Should a Westchester Historic Site be Restored?

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The Eiljah Miller House is abandoned. Photo Credit: Patrick Stapleton
Steve Puchir thinks a Boy Scout or Girl Scout Troop could restore and save the site. Photo Credit: Patrick Stapleton
The cement company located across the road from the Elijah Miller House. Photo Credit: Patrick Stapleton
There is barbed wire and a locked fence preventing anyone from getting any further. Photo Credit: Patrick Stapleton

NORTH WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Gen. George Washington established several headquarters in the Hudson River Valley during the Revolutionary War, but one such historic location in Westchester’s North White Plains has been left to wither away over the decades.

In past years, Westchester County officials have considered preserving the Elijah Miller House in North White Plains, where North Castle historians say Washington established a headquarters during the Battle of White Plains in 1776.  Although the house, which the county opened to the public in 1918 and deemed a National Historic Site in 1976, is decrepit and quickly deteriorating, two local residents said they would like to see it saved.

“I’d love to see it restored, but I don’t think the county has the funds,” said Steve Puchir, operations manager of Wallauer’s in North White Plains. “I think it might be a good project for somebody like a Boy Scout troop or a Girl Scout troop to undertake.” He added that such a project wouldn’t be the best undertaking for the county, given the current state of the economy and that fact that it probably wouldn’t be “a money-maker.”

In July 2010, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino vetoed a $1.2 million bond passed by the county legislature to bring the house back to life. He had supported preserving the house in 2005 – prior to taking the county executive seat – before economic hardships hit the area.

At the time in 2005, Astorino said he considered the cause “worthwhile,” but that it was “neither an essential service, nor a priority for the county” due to more pressing financial obligations.

Puchir said it was a “shame” to see the building, which was built in 1738 by Elijah and Anne Miller, in its current form abandoned on Presidents Day.

The Valhalla resident was open to seeing it moved in order for residents to visit. The house currently sits on Virginia Road across from a cement plant. A blue tarp covers the roof to prevent snow and rain from destroying the interior, a fence closes off the site from patrons today. Puchir said he does not want to see the nationally recognized historic site continue to deteriorate.

“It’s not safe now, but then again there were Revolutionary battles fought right on this hill here – Miller Hill – so that gets in some significance, the historical end of it,” he said.

Tom Carpenito, a worker at Tommy’s Deli & Cafe in North White Plains, said he would like to see the house restored, but does not want it to be relocated.

“I think it should stay where it is,” Carpenito said of Washington’s historical ties to that building’s location. “If they move it, it’s not the same.” He added, “That was the real spot.”

Carpenito said he thought volunteers would be willing to restore the house and turn it into the pride of North White Plains once again.  “You’d get a lot of people to volunteer probably to rebuild it and restore it,” he said.

“My mother’s house is right behind it,” said Carpenito, a longtime North White Plains resident, having visited the home many times. “I’ve been there all my life. I used to go down there all the time. People used to go and every birthday, you used to shoot the gun, have cake and you used to dress up.”

According to the Westchester Parks Department website, the home was host to a museum that featured colonial artifacts.

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Comments (2)

BobInBpt:

If this house was already declared a National Historic site in 1976, then how could the city have allowed it to fall into a state of disrepair like this? Are not these properties supposed to be protected? Are there not Federal or State funds available to maintain them? This is insupportable.

historyguy:

In addition to Washington's HQ in North White Plains there are other historic sites in Westchester County that face the wrecking ball. One of these is in the Village of Ossining where a developer, Plateau Associates is seeking permission to take down the Brandreth Pill Factory, a building that is on the National Register of Historic Places to put up a 165 unit condo. Some years ago he bought this property and informed the village that he intended to save the building's exterior and repurpose the interior for 18 apartments. However he has intentionally neglected to maintain the building by not fixing broken windows, other apatures and removing roof coverings so that he could later seek a demolition permit on the grounds that the building was far too deteriorated to be economically preserved. In short , this developer has engaged in the practice of "demolition by intentional neglect."

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