Historical Highlights

Lincoln! Washington! Meteorites! Yeast! Crayola! Stoves! No matter what century you’re looking at, Peekskill is a historical goldmine. Here are a few places to start when exploring the city’s past.

The Peekskill Museum, featuring temporary exhibits as well as permanent exhibits including the Ladies’ Victorian Bedroom, The Mario Boyle Children’s Room, and The Peekskill Stove Collection. Hours: Saturdays 1-4 pm from April through October; Saturdays 1-3 pm from November through March. Admission: $5 adults, $2 children, members free. Special tours can be arranged by calling the Museum at (914) 736-0473.

Here’s the museum’s Peekskill History Summary. Here’s a snapshot of the city’s progress from the City of Peekskill website:

New Amsterdam resident Jan Peeck made the first recorded contact with the native tribal people of this area, identified at that time as the “Sachoes”. The date is not certain (possibly early 1640s), but agreements and merchant transactions took place, which were formalized into the Ryck’s Patent Deed of 1684. Peeck’s Kil (meaning “stream” in Dutch) thus became the recognized name for this locale.

European-style settlement took place slowly in the early 1700s. By the time of the American Revolution, the tiny community was an important manufacturing center from its various mills along the several creeks and streams. These industrial activities were attractive to the Continental Army in establishing its headquarters here in 1776.

Though Peekskill’s terrain and mills were beneficial to the Patriot cause, they also made tempting targets for British raids. The most damaging attack took place in early spring of 1777, when an invasion force of a dozen vessels led by a warship and supported by infantry overwhelmed the American defenders. Another British operation in October 1777 led to further destruction of industrial apparatus. As a result, the Hudson Valley command for the Continental Army moved from Peekskill to West Point, where it stayed for remainder of that war.

Hawley Green, a resident of Peekskill during the Civil War era, was an African American citizen who voted, ran a downtown barber business, and owned several properties with his wife Harriet. Mr. Green was credited before and during the war with “helping many a slave brother on his way to Canada.” Active assistance given by AME Zion Church members, Reverend Beecher, local Quakers and the Greens was part of the famous “underground railroad” of freedom in Peekskill during the 1800s.

Peekskill’s first legal incorporation of 1816 was reactivated in 1826 when Village elections took place. The Village was further incorporated within the Town of Cortlandt in 1849 and remained so until separating as a city in 1940.

Ryck’s Patent, referenced above, is an absolutely fascinating document recording the land agreement between the resident Native Americans and Dutch settlers. Marvel at the handwritten list of items for trade in  PDF form—”Fifteene Earthen Juggs” and all. (Check out the screen grab above for a sneak preview.) From the Westchester Archive:

This deed from the local Native Americans to Richard “Ryck” Abramson and five other men is recorded in Liber A, the first book of Westchester County records…. The specific property covered by this deed is a 1,800-acre parcel on which much of the present City of Peekskill was built.

Not all history is palatable, of course. Many remember what’s known as the Peekskill Riots, a violent protest against a Paul Robeson appearance. (The riot actually took place in Cortlandt Manor.) There are many useful accounts of the events and counter-protests, including The Peekskill Story.

More recent history: 

The kids and athletes of Peekskill High School are known as the Red Devils, even the most angelic ones. In a 1998 New York Times piece, Anne C. Fullam wrote:

[L]ong before California discovered basketball, Peekskill knew it was a good thing. In fact, the city’s love affair with its Red Devils dates to 1930.

A hilly city of wooden row houses and heavily treed sidewalks, Peekskill is perched above the Hudson River, a location that figured in its role as a Revolutionary War headquarters. Peekskill is replete with all kinds of history, including manufacturing cast-iron coal stoves and Crayola crayons and the fact that Abraham Lincoln stopped here briefly in 1861, but it is basketball that grabs people here.

Gov. George E. Pataki can be seen as a bespectacled 1962 Red Devil in ”Peekskill High School Basketball: A City and School of Champions,” a recently released videotape. The Governor can also be seen as a spectator in the stands at more recent games covered by the tape.

Even before graduates of PHS could reconnect on Facebook, some members of the classes of 1940, 1953, and 1956 put together a Peekskill High Alumni page.