Archives for local-history

Local History: Anti-Communism

The renovations at the library meant that we had to move the White Plains Collection to a storage area in another part of the library. In the course of the move, I came across a binder I had never seen before. It had label on the front that said it contained the “Westchester Spotlight 1955-1974.” Since that publication was not familiar to me, I opened the binder. The contents of the binder bring to life a complicated and troubling history.     The Westchester Spotlight was a counter-subversive newsletter published by the Westchester County Committee on Un-American Activities, part of
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Categories: History.

Local History: Why Data Isn’t Boring

Data is not boring, especially if you are interested in establishing historical truth. In the past year, Americans have been exposed to an immense amount of data about age, health, economic status, and opinions. A number we hear a lot about these days is 77,7440–the votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin that helped Donald Trump win the electoral vote even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 2.8 million votes. With increasing levels of partisan skepticism influencing news consumers and creators alike, outlets like FiveThirtyEight and Vox can offer refreshingly empirical perspectives to those who enjoy studying history.
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Categories: History.

Local History: Winter in Westchester

The local history blog will be taking a short break during the next two weeks, returning to weekly posting in 2017. To finish out the year, I thought it was appropriate to look at the history of winter in Westchester. While this post is by no means scientific, it will hopefully serve to help readers appreciate our climate and persuade some to venture into it! The earliest mentions of Westchester’s weather in the White Plains Collection are from the published journals of English colonists. Daniel Denton arrived in New Netherland (as New York was then called) in 1644 and was
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Categories: History.

Local History: Societies & Clubs

Between the late 1920s and the mid 1980s, librarians amassed a large collection of pamphlets, flyers, photographs, newsletters, and yearbooks from all kinds of organizations in White Plains and filed them under “Societies & Clubs.” Below are a few examples–some pulled at random, some pulled because I found them amusing–of the fascinating, often quirky contents of the Societies & Clubs folders. As with all of the material posted on this blog, these items are available for the public to view in the library. If you’re interested in doing so, email or call ahead to schedule an appointment!      
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Categories: History.

People & Stories Oral History Project: Art Bennett

Art Bennett (alto saxophone/flute) was born and raised in White Plains. Art was active in the ‘Loft Jazz’ movement in New York City during the 1970’s. This subsequently led to appearances at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully and Avery Fisher Halls and other New York venues. Art has performed with many notable musicians such as Lonnie Liston Smith, Rashied Ali, Roy Brooks, James “Blood” Ulmer, William Parker, Marion Meadows and an impressive list of musicians in the Free Jazz art form. He was also a member of the New York Musicians Organization (NYMO), which secured grants to provide musical education programs,
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Categories: History and Oral History.

Local History: Slow Down with a Book

If you are reading this, you probably read more than just quaint blog posts. You might have a list of trusted sites you regularly browse, or perhaps you let an algorithm assemble content for you. Either way, information is liable to come at you fast in the form of tawdry headlines illustrated with photographic click-bait or in tweet-size bursts that belie the complex stories hidden behind shortened links. In the midst of all the media vying for our attention, I’d like to offer a classic suggestion: the book. All of the books below are part of the library’s local history
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Categories: History.

Local History: Lester Associates, Inc.

Lester Associates, Inc. was a giant in the world of miniatures. Based out of Thornwood for a time, the firm was responsible for constructing scale models, exhibits, and custom technical displays for some of the most well-remembered endeavors of the 1960s. Although its most famous work is the Panorama of New York City that debuted at the 1964 World’s Fair, Lester Associates also built a giant “time zone mural map” for IBM and intricate models of space craft for NASA. The images in this post come from a catalog sent to the library by Lester Associates in 1964.    
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Categories: History.

People & Stories Oral History Project: Jack Harrington

Jack Harrington arrived in White Plains in June 1951. He moved here on assignment from the insurance company he worked for. During his long residency in White Plains, Jack has done a tremendous amount for the preservation of historical resources and the conservation of green spaces. Barbara and Rod Carlson, two active members of the White Plains Historical Society and knowledgeable students of local history, conducted these oral histories over a period of months. The creation of the Greenway, the politics of urban renewal, the character of White Plains, and the importance of historical preservation are some of the topics
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Categories: History and Oral History.

Local History: Contentious Politics

Political battles are a near-ubiquitous part of our history. White Plains was the site of numerous political dramas in the late 19th- and early 20th-century. As the seat of the county and the home of many individuals who fancied themselves powerful and important, what happened in White Plains was news throughout the state. Rather than have you read two blog posts, I will direct you to a highly informative article written by local history expert Cliff Blau. The political cartoons in his article are by John Rosch, and can be seen in Rosch’s scrapbooks or in Historic White Plains. The picture
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Categories: History.

Local History: 1960 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Here are some pictures of a Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 25, 1960 in White Plains. The parade route ran along Main Street, Martine Avenue, and Mamaroneck Avenue. These photographs are from the Peter Kanze Collection, detailed in a previous blog post.                                                                                
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Categories: History.

