By Sally Bentley

It shouldn’t surprise me, but no matter where I start poking into stories in bound copies of the Peekskill Herald from 30 years ago, I find myself knee deep in tales of historic preservation and environmental conservation. Here we are in April 1992 and lo and behold, the six-year-old Peekskill Herald has won third place in the New York Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest.  

Selected from more than 400 different weeklies, the Herald supplement on historic preservation caught the eye of the judges and Publisher Regina Clarkin and Editor Kathy Daley traveled to Albany to receive their accolades. The New York Press Association honored “A Sense of History, A Sense of Place” a collection of stories about Peekskill’s historic revival, and praised it for being “a fine job of looking at Peekskill’s present preserving much of its architectural past and looking to what makes that past worth preserving,  all presented in an outstanding package.”

The special section that won an award for its coverage of Peekskill’s preservation efforts.


An analysis of the stories in the print editions of Peekskill Herald showed how the articles were a call and response to our community’s innate pride in the rolling hills, riverside views, Currier and Ives architecture and Norman Rockwell family values.  The dichotomy still exists some thirty years later. 

Each time a building proposal is unveiled at City Hall or a shovel hits the dirt to begin a new project, such as the one that will be built along South and Grove streets or the proposed development on Louisa Street, it doesn’t take long for the sound of the shovels to be answered by the call of those who would leave every building, every hillside, every vista untouched.

Hillside on Grove and South Streets being readied for a housing development.

Back in the Day, there were many community members who dedicated their time and talents to promoting the architectural heritage of Peekskill and carefully examined new public projects to “first do no harm” and then to add to the pleasure of living in our historic river town.  A press release from the Peekskill Museum  was announcing the availability of applications for their 2nd annual Architecture Awards Program.   

“The program focuses attention on the standing houses and buildings constructed before 1900. The 1992 awards will be limited to five winners, who will be presented with brass plaques bearing the original date of the building and the words ‘Historic Peekskill, Preservation Award’ on the border.” Each year the awards were announced at a public program, with a slide show and narration of the architectural features, building history and information about the owners of each home.  There must be videotapes of these unique presentations, since the program was also shown on the government channel.  I am going to try researching a complete list of the buildings which were honored over the years and give the list to Peekskill Walks. The list would make a great guide to some lovely Peekskill neighborhoods on one of these fluffy Spring days. 

Preservation Award winners in 2013. Larry Denoia, County Legislator John Testa, Kay & Bob Barthelmes, Mayor Mary Foster, chairwoman of the Historic Preservation Advisory Commission Jini George Cummins and Barbara Lipp.

 While many locals were admiring the City’s historic buildings, Mayor Vincent Vesce, Architectural Review Board Chairman Roger Sparling and others were investigating the possibility of accepting the offer of moving the iconic Naumburg Bandshell from Central Park in New York City to newly created Riverfront Green Park.  The five-story high limestone structure, which was built in the early 1900’s, was being offered by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.  I am guessing that none of the Peekskill “players” or the NYC officials knew what a can of worms they were opening up with the suggestion.  Articles were written about the logistics of the move and suddenly the pro and con teams were solidly positioned. On behalf of the Steering Committee on Parks, Recreation and Environment, resident John Leslie wrote a letter to the editor strongly suggesting that the idea “be considered a bomb to drop and leave alone.”  Mayor Vesce wrote a letter to the editor in reply, urging citizens not to make rash conclusions about a proposal which was only under consideration and still had many aspects to be examined.  

Naumburg Bandshell that remained in Central Park in New York City.

“Quite frankly, I am baffled by how your group came to the conclusions expressed in your letter since there has been no specific plan put forth. To reject this idea out of hand, without having the benefit of knowing what is actually possible, is not in my opinion in the best interest of our community.”  

The Herald printed an editorial under the banner which read “People Should Have Say On Park Bandshell.”  They enumerated the pros and cons and spoke strongly for the city fathers to listen carefully to the voices of the residents.  The Herald editor might have been addressing these comments to the NYC officials, since the New York Times and other city papers now started covering this story.  NYC officials heard plenty of feedback from their residents and none of it was positive.  City folk wanted their bandshell and they wanted it just where it sat in Central Park.  Suddenly, the idea of hauling the bandshell out of Central Park was withdrawn and it sits there still to this day hosting free classical concerts on a regular basis.  Meanwhile, the City of Peekskill Show Mobile continues to serve our park’s needs for stage and sound resources.  And the Riverfront Green Park vista might still inspire these words by poet Edna St. Vincent Millay:

        “The world stands out on either side, No wider than the heart is wide, Above the world is stretched the sky, No higher than the soul is high.”

