PEEKSKILL, NY—One of the most historic buildings in Westchester County is rapidly being transformed into what will be among the most sophisticated and exciting museums and educational facilities in the area, as Peekskill’s Lincoln Depot Building moves into an advanced restoration process.
A groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the structure’s interior transformation and the creation of a new asset for all of Northern Westchester was held on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at the future Lincoln Depot Museum, located at the junction of Peekskill’s Central Avenue and Water Street in Peekskill. The Museum’s most prominent feature right now is a life-sized statue of Abraham Lincoln giving his only speech in Westchester County, an event that took place on the depot site 150 years ago this February 19. The groundbreaking event marks the official start of the Sesquicenntenial Celebration of President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Peekskill as part of his historic trip from Springfield to Washington D.C. in 1861.
The creation of Lincoln Depot Museum had been a dream for many years but it didn’t become possible until Mayor Testa took office and the City gained ownership of the property. He also played a crucial role in obtaining a multi-million dollar grant from the administration of Governor George Pataki. Deeply interested and involved in history, Testa has donned a Revolutionary War uniform and served as a reenactor for 40 years. “I know first hand the power of historic preservation and tourism. We have the ability to create an educational and information showplace,” Testa says.
Lincoln Depot Board Chairman Patrick Garvey agrees. “The site will reflect Peekskill’s and NY State’s extraordinary historic connections with the Lincoln presidency under the theme, “Lincoln and New York, the Indispensable Relationship,” says Garvey. “The project has been the beneficiary of the vision and leadership of a duo of Peekskill former mayors; one of whom became New York’s governor, George Pataki; and one who continues to serve as Peekskill’s County Legislator, John Testa, who also was elected President of the Foundation’s Board of Directors. Prior to leaving office Gov. Pataki set in motion the economic development initiative that provided the funding for the project through the Empire State Development Corporation.”
Plans are for the Depot to be the hub of a network of sites throughout Westchester and the Hudson Valley region. There will be educational programs, lectures and special exhibitions that will enhance the impact of the site.
Heritage tourism can be a powerful engine of economic development. What the Lincoln Depot Foundation is seeking to bring to the mix is the creation of a single place where people can go to get information on historic events and the local inhabitants who played a role in events, such as the Underground Railroad, that shaped our nation. Due to Testa’s efforts while Mayor, Peekskill was designated a “Preserve America” Community by the US Department of the Interior. The continuation of this project will bolster that honor.
“It’s amazing to think that the first trains rolled on those tracks 162 years ago, and that hardly a day has passed since then without a train going by,” Testa says. “We live in a very historic area,” he says, “And that history is one of our most important assets. Our goal is to turn Northern Westchester’s past into a way to create a new path to the future, one where our area is among the region’s leading educational and tourism centers.”
That attractiveness is apparent in the restored Lincoln Depot exterior that was completed in 2006. In October of 2007 the “Lincoln in Peekskill” life-size statue was installed and dedicated on the site and has become a focal point to the project.
Originally, the depot served as both the passenger and freight station for the railroad until the present passenger station was built in 1874. Now work has begun on the depot interior to restore the space to reflect both the comfortable passenger portion of the building and the workmanlike warehouse environment that occupied the remainder of the space.
Where many projects in the area have stalled, the Depot project is in high gear. “Talking about plans won’t give a project the momentum it needs,” Testa says. “Action is what’s essential. And that’s what we’ve taken with the Lincoln Depot.”