People & Stories Oral History Project: Johnnie Pantanelli

Colonel Johnnie Pantanelli knew two things when she graduated from Scarsdale High School in the early 1940s. First, she wanted to fly airplanes. Second, she liked driving motorcycles even though her mother and aunt tried to tell her riding was not a proper hobby for girls. As you will hear in this oral history, Johnnie (her given name is “Joan”) did not listen to anyone who tried to discourage her and charted a determined, adventurous course from an early age through her 90s. Johnnie joined the Civil Air Patrol during World War II. The CAP is the official auxiliary of
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Categories: Oral History.

Local History: Urban Renewal Collection

The Urban Renewal Collection is a set of documents, photographs, newspaper clippings, and publications that tell part of the story of urban renewal in White Plains between the mid-1950s and the late-1970s. All of the information in this post is drawn from sources in that collection and the White Plains Collection more broadly. In White Plains we throw around the phrase “urban renewal” rather casually, but it actually first referred to a specific set of laws, projects, and changes. The phrase “urban renewal” was codified in the Housing Act of 1954. Ironically, the Housing Act of 1954 actually increased the
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Categories: History.

People & Stories Oral History Project: Karen Smith

Dr. Karen P. Smith is multi-faceted. Before her career as a professor, she served as principal of two schools in Yonkers and the Director of Integration for the district. She was handpicked by a superintendent for the Director of Integration job, an honor that came during Yonkers’ conflicts with the federal government over racial inequalities in the city. As principal to children whose schools were transformed over the course of the summer of 1986 and ambassador to their (sometimes angry) parents, Smith faced numerous challenges. Interestingly, she recalls few conflicts between students and says she spent most of her time
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Categories: Oral History.

Local History: Peter Kanze Collection

Next time you come across old photographs at an estate sale or garage sale, stop and take a closer look to make sure someone is not discarding valuable historical records! Thanks to Peter Kanze’s visit to an estate sale in White Plains some years back, we have an incredible collection of photographs of White Plains from the 1950s through the 1970s. Kanze can’t remember now where the sale was or who owned the pictures, but it is likely they are the work of someone in the insurance business who was employed to document the condition of various businesses and locations
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Categories: History.

People & Stories Oral History Project: Aurelio Saiz

Did you know that Juanita Castro, Fidel’s sister, spent a night in White Plains? That story and many others come from Aurelio Saiz’s oral history in which he describes moving with his family to White Plains from Cuba. The Saiz Family lived in a building on the corner of Main Street and Mamaroneck Avenue at a time when dozens of businesses had elaborate storefronts and narrower streets still accommodated two-way traffic. His bedroom windows were directly across from the marquee of RKO Keith’s Theater! Saiz is a great storyteller. He conveys a vivid version of growing up on the streets
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Categories: History and Oral History.

Local History: Ghost Stories

The Hudson Valley seems to have been created with autumn in mind. During October and November, the area’s increasingly hostile weather and abundant cultural history blend, creating a potent sense experience. The skittering of dead leaves behind you too easily becomes the footfalls of a disgruntled spirit and the bare tree branches resemble skeletal fingers grasping for diminishing portions of daylight. Even with these natural advantages, our imaginations need fuel, and that is where ghost stories come in. Westchester’s most famous ghost story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is known around the world. Less well-known, but no less spooky, is
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Categories: History.

Local History: The Racial Balance Plan

In the 1960s, northern as well as southern communities were forced to desegregate their schools to achieve educational equity between races. The White Plains Collection contains a number of sources for learning more about the desegregation that took place here under the Racial Balance Plan. Multiple reports issued by the Board of Education as well as a report from a committee of citizens provide statistical and administrative assessments of the plan. For a more sociological view, the slim volume Children In The Balance does a remarkable job of revealing what classrooms were like in the years after the plan was
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Categories: History.

Local History: Biography Scrapbooks

The White Plains Collection is home to one of the few remaining card catalogs that is made up of actual cards. Yes, the very same typewritten index cards so many people ask about when they enter the library. Librarians at White Plains Public Library started maintaining a card index for materials of local interest as early as 1926. In addition to organizing newspaper articles by subject, they also created an index for nearly one hundred biography scrapbooks. I’ve never come across material explaining whose idea the scrapbooks were, nor who is responsible for all the cutting-and-pasting required to construct them.
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Categories: History.

Local History: Religious History

Some of White Plains’ longest standing buildings are religious institutions of one kind or another. The Presbyterian Church on North Broadway was built in 1824, but the congregation was established in the early 18th century. Our Lady of Mt Carmel on Lexington Avenue is a reminder of pre-urban renewal White Plains. The Silver Lake Preserve contains ruins of the ancestor of today’s Mount Hope AME Zion Church. The quiet history of these architectural sites is complemented by pictures and documents from the White Plains Collection. Below are a few representative items pulled from the collection. Current members of congregations are
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Categories: History.

Local History: Slum Clearance

The words “urban renewal” are never far from the lips of anyone familiar with White Plains’ history over the past 60 years. But what exactly do we mean when we use the phrase “urban renewal?” Most people use the words to describe the transformation of the area bordered on the east and west by Mamaroneck Avenue and the train tracks and on the north and south by Barker Avenue and Post Road, respectively. The term itself comes from the mid-1950s when the language of policy, legislation, and city planning took on a progressive tone that left behind the moralizing sensationalism
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Categories: History and Uncategorized.