Thank you to the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce for asking me to submit this piece about the importance of local history in their 2018-19 Annual Member Booklet:
Minority Leader John Testa (Peekskill, Cortlandt, Yorktown) announced the passage of nearly $3 million in funding for the rehabilitation of Washington Street in Peekskill. The Westchester county Board of Legislators voted unanimously on Monday October 1. 2018 to approve the project.
A bond act for $2,960,000 was approved to repair the 1.23-mile span of Washington Street between Welcher Avenue and South Street. The newly approved funds are an addition to an early bond act for $330,000 that was used to design the project. The Washington Street rehab work will include milling, resurfacing, crack repair, replacement or adjustment of utility castings, concrete curb replacement, installation of handicap ramps, new traffic loops, and new pavement markings.
This section of Washington Street supports almost 3,000 vehicles per day and received a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) rating of 55 in 2016 and has continued to deteriorate. The PCI is a rating system based on a 0-100 score. A condition rating of zero indicates that the road requires reconstruction. A score of 100 indicates that the road is new. Based on the PCI rating of 55, this section of roadway requires structural rehabilitation to extend the life of the roadway.
Following the vote, Legislator Testa said, “I’ve been advocating for the rehabilitation of Washington Street for several years. The planning phase for this project began back in June of 2016 and I am glad to say that we are finally ready to begin the work. This section of Washington Street is an important roadway and is badly in need of repairs. When the project is finished, Washington Street will be in excellent condition and will be set to serve the people of Peekskill for decades to come.”
The Washington Street project follows a multi-year focus by Legislator Testa to rehabilitate county owner infrastructure across Northern Westchester that has been neglected and in need of repairs and upgrades for decades. Over the last four years, the county owned portions of Crompond Road/Rt. 202 and Main Street/Rt. 6 have been completely rehabilitated. The Washington Street project will bring the total amount of roadwork done to nearly 6 miles. Major upgrades have been completed in Blue Mountain Reservation and George’s Island Park. Additional upgrades are scheduled to begin at George’s Island in the spring.
The Westchester County Department of Public Safety will be providing a total of four police officers to serve as School Resource Officers (SRO) in the Lakeland and Hendrick Hudson School Districts. The positions were created through an amendment to an existing intermunicipal agreement (IMA) which adds three new SRO’s where the existing IMA previously provided one SRO at Walter Panas High School. The newly created SRO positions were approved at the Board of Legislators meeting on September 17, 2018 by a unanimous 16-0 vote.
The new SRO positions were created at the request of the Lakeland and Hendrick Hudson School District Superintendents and supported by County Legislator John Testa. One of the new SRO’s will be assigned to the Hendrick Hudson School District at their High School. The other two additional SRO’s will be assigned to the Lakeland School District at the Van Cortlandtville Elementary School and the Lincoln Titus Elementary School. The new SRO’s will begin immediately with the two new elementary school positions continuing through the last day of school in 2021. The IMA for the Hendrick Hudson SRO runs through the last day of school in 2023.
The SRO’s are critical positions in our schools that provide community policing benefits for children and law enforcement. Establishing familiarity and trust with law enforcement at an early age is especially important for kids who are at risk. SRO activities include deescalating potentially violent situations in an emergency, preventing and investigating criminal activities, preventing juvenile delinquency, working with educators and administrators on programs to prevent drug abuse and most importantly to serve as a role model and source of positive input and mentoring to our youth.
The four SRO positions will be fully funded by the school districts through annual payments by the school district to the county. When school is not in session, the SRO staff will be assigned to patrolling Westchester County’s vast parks system during the busy summer season.
Following the vote, Legislator Testa who is a retired teacher from the Peekskill school district said, “I am grateful to my colleagues for joining me in support of this intermunicipal agreement. We have no more valuable asset in our communities than our children and it is imperative that we provide a safe, secure and nurturing environment in which they can pursue academics as well as the important social and civic responsibilities that they will use for the rest of their lives. We have seen the tremendous benefits that having School Resource Officers as a daily presence in Walter Panas High School and I know that our younger kids will benefit from those relationships as well.”
It is officially known as Independence Day but more commonly referred to by its date, the Fourth of July. The birth of American Independence in 1776 has been celebrated ever since becoming a federal holiday in 1870. The day has brought us together with our families and communities to celebrate the freedom and liberties we enjoy because of the events and people who enabled those freedoms. Thanks to such organizations as the Peekskill Volunteer Fire Department, we have historically celebrated with a tradition of an annual parade and fireworks display. We look back fondly of our time growing up, watching or participating in those parades and the family cookouts that followed.
Over time, many important tidbits of history can be associated with the July 4th date. Some with close local connections. Incredibly, three founding fathers and past presidents passed away on this date. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826, the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and James Monroe in 1831, who was also a continental soldier in the Revolutionary War.
While the Declaration was being signed and the Continental Army being mobilized, Fort Hill in Peekskill was a key base for Washington to defend the Hudson River and develop military strategy. Eventually, West Point served that purpose, which became the focus of the Benedict Arnold conspiracy. On July 4, 1802, West Point Military Academy was founded.
New York made history by abolishing slavery on July 4, 1827 and setting the stage for what would become a great Civil War between the states. One of the pivotal battles of that war was in Gettysburg, PA. After three days of bloody fighting, on July 4, 1863, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia retreated from the battle. A number of the 700 Town of Cortlandt/Village of Peekskill area soldiers participated in that battle.
The Statue of Liberty, a symbol for freedom and independence, was deeded as a gift from France on July 4, 1884. At the statue’s dedication two years later, famous area resident and orator Chauncey Depew gave a lengthy speech celebrating the day. He clearly saw the significance of the moment and praised the cooperation of countries that made it possible. Originally known as The Bartholdi Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, the Statue of Liberty officially became a U.S. National Monument in 1924 and has been the responsibility of the national parks Service since 1933.
Above all, the symbol for Independence Day has been the stars and stripes of the American Flag. As kids, we made sure we had special devices attached to our bike’s handlebars holding an array of mini-flags and our tire spokes were threaded with red, white and blue crepe paper as we rode up and down the streets following the parade. There was also the sight of most houses displaying a flag on the 4th of July or any other appropriate holiday. It was and still should be a simple way to show admiration and appreciation for living in such a wonderful country and it is an important way to say thank you to those men and woman who have served and continue to serve our country in the military. It is our responsibility to continue the tradition of decorating and displaying the American flag on Independence Day, for us and for our children. Let’s make sure our way of life is not taken for granted. We should enjoy a day of celebration, yet never forget why we celebrate.
Legislator John Testa (Cortlandt/Peekskill/Yorktown)) was joined by his Legislative colleagues on Monday, May 21, 2018 in unanimously passing a Bond Act in the amount of $3,940,000 for major rehabilitation work at George’s Island Park in Montrose. The Legislation was an amendment to a previous Bond Act in the amount of $210,000 which was for the design phase of the George’s Island project.
Some elements of the rehab include design and construction of two playgrounds and picnic areas which will replace the existing ones. The new playgrounds will conform to current accessibility standards. Another major element of the project will be the rehabilitation of the boat launching docks which were last renovated nearly twenty years ago. The sanitary septic systems which service the comfort station buildings will be completely rebuilt. The septic system is a critical piece of the Island’s infrastructure in protecting the Hudson River. The funding will also allow for the restoration of the peninsula shoreline, drainage work, landscaping and other associated site work. The work will take approximately 1 year from beginning to end and will start once the bidding and contracts process is completed.
Following the passage of the Bonding Legislator Testa, who was a member of Westchester County’s Parks Board from 2012 to 2018, said “George’s Island park is a really wonderful part of Westchester County’s parks system and I am very happy to see this rehabilitation project coming to fruition. My family and I have made a lot of memories and had a lot of fun at George’s Island over the years- as have many Westchester families. As a Legislator and a former member of the Parks Board I feel very fortunate to be a steward of our parks which contribute so much to our quality of life here in Westchester County.”
About George’s Island Park- George’s Island Park is a 208-acre waterfront park offering magnificent views of the historic Hudson River. It contains tidal wetlands, a fresh water pond and wooded trails and provides boat access to the Hudson River as well as areas for nature study and picnicking. In winter, it is a favored spot for viewing eagles on the Hudson. A trail network links it to the Hudson River Greenway. This park has archaeological significance and sensitive natural areas, especially along the shoreline.
To my surprise and disappointment, when Governor Cuomo recently came out with the 2018 NYS Budget he did not include any new funding for the closing of Indian Point. The Cessation Mitigation Program is a mechanism in the budget that helps communities gradually adjust to the tremendous negative fiscal effects of a plant closing. This program is already utilized by the two other NYS plants in the process of closure, so whatever funding is presently in the program is not sufficient for the Indian Point closure. The Governor must help plan ahead to help the communities surrounding Indian Point that will be devastated economically by the plant’s closure. Combined, the Village of Buchanan, Hendrick Hudson School District, Town of Cortlandt, County of Westchester, as well as the local library and fire department will see a $32 million reduction in tax revenue.
Once I learned the proposed budget did not include new funding I immediately called for additional funds to be added to the budget, dedicating a specific line item in the Cessation Fund budget solely for the Indian Point area. We need to start gradually building up the dedicated fund now, three years in advance of the possible plant closure. It can’t be done all at once at the end of the process.
