Entry is part of an updated version of White Plains, New York: A City of Contrasts published in 2013. The book can viewed online and purchased at Lulu.com:
Today, White Plains (WP), New York is a modern city best known for its shopping centers, courts and services. Many come to the city for work, study and entertainment.
In 1776, WP played an important part in the American Revolution when (NY) became an independent state and then a few months later the setting for a standoff between the American Continental Army and the British Empire. Had things not gone as they did, the American dream for independence might have ended here in WP.
Throughout the city one can still find remnants from at the American Revolution, as well as from times before and after independence. Many of these remnants have been repurposed or converted into something completely different from what was originally intended.
BEGINNINGS: During the early 17th century, WP was home to members of the Weckquaeskeck tribe of the Mohican Nation . They called the land Quarropas, which has been translated to mean “white marches” or “plains of white.”
Perhaps the best explanation for the city’s name is that there were once numerous wetlands on which a heavy white mist would often linger. Even though many of these wetlands are gone, mists often hovers over the city where the tops of skyscrapers disappear.
A number of old trails used by early inhabitants would become some of the city’s first roads. A number of streets have Native American origins. Quarropas St is in the business district. Nosband, Shapham and Orawaupum Avenues were named after sachems (tribal chiefs). The name Kensico , which is used for a number of streets, comes from the English spelling of Chief Cockenseco.
PURCHASE OF WP & COLONIAL TIMES: The Dutch, who came to North America following Henry Hudson’s explorations of 1609, set up trading posts, towns and forts along the Hudson River as far north as Albany (pictured mural from Yonkers building now torn down). The colony of New Netherland was established with New Amsterdam as its center. Due to the high demand for furs back in Europe, the colony flourished.
Settlers came from all over Europe including Scandinavia, Germany, France and Belgium. Groups such as the French Huguenots and Jews came seeking freedom, while Africans were brought to the colony as slaves. Conflicts continued with Native Americans and often resulted in violence..
In 1644, the British took control of the colony renaming it NY after James II, the Duke of York and Albany. In 1683, NY was divided into 12 counties of which Westchester was one the Bronx was part of it. People who came to the county found an abundance of forests trees, wildlife, fertile lands and rocks that were readily available for trade, farming and building. Traders who came to the WP area called it “White Plains.”
On November 22, 1683, a group of Puritans from Rye bought 4,435 acres of land from the Weckquaeskeck and Siwanoy people. The sale took place alongside a lake in the area where The Westchester Mall is now located. On the day of the purchase, WP was considered part of CT. Six days later, though , after a boundary settlement, WP became a part of NY. A drawing by John Rösch illustrating the purchase can be found at City Hall in the Clerk’s Office (pictured). The library has a photograph in their digital collection that one can access that shows the rocks depicted in the drawing.
Soon after the purchase, John Richbell of Mamaroneck made a claim to the land. WP was part of a much larger purchase he made in 1661. John Richbell sent surveyors to the area but they were driven off. After Richbell’s death in 1684, his claim was sold to Colonel Caleb Heathcoat of Scarsdale but he too failed to reclaim the land before his death in 1706. The settlers petitioned the Governor to grant them a royal patent that would give them the rights to the land but it was not till 1721 that a royal decree was made. The city, though, did not forget John Richbell and named a street after him.
The settlers came from Rye by way of an Indian trail. This road appears on early maps as the “Road to Rye,” but in 1708 it was called “Queen’s Highway” named for Queen Anne. Today, it is known as North St. During colonial times, WP remained a village in the Town of Rye.
By 1697, the Village of WP was centered along another Indian trail where N and S Broadway are today. By 1734, it was referred to as “The Village Street.” Open space called “the Commons” was designated residential use. The commons became the center of Broadway and then Broadway Park. In 1898, Charles Tibbits, a community member, founded the WP Village Park Association to improve the park and it was renamed in his honor.
The Heritage trail with red and blue markers (pictured) runs through the park. The trail was created by the WP Monument Committee established in 1958 and is now sponsored by the WP Historical Society. It is linked to Google maps at whiteplainshistory.org. An original map of the trail that includes different areas can be found on the Town of Harrison’s website (harrison-ny.gov). Monuments in the park include the Civil War, WWI and Christopher Columbus monuments (pictured).
In 2009, the routes used by Generals George Washington and Jean-Baptiste Donation de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau (of France)during the later part of the Revolution were designated as a National Historic Trail. In 2016 makers were placed in Tibbits Park marking the route that comes through WP. Information about this trail can be found at the website nps.gov/warp/index.htm. Markers like these can be found elsewhere in the area.
WATERWAYS: Many of the city’s former wetlands are gone. The Bronx River (pictured) in the northwest section and the Mamaroneck River and its tributaries (including the West Branch) were used as boundaries for the Village of WP in its patent request.
