Summer 2021: Rebuilding & Renewing - Counties After COVID

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Westchester Takes a Long View of Historic and Cultural Heritage Tourism By Natasha Caputo , Director, Westchester County Tourism & Film


estchester County, in New York’s Hudson Valley, has more than four dozen historic sites related to the Revolutionary War, so it is already planning how to leverage the upcoming commemoration of the nation’s 250th birthday in 2026. Discussions of the semiquincentennial began as early as 2016, with community leaders, historians and volunteers considering how to present the county’s rich Revolutionary history to local residents and to promote tourism – a key component of regional economic development plans. “Westchester County has a special place in the history of the American Revolution. History – literally – happened in our backyard,” said County Executive George Latimer. “This is a history my administration takes very seriously – which is why we rebuilt the historic Elijah Miller House, where General Washington planned the Battle of White Plains, as an ode to our past and an opportunity to learn from it for future generations. As we approach the 250th anniversary, commemorating and celebrating those events – and the people involved – are both an educational and an economic opportunity.” That opportunity gained new importance after the pandemic shut down travel and most other leisure activities. Boosting the tourism and hospitality sector, an ongoing priority before COVID-19, became essential to rebuilding the broader economy; historic and cultural heritage tourism, tied to the Revolution’s 250th anniversary, will be an important part of the effort. Fortunately, the infrastructure was already in place. Volunteers established a nonprofit, grassroots organization, Revolutionary Westchester 250, to build awareness and enthusiasm for the Revolutionary era history of Westchester County and to coordinate local efforts with state and national activities. It was


NYSAC News | Summer 2021

supported by a working group convened by County Executive Latimer, including representatives of historical and heritage societies and civic organizations, local elected officials, and historians from area colleges and universities. The County Board of Legislators, prompted by Majority Leader MaryJane Shimsky, provided seed funding and a resolution of support in 2020, and additional funds this year. “There are fascinating and significant Revolutionary era sites all across our county,” Shimsky said. “Highlighting them is a winning proposition, not only for 2026, but before and after that year as well.” Among those sites are Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site, a prominent loyalist’s mansion in Yonkers; St. Paul’s Church National Historic Site, a field hospital used by the American, British and Hessian armies in Mount Vernon; Elijah Miller House, George Washington’s headquarters in North White Plains; Odell House, the Comte de Rochambeau’s headquarters in Hartsdale; Pines Bridge, a battle site where many AfricanAmerican soldiers held a key position in Yorktown Heights; and King’s Ferry, a strategic Hudson River crossing in Verplanck. One of the county’s state senators, Shelley B. Mayer, introduced a bill (S.4410A) to create a state commemoration commission to develop a plan for the 250th anniversary, and to qualify for federal funding. “Support from the county government helped the seeds of ‘Revolutionary Westchester 250’ grow,” said Constance M. Kehoe, president and a director of the nonprofit. “The County Executive spoke from the heart about the richness of experiencing local history, the county tourism office understood the potential from day one, and the County Board of Legislators funding came just at the right time.”