Lincoln in Peekskill statue
This February the annual Lincoln events in Peekskill will hold a special meaning. It will be a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to participate in the events commemorating the Sesquicentennial (150th) Anniversary of President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s stop in Peekskill on his rail journey to his inauguration in 1861.
Lincoln left his home in Springfield, Illinois on February 11 of that year, making many stops along the way, but only one stop in Westchester County: Peekskill, on February 19, 1861.
This event has been recognized by the residents of Peekskill ever since. It even inspired the creation of the Lincoln Society in Peekskill in 1903, whose annual celebration of Lincoln’s visit will be held this February for the 107th time.
As a member and Past President of the Lincoln Society, I can tell you first hand that Lincoln’s visit, albeit a very short one, has had a significant impact on our area. Every year people come from far and wide to witness the reenactment of his speech and honor one of the greatest historical figures in American history.
In 2005 during my tenure as Mayor of Peekskill we were able to gain ownership of the actual train depot on the location where Lincoln stopped to give his speech in 1861. Since then, the Lincoln Society’s annual event has taken place there. Now on February 19, 2011, 150 years to the day, we will witness the reenactment of Lincoln’s speech performed by Fritz Klein, who is considered one of the nation’s foremost Lincoln actors. His participation is due to the National Park Service who has decided to recreate Lincoln’s historic train journey. Just as 150 years ago, Peekskill will be “Lincoln’s” only stop in Westchester.
February 2011 will also mark the start of the second phase of the restoration of the “Lincoln Depot” in Peekskill. In 2006 then Governor (and former Mayor of Peekskill) George Pataki assisted in obtaining $5 million in NY State grants to restore the depot into a museum, construct a visitor’s center on the site and create a plaza on the remaining land. The entire historic site will be operated by the Lincoln Depot Foundation, of which I am President.
Thanks to a grant by the Ginsburg Development Corp., the life size “Lincoln in Peekskill” statue was commissioned. It was created by renowned artist Richard Mazlowski and installed and dedicated in October 2007. Former Governor Pataki and other dignitaries were on hand, including Harold Holzer, who is regarded as the preeminent Lincoln scholar of our time.
Stay tuned for more information to follow on the events mentioned and progress of the Lincoln Depot Museum project. In the meantime visit my website to get further information on Lincoln’s visit, read his speech, see the before and after photos of the exterior (first phase) of the depot restoration, watch the slide show on the construction of the Lincoln statue and the photos and speeches from the dedication event.
About John G. Testa
Former District 1 County Legislator, John G. Testa is served five terms at the Westchester County Board of Legislators, spending the last 3 terms as BOL Minority Leader.
John G. Testa is a lifelong resident of Peekskill who first entered elected public service as a member of the Peekskill Common Council in 1998 and then served three terms as Mayor. He previously served on the Conservation and Parks Advisory Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. John became an elected official eager to improve the City in which his family has lived for more than a century and quickly earned a reputation as a strong, independent, nonpartisan voice for fiscal responsibility.
John received a BS degree in Technology from SUNY Oswego, where his academic achievements gained him induction into Epsilon Pi Tau, the International Honorary Fraternity of Technology. He earned his MS degree in Technology from the City College of New York. He began his teaching career in 1980 at Peekskill High School, his alma mater, as an instructor in Technology and Social Studies, retiring in 2013 after 33 years teaching.
John has been a leader in support for the Arts Community in Westchester. He presided over the construction of the Peekskill Art Lofts, the establishment of the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, and the complete restoration of the Paramount Center for the Arts, originally a 1930’s movie house and helped bring critical funding to many Westchester programs. Legislator Testa received the “Advancing the Arts in Westchester Award” by ArtsWestchester.
John has a been a leader on environmental issues for two decades and has a long record of initiatives he has supported and spearheaded. His active involvement in developing and promoting environmentally friendly policies began as mayor and continued throughout his time as Westchester County Legislator. His efforts consistently earned John the endorsement of the NY League of Conservation Voters.
John’s most recognizable accomplishment has been his promotion and preservation of local history and historic landmarks, bringing an unprecedented focus on the region’s rich history, and its legacy of historic Victorian architecture. His roots in historical preservation stem from his experience as a Revolutionary War re-enactor and member of The Brigade of the American Revolution for 50 years.
John was instrumental in securing the preservation of the Lincoln Depot, now the Lincoln Depot Museum, where he now serves as President. The museum was recognized in 2015 as one of The Best Museums in Westchester. He also secured the preservation of historic Fort Hill as parkland, a 40-acre parcel that was originally a Revolutionary War encampment site. Under his leadership, the United States Dept. of the Interior declared Peekskill a “Preserve America Community.”
John was able to establish a record number of National Register designations of local structures, including the first Downtown and Neighborhood Historic Districts and supported the preservation of the historic Miller House in North White Plains. In 2017 John was named a “Champion of History” by the Lincoln Society in Peekskill.
John and his wife of 37 years, Nancy, live in Peekskill and have two adult children, John, Jr. (fiancé Courtney Kelly) and Katy (husband Mike Mearon). John and Nancy recently welcomed the arrival of their first grandchild, Lacey Mae, in 2019.
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