The Bronx River was named after Westchester’s first European settler Jonas Bronck. The river still runs above ground in the northwestern part of the city and can be explored along a multipurpose paved path. Efforts were made in recent years to bring back some of the wetlands and native plants along the river bank to reduce flooding.
The Mamaroneck River and its tributaries still run in sections of the city but many parts are below ground in pipes. The river’s watershed covers most of WP. “Lighted” or visible sections can be found at Maple Moor Golf course (pictured), Saxon Woods Park, in the neighborhoods north from these areas, and in the northeast part of WP by Delfino Park and Lake St. Ponds and small streams appear in other sections of the city connected to the river.
Cassaway or Causeway stream runs easterly along Bloomingdale Rd and Mamaroneck Ave from Burke Rehabilitation Hospital’s grounds to the grounds of the NY Presbyterian Hospital. The stream opens at Bloomingdale Pond (pictured left) which is west of the NY Presbyterian Hospital entrance. The pond was a water source for the hospital when it was Bloomingdale Asylum. As to whether the stream still runs underground east to the Mamaroneck River as it once did could not be determined because of the roadways. Old maps show a branch of the stream that crossed Mamaroneck Ave across from Burke.
Silver Lake (pictured) along the city’s northeast border with West Harrison was known as Horton’s Pond during the Battle of WP and was where General Washington stored munitions. The manmade lake dates from 1726 and was used by a mill at its southern end and later by an ice company. The stone section of the home at 147 Lake St is what remains of Horton’s Mill that according to Renoda Hoffman was damaged by fire in the 1800’s. In WP, the lake (that has had numerous names) can be accessed from Liberty Park on Lake St. or from the West Harrison Park in West Harrison. Another way in is through the County’s Silver Lake Preserve on Merritt Hill where there is a parking area above the lake. There are a number of walking trails in the Preserve and one that goes from Liberty Park into the Preserve (video below was taken on trail).
Todd Pond in the Westminster Park residential area of the city along Lakeside Ave and Garretson Rd gets its name from A. C. Todd who created Westminster Park in 1912. The lake is privately managed as a recreation area.
A mill dating from 1690 along the Mamaroneck River can be found in the Town of Harrison near the Hutchinson Parkway on Love Lane.
A number of streets in WP are named for its waterways such as Lake, Bank and Water Streets .
COUNTY SEAT: On Feb 4, 1758, Westchester’s court house was destroyed by fire. It was in the former town of West Chester in what is now the Bronx. WP was selected as the location for the county’s new court and the court house opened on Nov 7, 1759 at the Armory location. The court house was an attraction with trials and public hangings.
WP’s court house was destroyed in 1776 by fire after the Battle of WP. After the Revolution, two court houses were built in 1787, one in WP (on the foundation of the first) and one in Bedford (pictured below). From 1788 to 1870, WP and Bedford would share the role of county seat. Bedford’s court house structure remains and the restored structure can be visited. The building has a court room (pictured) on the main level but much of the structure contains historic exhibits.
In 1844, when trains started coming into WP, the center of the BD shifted to Railroad Ave (now Main St.). A new court house was built of stone from WP’s Davis Quarry on Railroad Ave (located at corner on west side of Court St) and opened in 1857. The former court house on S Broadway was demolished in 1863. Additional buildings were constructed behind the Court house (including a jail). The NY Supreme Court opened in 1907.
By 1916, a new court house opened on Main St replacing the 1857 structure. The present court house (pictured) for Westchester County and NY State’s Supreme Court located on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard was dedicated in December 1973. By 1978, all the former court buildings on Main Street (formerly Railroad Ave) were demolished to make way for the Galleria Mall construction.
Numerous county, state and federal offices are located in WP. County offices are located in the Michaelain Building (pictured left) on Martine Ave. The 1932 structure was named for Edwin G. Michaelain who served as County Executive from 1958 to 1973 and as WP Mayor and Councilman.
NY State’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is located at the WP Mall on Hamilton Ave. A Federal Court House has been located at 300 Quarropas St in their own building since 1995 after renting a facility on E Post Rd since 1983. The IRS has an office on E Post Rd..
The Westchester County Center (pictured below; dedicated in 1930) is located at 198 Central Ave had the same architect as the one that designed Playland.
AMERICAN REVOLUTION: When the American Continental Congress in Philadelphia declared independence in July 1776, the NY delegation did not have the authority to vote. The Provincial Congress of the Colony of NY (formed in 1975) was not meeting till July 9. But, at this time General Howe, Commander of the British Army was taking control of NY City. John Hancock sent a letter along with a copy of the Declaration of Independence to the NY for approval. For safety, members met at the WP Court House where they agreed to accept the document allowing the NY delegates in Philadelphia to vote and sign the Declaration. On the same day, the governing body of NY changed its name to the Convention of the Representatives of the State of NY. The Declaration was read before the public on July 11, 1776 on the steps of the courthouse. A copy of the document is part of Westchester County’s Archives and can be viewed on their website.
