Westchester County possesses a wealth of buildings, structures and sites that provide tangible evidence of the unique history and culture that has formed here over past centuries. Just as people need photographs and heirlooms to understand their role in their family’s history, citizens need physical representations of the past to define and make sense of their place in the culture and history of their community.
Recently, there has been debate in Scarsdale concerning two properties owned by the and the Quaker Meeting House. Unfortunately, neither of the properties has been used much in the past decade. The Historical Society spends a great deal of money to maintain the history and persona of the homes, as well as the lifestyle they represented. Now running out of funding, the society is seriously considering the sale of these properties.
Homes labeled as historic can sometimes be difficult to sell. Buyers automatically believe that historic homes cannot be changed or renovated. In some cases, that is true. However, often buyers can indeed find ways to maintain the original character of a historic home while updating its features to include today’s standards.
When selling a historic home, research is often extremely helpful. Buyers who love historic homes like to know as much as they can about them- so if you are selling, tell the home’s story. First, do some research into the history of the home, and go as far back as possible. Hopefully you will be able to find out who the original owners were. In order to do this, visit the county clerk’s office and ask for a copy of the transactions involving your home.
In certain instances, your local tax assessor will also have maintained a record of all the previous owners of the home. Ask for the tax roll on your home and what the assessed value was at the time. I’m sure that would be interesting information if you can find it.
For additional resources, you might also consider visiting your local library or the historic society. If you are lucky, they may have photos or documents of your home.
Naming the house often helps too if it already doesn’t have one. In this case, it is often appropriate to name the home after the original homeowners.
As you are putting together the story of your home, remember it is best to stick to the facts. It can be easy to start getting creative, but the facts of the home will make it much more attractive to the buyers who appreciate historic homes.
Another important fact to include in the story of your historic home is the design, as well as the people behind it, especially if they were well known. For instance, there is a home for sale in northern Westchester County, and the architect was Grosvenor Atterbury of McKim, Mead & White. The very same architectural firm had a hand in the design of Madison Square Garden, Penn Station and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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Unfortunately, there are many historic homes in such poor condition; the story is often worth more than the home. In these cases, the cost of improvement and restoration is so high, some people will argue that while the history is interesting, the home should still be allowed to be torn down.
At the same time, there are those who would fight until their last dying breath to preserve a home which is historic.
The benefits of historic preservation can actually come in many forms. The prime benefit of historical restoration is always education. It also includes both public and private benefits. Historic preservation safeguards a community's heritage, making it available to future generations for civic enjoyment and educational activities.
In addition, the conservation and maintenance of historic resources and scenic areas fosters civic beauty and bolsters community pride. Historic preservation has also been successfully employed to improve business opportunities in many locales- just look at Tarrytown, New York.
Each community maintains its own beliefs as to which properties are historic, and if they should be preserved. Is it better to maintain a historic home which is dilapidated and may pose a danger? Or, is it better to tear it down and start fresh? Should a person have the right to change features in a historic home?
This debate recently came up in my office regarding several homes which have been labeled as historic, and some of which have been fighting with the towns to re-build, tear down or renovate. This comes at a time when we are also getting ready to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the building in which we are located. As someone who does enjoy a good story, the research I completed on the building was exciting. How great it was to see how life in 1912 looked compared to today. The growth of the community is something surely to take pride over.
Built by J.P. Morgan in 1912, 300 Heathcote Rd. was actually a railroad station that was part of the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway. The Italianate-style, stucco building was the only commercial building at the time in the area, and it is attributed as the reason the business district around it exists today. In 1937, the railway closed and remained a decaying site until it became host to the Scarsdale Ambulance Corps, where they remained until 2008.
Everywhere you look in your community, there is history. Take some time to look at the architecture of the homes, buildings and parks. Enjoy them while they’re still here.