Civic Groups Knit Community Together


By Sally Bentley

Looking back at issues of the Peekskill Herald  from 30 years ago, it is easy to see how the newspaper succeeded in reflecting the richness of our community and the varied interests of those folks who strolled the streets, worked in area businesses and attended schools in the Friendly Town.

Not to wax too poetic, but a glance at the old issues of the Herald easily proves that a local paper can be the gift that keeps on giving. Readers of the paper could learn local government news, the latest sports scores, where accidents and fires occurred and how the participants made out, enjoy wedding announcements and read the final chapter for some residents in the obituary columns.

The rich tapestry of white paper and black ink highlighted the extraordinary events as well as the little achievements, all of which comprise the good life in the scenic Hudson Valley.  Small and large businesses could toot their own  horns and entice us into buying adventures from new hair styles to plush reclining chairs.  Ancient and newly formed organizations  enjoyed coverage of their purpose and events and could  issue invitations to like-minded individuals to join their ranks. Reading through the stories in the Herald gave us knowledge of each other’s habits and helped us to admire each other’s achievements.

Often times,  a local paper can help open the eyes of the public to issues that dance all around them, but which allude their attention and interest.  Without a local paper to finger point and elucidate civic issues, actions can be taken that may have a damaging effect on civic pride and community contentment.

I poked a little bit into the long history of McGregory Brook in my last column and hinted that the brook’s history is deep and that it should go on and on. The Peekskill Herald played a key role in some of the twists and turns that the beautiful brook experienced. It’s pretty easy to argue that all the coverage that the Herald gave at the beginning of 1992, concerning the plans to deep six McGregory Brook,  burying it and its history, resulted in a newly voiced respect for McGregory and a widespread loyalty to the powerful stream’s continued existence. The Herald played an important role in giving the brook renewed life.

From the day an out-of-town engineer suggested encasing the brook in cement and silencing its babble forever, the Herald open their pages to the facts of the brook’s history and the facts of the proposed imprisonment. News articles reported the details of what was proposed at Common Council sessions and profiled the discussions that city fathers and city employees had around the issue. Through articles and letters to the editor and editorials and even cartoons the Peekskill Herald allowed the loud voice of our community to be heard.  One editorial began that the Common Council, city manager and planning staff should take a serious, open minded look at leaving MacGregory Brook unpaved and attacking the flooding problem by natural means. “Otherwise, they will allow an irretrievable piece of history to be bulldozed forever, with no guarantee that flooding will be solved permanently anyway.” They went on to write that “that was the message of every single person who spoke out at a public hearing Monday, and it’s the right opinion.”

The editorial quoted Mayor Vincent Vesce as saying that Central Avenue was important “as a corridor between revitalized waterfront and the downtown.” The editorial continued, “It  seems terribly shortsighted, then, to bury Central Avenue’s main historic attraction — a stream Indians paddled and where a pre-Revolutionary War grist mill and the charcoal McKellar Mill of the 1800s functioned. In the 1990s, McGregory is no longer a forgotten brook. People care. The city must demonstrate it cares too.”  It was the voice of our local weekly paper, which helped spread the word and rally the many voices, that subsequently saved McGregory Brook from ignominy.

And at the same time the newspaper was full of information about local organizations and events that could be enjoyed by area residents. Thirty years ago, the Garden Club of Peekskill was set to hold their monthly meeting at the Old Verplanck Schoolhouse.  The program was to feature a presentation of “Expressions in Silk” by Dan Meyer, the owner of Ashton’s Florists. These days, the Garden Club is nearing  85 years of service to the Peekskill area and they still meet on the first Tuesday of the month. But now they have the good fortune to proudly count this well-known floral designer, Dan Meyer, as a key club member, who frequently conducts workshops and demonstrations in the tri-state area.  Meanwhile, the corner of Park Street and Bank Street spent decades as the home of our downtown florist, but today it is a variety store. Just proves, things come and go, and a vibrant local newspaper helps to keep the community in the loop.