A monument in front of the Armory was erected in 1910 by the WP Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution where the reading of the Declaration of Independence took place. The monument was constructed from stones that were part of the original court house’s foundation.
BATTLE OF WP 1776: In the fall of 1776 from October 28 to about November 4, the American Continental Army under the command of George Washington fought the British under the command of General William Howe in WP.
The Jacob Purdy House (1721) was used as Washington’s headquarters in 1776 & 1778. The house was saved from the wrecking ball in the 1970’s when it was moved from its original location on Spring St (demolished during Urban Renewal) to its present site on Park Ave on land that was once a part of the Purdy’s Farm. The restored Jacob Purdy House is used by the WP Historical Society and is open for events. Historic exhibits are found inside.
On Oct 28, 1776, the British battled Americans stationed on Chatterton Hill. The hill was part of Philipse Manor on the west side of the Bronx River. Outnumbered, the Americans gave up the hill and retreated across the Bronx River to Purdy Hill where Washington had stationed most of his troops (center line).
Today, one can find information and a map at the Battle of WP Park (pictured above) at the Corner of Whitney and Battle Ave. Much of the Battle Hill neighborhood became part of WP in 1916.
At the bottom of the hill along Tarrytown Rd there is a sign (pictured above left) showing the manning of a cannon at the Battle of White Plains from the Ward painting now hanging in the library. Many over the years have thought Hamilton is depicted in the scene but this was not the intent of the painter. Just south at the entrance to the Bronx River Parkway, there is a Battle of WP monument with marker dated May 18, 1926. The cannon (pictured above) is a replica of the one stolen (the 2nd time) in 1971.
MERRITT & MILLER HILLS: Action also took place in Harrison on the same day on Merritt Hill where Washington also had stationed troops. Today, in the park on top of Merritt Hill (Pictured above; just above Silver Lake on Lake St) there is a cannon, information and a red sign depicting the Liberty or Death flag used during the battle. The symbol is also part of WP’s city seal.
After the retreat from Chatterton Hill, Washington moved his troops to North Castle using Miller House as his headquarters. After failing to defeat the Americans, the conflict ended around November 4, when General Howe went back to the NY City.
The Elijah and Anne Miller house (pictured right; 1738) on Virginia Rd is just below Miller Hill. Elijah was killed in August 1776 while serving in the Westchester Militia followed by the death of two of his sons serving in the militia during the winter of 1776.
On top of Miller Hill in Miller Hill Park (pictured above), is a marker and information about the battle.
While most of the Continental Army went north after November 4, avoiding what could have been the end of the war, many of the buildings in the village of WP were burned down by an American Major John Austin and his detachment. Before his trial, Austin escaped punishment. The court house and the Presbyterian Church were among the destroyed structures. White Plains would take years to recover from the night of terror.
WAR REMEMBRANCES: “The Battle of WP” painted by Edmund F. Ward in 1926 is hung on the 1st floor of the library.
A 2 cent commemorative stamp issued by the US Post that same year shows the same scene of the battle as well as the flag first used in the battle titled, “Liberty or Death.” Two naval ships (no longer in use) were named after WP in honor of the battle. City exhibited equipment donated to the City in 1959 from the USS WP at City Hall and on Colonial Day in 2016.
A number of city streets, parks and two schools were named after the people, places and other events that took place during the country’s Revolutionary period. Some of these are Lexington, Hamilton, Battle, Jefferson and Franklin Aves and the schools Rochambeau and George Washington.
A monument, erected in 1906, can be found on N Broadway marking the center of Washington’s army during the battle. The marker in front of the monument is dated 1926 while the one on the monument is not dated as it was erected at an earlier time (dedicated 1906).
AFTER THE REVOLUTION TO PRESENT TIMES: After the Revolution in 1788, WP separated from Rye becoming a town. The 1790 census recorded a population of 505 of which forty-six were slaves.
In 1844, the Harlem Railroad Line, using steam engines, reached WP profoundly effecting the community. As the BD moved closer to the railroad, the population grew. Residential, commercial and government development increased. A new court house was built on Railroad Ave (now Main St) and opened in 1856 replacing the one on S Broadway.
Electrical rails were introduced in 1910. The tracks near the station were put above ground in 1914 and a new brick station was open in 1915. Remnants from the former building are still behind the Bank St Commons on Bank St. Pedestrian tunnels under the tracks date from this time as well as stairwells that go directly to tracks from street level. WP has had a number of rail stations (4) and the present TransCenter dates from 1987.
