeau and his troops made a strong impact on the region. Rogers quotes Yorktown native John Martino’s book Yorktown at War, 1775-1783: "the citizens of Crompond formally adopted the name of Yorktown to designate their community. This was done to honor the French Army which encamped at Crompond on two occasions and participated in the climatic battle which ended the Revolutionary War, Yorktown."

According to Rogers, the Revolutionary War holds great importance, not just for this area, but for the entire nation. "All the events unfolding during that period could have had a tremendous impact on where America would be today," he said.

One example of how things could have been decidedly different had events in this area changed only slightly is British Major John Andre’s overnight stay at Miller’s Tavern. He slept there and ate his last breakfast at a local establishment with the secret fortification plans for West Point in his boot.

Because history provides a cornerstone to a community’s identity, the group has adopted the motto "Preserve the Past, Enlighten the Future."

"Our mission is fostering public awareness and pride and preserving Yorktown’s historical, agricultural and cultural heritage," Rogers said. To accomplish this they work with anyone who is interested in preserving Yorktown’s history and encourage partnerships with other organizations that are willing to promote the historical interests of Yorktown.

"We’re also trying to strengthen our outreach activities as a way to foster community pride at the same time of improving preservation awareness," he noted, "because we think it’s at an all-time low."

This outreach includes attracting a greater number of community volunteers and publishing information on the Society’s web site,, which Rogers said has enabled the group to offer its information to a larger audience in the community. More than 3700 visitors logged onto the web site in 1999.

"One of the things we’re very interested in is working more closely with the schools and their foundations. And the web site gives us the opportunity to reach all the students of the Yorktown and Lakeland School System," he explained.

The group has used the site to reach all 800 fourth-grade students in the Yorktown and Lakeland school districts. Rogers said that fourth-graders and seventh-graders have local history as a part of their curriculum, so the fourth-graders were a natural fit to benefit from and contribute to the web site.

The organization would like to see even more input from students of all grades. "We would love to hear their advice and opinions as to how we can develop our site that would be of even more interest to the students," said Rogers, encouraging all social studies teachers to get in touch with them in order to offer their students a lively exposure to local history.

Rogers cited one such collaboration with Anna Fazio of Crompond Elementary School. "She and some of the students from that school actually participated in the first historic marker that we placed at the historic railroad station last May."

Pro Photo donated single-use cameras to the students so they could photograph a site they felt should be preserved. They chose Hilltop Hanover Farm and the photographs were then featured on the Society’s web site.

Rogers recently read that Westchester County is considering saving the property as open space. "They [the students] clearly had it right," he declared. "There was not a strong awareness at that point that the county was thinking of doing that."

According to Rogers, this is a dynamic example of how students can help the organization support its motto, as they help to preserve the past while enlightening the future with their life spans. In an effort to get even more students involved, the group hopes to entice them to join their web planning team by contributing ideas, researching and writing articles.

On a volunteering front, the organization has a committee structure in place and hopes to attract dedicated individuals who can help them in various ways. "There are some major things that can be done," he said, "but we can’t do it without volunteers."

Volunteering opportunities exist in areas of development, finance and planning, program development, and research and communication.

Anyone interested in volunteering on the Development Committee could e-mail Committee Chair Bob Giordano at Tom Travis chairs the Finance and Planning Committee and Monica Doherty the Program Development Committee. To express interest in either of these committees, e-mail Ralph Rogers at

Information about the Research and Communication Committee is available by e-mailing Joan Fyfe at The Society holds regular meetings. Dates and times are posted on its web site.

Possible partnerships in the coming year are being explored with, among others, the Westchester County Historical Society and the Shrub Oak Honor Roll Monument Committee. Rogers said they are also interested in working with the Yorktown Museum.

"The Museum has a wonderful display on the railroad station and that’s something that we would be interested in putting on our web site to help them attract people into the Museum."

They also hope to build strong ties with the local newspapers in order to have articles from the old Yorktown Herald and The Yorktowner microfilmed, as neither are preserved in this way nor available in the Hart Library. They hope to work with community organizations and seek grants to accomplish this preservation.

"There is valuable historical information there," Rogers said. "It’s fascinating to go back and see some of that." He also explained that historic articles provide "an open door on some of the history that’s available," offering students opportunities to undertake more in-depth study.

Rogers believes there are endless opportunities because of the area’s strong history. "We feel that we’ve had a very good year and accomplished a great deal, based on the feedback that we’ve gotten from the community… while we’re happy that we’re doing the right thing, we don’t want to rest on our laurels."

What stream in Yorktown had its course altered by the French Troops that encamped in Yorktown during the Revolutionary War? What structure in Yorktown is the only surviving structure in Westchester County to be held by General Washington’s Troops continuously throughout the War of Independence as a command post?

Where did Major Andre eat breakfast with the West Point fortification plans in his boot? What local philatelist was so passionate about stamp collecting that he created his very own post office?

Keep looking for answers to these intriguing questions and other gems in Yorktown’s history, as our series Preserving the Past and Enlightening the Future continues.