Senator Terrence Murphy felt the same way and, along with Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, successfully added $24 million to the Cessation Mitigation Program funding in the final budget that was signed by the Governor. Just as important, the funding was included as a dedicated line item specifically earmarked for the Indian Point closure. My colleagues on the Westchester County Board of Legislators supported my efforts to include the request for this funding as part of the Annual Legislative Packet that is sent to our Westchester State Delegation who deliberate on the NYS Budget. By including the request in our packet, it demonstrated to all state representatives how important the issue was to a large portion of the state and the tremendous number of people it will affect. Not only will the taxpayers of the area be impacted, but so will the 1,200 families whose jobs are in jeopardy along with local businesses who will lose a significant portion of their customer base and revenue.
I was happy to stand in a bipartisan manner with Senator Murphy on April 11, 2018 along with Assemblywoman Galef, Buchanan Mayor Knickerbocker, Hendrick Hudson School District Superintendent Hochreiter, Cortlandt Supervisor Puglisi and other local representatives and union officials to announce the additional Cessation Mitigation Program Funding and thank those involved with making it happen. We have a long way to go in planning for a future without Indian Point but this was a positive and significant accomplishment that we can build on going forward.
Appreciating and collecting items from the past was instilled in me mostly by my father. Growing up, he would always point out objects that were handed down in the family and explain what it was and how it was used. It could be a simple snuff box, porcelain baby feeder or travelling inkwell. He also was famous for bringing home interesting objects that he would pick up from various sources. It was something he started doing early in his career as a Conductor on the NY Central Railroad. His layover periods between trips allowed him to explore different towns and their thrift shops. He especially enjoyed the military surplus shops that sprang up following WWII. It was a habit he continued until his death in 1988.
One of those interesting objects was a large ash splint woven basket. Besides his familiar “they don’t make ‘em like this anymore” reason for bringing something home he also saw practical value in them. I don’t remember exactly when the object arrived in the house but I think it was probably late 60’s or early 70’s. He could have obtained it from Peekskill Military Academy where he worked as a night watchman. The academy closed at the end of the 1968 school year so it could have possibly come as a result of that. More than likely it was used for laundry services.
It was larger than a typical basket used for a home but it was put to good use as a storage container for various things over the years, toys especially. It was built to be strong and was obviously of good quality. It held up perfectly. My father knew it would.
In the early 1980’s my parents sold our house on Walnut Street in Peekskill and decided to move out of town. With space limited and downsizing needed, the basket ended up in my garage rafters for the next 35 years. I just couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it. Besides, they don’t make them like that anymore or if they do somewhere, they are surely very expensive. Now, all these years later, it was my turn to make space and downsize. With both of our adult children living on their own, my wife and I realized we had to begin the endless task of sorting through the piles of ‘things’ that have accumulated over the years. So, as we began sorting and organizing for the inevitable garage sale, it was time for the basket to once again see the light of day. Then I took a real close look at this object I took for granted the for last 50 years!
I saw the name and location of the manufacturer burned into the wood near one of the handle openings, Ballou Baskets Becket, Mass. and I decided to do some online research. It took a little work to get information but eventually an amazing history was discovered.
The Becket Historical Commission responded to my email submission to their website requesting information about our basket and the company that manufactured it. After starting as a small shop in 1888 the Ballou Basket Company grew to a larger factory producing quality products sold throughout the country. It was also a significant employer for the Becket area. Then it all came to an abrupt end.
In November 1927, a torrential rainfall caused the local reservoir to give way and flood the area. Within minutes, the basket factory was washed away, along with the homes of the Ballou brothers Willis and J. Clinton. Many other homes were destroyed or badly damaged as well. The post office was gone, area stores were gone too. Although the family did their best to attempt a come-back for the company, the stock market crash of 1929 and the depression that followed made it virtually impossible. Ballou baskets finally came to an end when another family tragedy occurred and J. Clinton Ballou was killed by a locomotive in the early 1940’s.
We discovered that samples of the Ballou Basket Company are not easy to find. Even in Becket, there are very few samples to show in their museum. Many families will temporarily loan their treasured possessions whenever the town looks to honor their basket manufacturing history.
My wife and I decided we should donate our basket to the historical commission. It was the right thing to do. However, given its size, we were not sure they would want it. To our delight, they were excited to be getting such a donation. Their permanent collection was minimal and there were no samples of baskets of the size we were offering.
So, just weeks later, representatives of the Becket Historical Commission travelled to our home in Peekskill to collect the new addition to their collection. They were thrilled and appreciative of the gift. While they were here I was able to give them a private tour of our very own Lincoln Depot Museum. Then, after lunch in the area, they were off back to Becket.
There was only one stipulation I gave for the gift, that the display described the gift as coming “From John and Nancy Testa in memory Joseph L. Testa.” It was an appropriate and fitting attribution to my father to which they wholeheartedly agreed.
So, if you are ever in Becket, Massachusetts stop by the Becket Historical Commission to learn more about Becket and Ballou, and look for our basket.