A typical class picture from Assumption School.

In early 1992, Assumption School was holding registration that Fall’s school term and the pre-school Work and Play Group at the Peekskill United Methodist Church was ready to enroll a new batch of three and four-year olds. And the senior class of Hendrick Hudson High School was holding their annual blood drive, with breakfast included! And speaking of seniors, the Peekskill Seniors Club, which met at the Neighborhood Center, in rooms below the still new Field Library, was announcing the winners of their most recent “horse race” and inviting members to sign up for the annual St. Patrick’s Day lunch and entertainment at Villa Baglieri.  All the details were included in the pages of the Herald.

Sadly in 2022,  Assumption School and the Methodist preschool have both been closed for some years. The students at Hendrick Hudson high school still do their blood drives and the seniors at the Peekskill Senior Club are still getting together and having their fantasy horse races and celebrations of things like Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day.

John Testa, this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade Grand Marshal.

And speaking of St. Patrick’s Day, the Peekskill Saint Patrick’s Day Committee was announcing the step off time for their third annual parade back in 1992.  This popular parade is now a Peekskill institution and the Committee is getting ready for grand marshal, John Testa, to lead them all down the parade route starting outside the Assumption Church on Saturday, March 12  at 3 PM.  The Peekskill Elks Lodge had just concluded a successful Marine Toy Drive and was getting ready to host the after-parade festivities.

Currently the Elks Lodge No. 744 is still enjoying their historic Brown Street building, which is topped by a life-sized elk statue. They continue to invite new members and are planning for the post-parade hot dog festivities.

The newspaper gave great coverage to the Volunteer Ambulance Corps of Peekskill which was about to hold an annual dinner dance at Cortlandt Colonial  Restaurant. I’m happy to report that the Ambulance Corps continues to grow and help our community thrive and also that Cortlandt Colonial weathered the pandemic challenges and is still open for events and dining.

School news included coverage of a trip by sixth grade students of the SPICE program to the Broadway show Les Miserables.  SPICE was a popular school enrichment program which was instructed by Barbara Devir and Kay Barthelmes.  Sadly, I have to note that the school district discontinued the SPICE program some years later and that we lost the wonderful teacher, Barbara Devir, a few years ago. The good news is that although Kay Barthelmes  is retired from the school district, she’s still very active in the community, especially with the Conservation Advisory Commission.

Other civic groups that had press coverage included the Paramount Center for the Arts,  Peekskill Museum and the National Maritime Museum.  The Paramount was hosting an exhibit of architectural drawings that had been curated by Roger Sparling and had many classical musical events on their calendar including the Tagkonic Choral.  Currently you won’t be reading about any art exhibits at the Paramount, but there are lots of music events mostly with contemporary popular music.

Roger still lives on Union Avenue with his wife, Kim, daughter Christina and her family. The National Maritime Historical Society was located at Crystal Bay and inviting the public to come wander through the delights of a maritime ship exhibit.  The National Maritime Historical Society is now located at The Hat Factory on  North Division Street and Burchenal Green is still president and still organizing exhibits and fancy fundraising dinners in New York City and Washington D.C.

Peekskill Museum

The city of Peekskill and the surrounding area have many enticements to keep community members happy and active.  Back in the days of the Peekskill Herald print addition every issue highlighted important community news and enticing local events.  I miss our local paper which for lots of us who were residents back then is a happy memory.

Since Regina Clarkin, who formally was the publisher of the Peekskill Herald, has now created the online presence of the Herald, we have a chance once again to be in the loop about  government affairs, community events and the multifaceted richness of our neighbors, schools and community groups.  Back in the Day we knew we were all the richer for having the resource of the Peekskill Herald. Today we should do everything possible to encourage the growth and long life of the new version of Peekskill Herald.  So, tell your friends, tell your neighbors and spread the word far and wide for folks to sign up for the Herald to drop right into their email and keep them in the loop!  That’s community journalism at its finest.