WP became an incorporated village in 1866 and in 1899 the village boundaries expanded when it purchased land near the WP Reservoir from North Castle. WP became an incorporated city on January 1, 1916 (after state approval in 1915) and would now include the Battle Hill section. City Hall on Main St opened in 1926. Inside the building you can find war memorials, pictures of past mayors and some of the drawings done by John Rösch, WP photographer and historian; dating from 1867. The Police Department once occupied the annex that is behind City Hall.
From 1912 to 1937, the NY, Westchester and Boston Railway ran to WP from the Bronx on the east side of the city. The terminal (pictured below) for the line was located where Nordstrom Department Store is today.
Though, the rail no longer exists parts of its bed are now part of the Jack Harrington Greenway City of WP Walking Trail from Gedney Way to the Scarsdale border. Other parts of the rail bed are visible but are not available for walking. The Greenway entrance to trail on Ridgeway has a display containing information about rail line. Tunnels for the rail line run under a number of city roads like the one under Bryant Ave (pictured below) that can be viewed at the municipal lot on Mamaroneck Ave near the intersection with Bloomingdale Rd. The parking lot for Sam’s of Gedney Way cuts into the former trail bed.
The retail development on Gedney Way is a result of the rail line going through this residential area. There was an effort by the city to extend the trail.
The rail line in the BD, now run by Metro North, is a busy stop with thousands leaving and coming into the city. Trolleys that ran through WP in the early 1900’s were replaced by buses and automobiles.
West of the tracks is a former bus depot (pictured above) repurposed into a restaurant Dog Den in 2016. The present bus terminal on Ferris Ave. connects commuters to areas in Westchester, Rockland and Connecticut is east of the station. City wants to redevelop the transit hub to coordinate with the completion of Tappan Zee Bridge replacement. A year long study was conducted in 2016.
The Westchester section of the Bronx River Parkway was constructed between 1907 and 1925. The park along its route was created to protect the Bronx River from pollution and development. This was Westchester’s 1st park and the nation’s 1st public parkway. North of Yonkers, much of parkway’s bridges and other features are still in the original design. The Kensico Dam in Valhalla at the parkway’s northern end was constructed from 1913 to 1917. It replaced the first dam of 1885 that was taken down in 1911.
Trains brought NY City closer to Westchester County and communities like White Plains. Wealthy New Yorkers came to WP to build country homes and take advantage of the leisure activities that the area offered. Some of the city’s neighborhoods are named for these people (Hillair Circle, Idle Forest, Reynal Park, & Rocky Dell). Farmland was converted into larger stately homes, hospitals, refuges for children, golf courses and even a large hotel -Gedney Farm Hotel.
CITY DIRECTION & PLANNING: As far back as the 1920’s, city planners had plans for WP to become a major commercial center in Westchester County by attracting some of NY City’s major department stores and Fortune 500 companies. Among these were B. Altman’s (1933), Macy’s (1949) and General Foods. After years of construction, the Cross Westchester Expressway opened in 1960 and attracted even more companies.
A huge urban renewal project from 1966 till 1980 removed entire blocks in the city to make way for new development including a new courthouse, library and two malls . The WP Mall (1973) served the community when areas were demolished. The Galleria Mall opened in 1980. Some roads were even eliminated and a number of much large office buildings were constructed taking up entire blocks. One of these buildings was Westchester One (1975) on S Broadway. As a result, hundreds of African and Italian Americans were displaced and many small businesses were forced out.
In the 1980’s, many of the city’s older apartment buildings were converted to cooperatives and condominiums.
By 1977, the military use for the Armory dating from in 1910 and constructed on the site of the first 2 court houses, ended and was converted to a senior center and residence in 1982.
In 1995, The Westchester Mall opened. Numerous condominium townhouses and apartment buildings were constructed during the latter part of the 1900’s and the early part of the 21st century
In 2000, the US census listed the population of WP as 53,077 and in 2010 as 56,853. Estimates of 250,000 have been given as to as to how many people come into the city daily. Tall towers of glass and concrete rose in the center of the city during the first part of the 2000’s. In recent years, with the sale of condominiums slowing, most apartment development in the city has been new rentals.
A new building, The Prelude, opened on Quarropas Ave. in 2016 and is the first structure completed in Brookfield Commons (formerly known as Winbrook) by the WP Housing Authority. The older low income rental apartment structures from 1949 will be replaced and demolished. One building on S Lexington Ave was closed in 2016 but has yet to be demolished.
Considering how much WP changed during the 20th and 21st century, there are still remnants from earlier times. Some older buildings were saved by moving them to new locations and others by placing them on the National Registry of Historic Places. Many of the city schools and government departments as well as a number of hospitals, churches and other organizations were established in the later part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th.
In the last number of years, the City has rezoned a number of areas in around the BD to revitalize it. Most of the projects involve a mixture of retail and rental apartments. Some are renovations but others involve demolition and rebuilds. The City Center and The Westchester underwent major renovations in 2016.
For more information see the individual entries posted and the section on Sources.