Alongside articles that touched on preserving Peekskill’s past, were many stories that related to conserving the environment and honoring the natural beauty of this area.  Wisconsin celebrated the first Earth Day April 22, 1970, but it wasn’t until 1990 that the day was truly embraced as a global celebration and  movement.  The Herald pages were peppered with many stories covering topics of an ecological concern,  including press releases about public educational  programs on the topics of water conservation,  air and water pollution and waste reduction.  The Department of Public Works was marking this Earth Day by distributing the first blue recycling bins to city residents and the Water Department was holding at least a few public forums to discuss water conservation and instruct residents on the quality of water from the City Of Peekskill reservoir. 

One small article about the Garden Club of Peekskill caught my attention.  The club’s monthly meeting featured a speaker focused on the Hudson River Valley Greenway Act,  which was to provide a 300 mile trail or pathway system from the Westchester border of New York City to the Erie Canal.  Members were proposing ways in which the Garden Club could help with this project or add to the gardening aspects.  However, there were longtime members of the Garden Club in attendance who were feeling dispirited by the recent cutting of trees that the Club had donated and planted in  Riverfront Green Park.  The trees in question were healthy, thriving and not in the way of any proposed adjustments to the landscape.  

Club member Dorothy Leslie, who was also a member of the Parks Commission, was particularly vocal and felt that the city simply did not have skilled arborists on their staff and that decisions with power saws were made without anyone researching and taking responsibility for the end product.  The report in the Herald states that the club passed a motion creating a committee which would evaluate the renewal of their past tree planting projects in the city and adjust future public gardening efforts if advisable.

The Garden Club of Peekskill was founded in 1930 and has a long history of creating nature trails in Blue Mountain Park and planting trees throughout the city.  A booklet created by deceased member Ruth Dyckman outlines many areas where the Garden Club planted trees to replace those that had been damaged or suffered disease,  such as stretches of Union Avenue and the streets around the Board of Education Administration Building  and Peekskill High School.  They routinely held Arbor Day celebrations where a tree was planted and 1992 would be no different. All of the trees currently flowering on the Neighborhood Plaza outside the Field Library were funded by the Garden Club and planted by members of the library’s Junior Garden Club, with the help of adult Garden Club members and area landscapers.  These include Kousa Dogwood trees, two Weeping Cherry trees and an Ornamental Pear tree. Another article outlines the Junior Gardeners project of collecting donations for World Gardening as their Earth Day project.  The children created colorful donation pots out of clay flower pots and placed them throughout the city in bakeries, neighborhood delis, etc. and the funds collected were sent on to World Gardening, which is an international charity that at that time was helping with farming projects in Perú.

Weeping Cherry Tree in front of the Neighborhood Center and Library.

 These days members of the Garden Club enjoy a supportive relationship with staff and officials at City Hall and spend most of their gardening efforts on the creation of and maintenance of Petals garden on Central Avenue.  This beautiful refuge is opened to the public and is enjoyed by many nearby residents and by the many folks using Central Avenue to come and go from the train station and riverfront areas.  Garden Club members are enthusiastic supporters of the strong Conservation Advisory Council that has developed in the city under the leadership of Carol Capobianco, Kay Barthelmes, Elaine Caccoma and others. 

Petals Garden on Central Avenue, maintained by Peekskill Garden Club.

The recently passed Tree Ordinance will not only protect the trees in our canopy today,  it will ensure that we do not lose foliage and that the city will embrace the responsibility of keeping these vital green members of our community healthy and in abundance.  Next Saturday, April 23rd  at 8 a.m. , the Conservation Advisory Council along with the Peekskill Parks Department are hosting the annual Clean Up Day in the city parks. Volunteers of every age and skill are invited to show up at your favorite park, grab some gloves and a trash bag and start filling it up. This particular Earth Day will be super special, since it will conclude at Depew Park at 11:30 a.m. with the planting of an evergreen tree and the dedication of Peekskill as a member of Tree City USA.  This is not just progress, this is a city-wide pledge to honor our environmental heritage and to borrow from Mayor Vesce’s letter, “it is in the best interest of our community.”