Small World of Peekskill


By Sally Bentley

      Each time that I reach for my massive, bound volume of the 1992 Peekskill Herald, I find myself humming the familiar Disney tune, “It’s a Small World After All” over and over again.  Leafing through the stories from March 1992, I was not surprised to see my bagpiper friend, Joe Brady, marching across the pages, as they covered the 4th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which is now a well-loved institution in Peekskill, come rain or come shine. 


Joe Brady leading the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade down Fifth Ave. for the last time this year.

      But when I spotted a classic wedding photo of a sweet young, promising couple I paused over the groom’s name, John McAndrew.  It rang a bell in my memory and I wondered if I had known him from my library job or some other local connection.  Then I remembered a friend from The Garden Club of Peekskill, Maria McAndrew.  Could this be her son?  I emailed Maria a copy of the beaming bride (Clare) and groom and she quickly replied “That’s my son!”  And I had known him years ago, when he helped champion the Save Fort Hill Park campaign.  He’ll be glad to know that Fort Hill was saved from the dreaded developers’ bulldozer and is even slated for some carefully curated attention, under a grant won by the City of Peekskill Planning Department.  Planning Director Jean Friedman assures us all that the natural beauty of this historic park will not be marred, but that improvements will be made in the most natural way, to the paths that allow access to this former Revolutionary War redoubt.   

Clare and John McAndrew on their wedding day 30 years ago.

     That isn’t the end of this Small World tale.  I just came back from a great trip to Italy with my brother, Gregory and his sons Van and Colin and daughter, Whitney.  Add in fiancees and friends and our group of nine was off to a rollicking tour from Rome to Venice.  Maria McAndrew, her son John and daughter Melissa, along with their spouses and children are finalizing their own itinerary plans for a group of nine to tour Pasta Paradise otherwise known as Italy. Next week Peekskill Mayor Vivian McKenzie, will join members of the Garden Club of Peekskill at our installation luncheon.  Mayor McKenzie will swear in the new officers, including our new Co-Presidents, Maria McAndrew and Toni D’Angelo.  

      As I continue turning the brittle pages, I see a photo of a familiar brick building.  Located in the area known as Finktown, on the eastern end of Park Street and just steps from Penelope Pond and McGregory Brook, these ten attached row houses are not far from my own home and I pass them frequently. 

Current day image of The Flats.

The headline declares “Street Row Houses to See Renovation” and the story outlines the restoration plans of builder Mark Phelan, “who says he has a ‘soft spot’ for renovations.”  The houses were originally thought to be built around 1915, but a 1914 Bromley Atlas clearly shows them already located near the Peekskill Ice Company and alongside Penelope Pond.  

Peekskill map from the Westchester Historical Society.

     Local historians always refer to these “flats”  as having been built as housing for the workers of the Francet Pearl Studio, but I question this statement.  The Flats clearly existed by 1914, but the pearl studio did not.  Charles Pfeiffer, the founder of the Francet Pearl Studio did not come to Peekskill until 1917 or 1918, so he probably acquired the “flats” sometime after that, once he had built the studio.  Newspaper accounts report that the Pearl studio, which had an international reputation, at one time had more than 500 employees. The ten row houses would have been a drop in the bucket of the housing needs of the workers. Perhaps they were initially built as housing for the employees of the Ice Company business.  However, by the 1930’s and 40’s all the residents of Finktown knew them as homes for pearl studio workers.

      Former Councilwoman Drew Claxton tells me that she was a member of the Peekskill Historic Review Board at that time, along with Doreen Evangelista, Lisa Prown, Kathy Cerreta and a few others.   She remembers that the flats “had been abandoned and were in terrible disrepair.”  Drew was the chairperson of the board at the time and she recalls that “the city’s answer to this “blight” was to tear them down and turn the area into a parking lot.” The Historic Preservation Board objected to this plan and did some research into the buildings, uncovering their connection to the Francet Pearl Factory and arguing for their historic value. They pushed to have the flats restored and returned to the housing stock for the city. The Board supplied historic photos of the buildings to guide the accuracy of the restoration.

This is an image from the un-renovated Flats buildings in 1992.

     In 1992, builder Phelan, and Foreman Construction purchased the units for remodeling and resale, with an agreement to honor their historic details.  Documents from Evangelista’s time on the Historic Review Board credit architect David Hirsch and his partner, David Sweeny, with forming the Park Street Flats Corp. and getting the project underway.  

     Back in those days the row houses were unoccupied and unloved and would have served well as the backdrop for some British scenes during the World War II blitz.  The houses were eligible for the National Register for Historical Places and the plan was to honor the standards set by the Register for rehabilitation.  Once they were fully renovated, with first floor living and kitchen spaces and two bedrooms on the second floor, each unit would be offered for sale as a condominium. Each house has a deck, ground floor basement with outdoor space and parking in the rear.  Today when you pass by, it is easy to see that the current occupants enjoy their little castles and many have carefully tended gardens outside their “cottage” door and most find decorating for the holidays one way to celebrate their pride of home ownership.  At the back end of the property, McGregory Brook flows by and the sound of water spilling over the nearby dam of Penelope Pond lends a soothing sound to the quiet street. 

Painting by Peekskill artist Robert Barthelmes of the Flats.

     Today, when you look down the length of the ten row houses, you are reminded more of Miss Marple’s village of St. Mary Mead, rather than a war torn country.  Artist Robert Barthelmes has immortalized the flats, along with Penelope Pond and the entire Finktown area with his beautifully depicted scenes from a sweet and serene distant past.  Drew Claxton is proud to recall that each unit was sold for $60,000, “making these the first affordable for purchase housing units in Peekskill.”  However, other documents from the Board state that the1,800 square foot units sold for $85.000.   At either price, what a successful, neighborhood enhancing project, which could serve as an example for current developers.   As Claxton wrote at the time, “Our mission is to help  Peekskill reap the benefits of our city’s wonderful historic resources.”  Anyone care to talk about the White Plains Linen buildings?


The manicured Flats building these days.

     There was another article, touching on the Finktown area, which also relates to today and my theme of It’s a Small, Small World.  Peekskill Herald reporter Carol Bluhme did a bit of journalistic sleuthing back in 1992 and discovered that the Fresh ‘N’ Fit company, which had its manufacturing plant on the corner of Main Street and Hamilton Avenue in the Lighting Company which also housed the Poritzky meat company, was facing bankruptcy and eviction.  The million dollar company did subsequentially close its retail outlets and shut down.  Not so long ago, when Anthony Ruggerio worked at City Hall, there were many meetings held with a developer who proposed converting this large brick building into apartments and art lofts.  So far, there is no sign of a rehab going on and no new homes.  However, my aforementioned friend,  Doreen Evangelista, did turn me on to the fresh pasta manufacturers who now occupy the building. Tuscana Pasta Co. also hosts a retail operation there, which is open from Monday to Friday. In my small world, I’ve known Doreen (who is also a member of the Garden Club of Peekskill) and her family for a long time, but didn’t know about her part in seeing the Park Street Flats restored.  And now her son, Dominic, a new Peekskill home owner, has been appointed to the Historic Preservation Board and is wading knee deep into local history.  Dominic was just married to his wife Stephanie and they could be the lovely young couple in the wedding photo that got me thinking about our Small World called Peekskill.   What are the chances that all the Evangelista family is planning a tour of Italy? Or maybe they will just settle for fresh pasta from Tuscana Pasta on the edge of Finktown! It is indeed a Small World!