Entry is update version of the section of “After the Revolution to Present Times” and “City Planning and Direction” in White Plains, New York: A City of Contrasts.
AFTER THE REVOLUTION TO PRESENT TIMES
After the Revolution ending in 1788, White Plains (WP) separated from Rye becoming a town. WP census of 1790 recorded a population of 505 of which forty-six were slaves. Agriculture was still the basis of the economy and most of the farms were small in size.
It would take the community years to recover especially when many of the buildings along the Village Street were destroyed by fire in 1776 (after the Battle of WP). It took years before a new court house was rebuilt in 1787 over the foundation of the older one and in 1788 (till 1870) WP would alternate with Bedford as the county seat. Bedford incidentally had a larger population at that time.
The Village Street would remain the location of the business district for WP. The Presbyterian Church located on the street destroyed after the Battle of WP ( 1776) was not rebuilt till 1825. (Unfortunately, that structure was destroyed by fire and not replaced till 1855). A Methodist Church was built in 1795 but after a fire just after opening, it was replaced in 1797.
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. The rails increased dairy production on farms (like the Gedney Farm) and industry. The rails were involved in bringing commuters from New York City and the conversation of farms into homes. 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 (pictured left). Pedestrian tunnels under the tracks (pictured above) date from this time as well as stairwells that go directly to tracks from street level. WP has had a number of rail stations and the present Trans Center dates from 1987.
Metro North in 2017 agreed to update station. NY State named the station a hub in NY’s Mass Rapid Transit plan. Construction on the station began in 2018. City did a study to redevelop the areas near the station and are asking for developers to submit plans for review. The renovation is still an on going project.
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 tried to become a City as early as 1902; in 1908 tried to annex Greenacres Neighborhood of Scarsdale as well as parts of Greenburgh and West Harrison in its efforts. In 1910, Governor vetoed WP’s request to become a city that would have annexed parts of West Harrison; Greenburgh. 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 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. Recently this summer 2020 the Greenway was extended north to Bolton Rd.
Tunnels for the rail line run under a number of city roads like the one under Bryant Ave 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 (56 Gedney Way) cuts into the former trail bed.
The retail development on Gedney Way is a result of the rail line going through this largely residential area. There was an effort by the city to extend the trail.
The rail line in the Business District (BD), now run by Metro North, is a busy stop with thousands leaving and coming into the city. The train from NYC first came to WP in 1844 and it’s impact on WP was significant. Dairy farming prospered with it now possible to transfer milk to the larger markets in NYC. To encourage the sale of tickets, the rail line offered package deals for commuters. They coordinated with real estate developers and others to promote Westchester as a great place to escape the hot dirty City. Wealthy NYers found inexpensive land in WP to build large estates and a hospital. As the 20th Century began and the rails were electrified, White Plains’ former farms were subdivided into single lots for home building.
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) that was repurposed into a restaurant Dog Den in 2016 till it closed. 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 City lost residents during this time. Hundreds of Italian and Afro-Americans were displaced and many small businesses were forced out. The WP Mall (1973) served the community during this period. Whole Blocks and streets were eliminated and a number of much large office buildings and malls were constructed with some taking up entire blocks. The WP Mall (1973) housed some of the displaced businesses. One of tallest buildings constructed was Westchester One (1975) on S Broadway.
In the 1980’s, many of the city’s older apartment buildings were converted to cooperatives and condominiums and The Galleria Mall opened in 1980.
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 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. The housing development is now using “Affordable” Housing to describe its offerings.
White Plains’ newest rental housing developments (since 2003) must include “affordable” options within their buildings. Despite these requirements for new housing, The City Center complex has an affordable option in a separate location in the complex “The Summit at City Center.” It is below the NY Sports Club and is actually hard to get to by way of two elevators. The City also has an affordable home ownership program for eligible families at but right now there is only one option at Minerva Place Condominiums. For information see the City website under Planning Department.
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 them. Most of the projects involve a mixture of retail; rental apartments. Some are renovations but others involve demolition and rebuilds. The City Center & The Westchester underwent major renovations in 2016. For more information on newer structures and renovations see the section on White Plains Revitalization; Its Vanishing Past.