Column: Happy birthday, George

Two hundred and eighty-two years ago, this Feb. 22, the father of our country was born and the Lisa-JardineWhite Plains Historical Society is throwing him its annual birthday party to celebrate.

The festivities will take place at the Jacob Purdy House, one of Washington’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War on Sunday, Feb. 23, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

A bust of George Washington sits in the main room of the Jacob Purdy House with the Commander in Chief flag behind him.

A bust of George Washington sits in the main room of the Jacob Purdy House with the Commander in Chief flag behind him.

America loves traditions, President’s Day included, but in the year 2014, tradition mandates the purchase of a new car or mattress. Not that I’m against supporting the local economy, I just thought it would be a nice idea to look into a more authentic way to celebrate the most important figure in our nation’s history.

I spent some time with Rob Hoch, 43, president of the White Plains Historical Society, to find out why Washington is so important to Westchester residents in particular and how they plan to honor him.

“Washington was in Westchester twice. The first time was October 1776, when he stayed at the Elijah Miller House in North White Plains, and then again during the summer of 1778, when the army was headquartered here,” Hoch said.

The story of Washington’s movements around Brooklyn, Staten Island, New York City and eventually Westchester are fascinating and Hoch tells it as if it were an adventure story with plot twists and bad guys, narrow escapes and ingenious strategy.

The “kitchen” in the Jacob Purdy House.

The “kitchen” in the Jacob Purdy House.

When he gets to the Battle of White Plains, things sort of take a turn for the…uneventful.

“It was basically a draw. People are disappointed when they learn it really wasn’t an important battle but, at that point in the war, if it was a more important battle, the war would have been over and not in a good way,” Hoch said.

It was a snowy January day when I went to meet Rob at the Jacob Purdy House and my GPS took me into a very residential neighborhood with winding, twisty streets rising to a great vantage point in White Plains, the perfect location for an army headquarters, or so I thought.

“This isn’t the original location of the house. The house was originally built in 1720, but it was moved in 1973 due to an urban renewal project,” Hoch said.

Ammunition displayed at the Purdy House. Photos/Lisa Jardine

Ammunition displayed at the Purdy House. Photos/Lisa Jardine

I did some in-depth detective work, Google, and found the house was originally located near the Pepe Infiniti Auto Dealership on Water Street. The move to the new location on Park Avenue makes sense because, at the time, Purdy Farm covered 132 acres and the house was relocated to Purdy’s Hill, which was part of the original property.

Regardless of the move, the view from the new location encompasses all of the downtown area high-rise buildings and it’s the perfect place to ponder all that has changed in Westchester in just a few hundred years.

Standing in front of the centuries-old house and looking out at the urbanization of downtown White Plains is almost like having one foot planted in history and the other in the future.

The plaque mounted on the Jacob Purdy House.

The plaque mounted on the Jacob Purdy House.

The Feb. 23 celebration planned at the Purdy House will include General Washington’s Honor Guard dressed in Revolutionary War clothing, a flag raising and a memorial ceremony.

Barnet Schecter, author of “The Battle For New York and George Washington’s America: A Biography Through His Maps” will be the guest speaker and snacks and malt cider will be provided to all attendees.

The event is free and open to the public.

I asked Rob about who usually attends this yearly ritual and he said the society gets a great turnout of local residents, interested historians from the region, students, scouts and some of the old White Plains families. Some years, they even get relations of the Purdy and Horton families; Horton was the original owner of the Purdy House, which makes the event that much more special.

The Purdy House is open to the public by appointment for schools and tours and, with funding, can even host reenactments.

The White Plains Historical Society hosts several events throughout the year in addition to Washington’s Birthday Party, including monthly Civil War Round Table discussions held the first Wednesday of each month at the Jacob Purdy House at 7:30 p.m.; an annual fundraising dinner on May 8 at the Women’s Club of White Plains, where Anthony Czarnecki will give a presentation on Winston Churchill’s 1932 speech at the Westchester County Center and, each October, the society commemorates the Battle of White Plains at the Jacob Purdy House.

I asked why Rob, a lawyer, took on the presidency of the historical society.

“I had a lifelong interest in history and had been involved with the society for 12 years when Jack Harrington, our longtime president, encouraged me to get more involved,” Hoch said.

Love history? Interested in finding out where the proverbial bones are buried in Westchester? Consider joining Rob and the rest of the local historians at Washington’s Birthday celebration on Feb. 23.

The White Plains Historical Society

Jacob Purdy House

60 Park Ave.

White Plains, NY 10603

914-328-1776

info@whiteplainshistory.org

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“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”

To contact Lisa, email lisa@hometwn.com. And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand