Opening of Lincoln Depot Museum Celebrated in Peekskill


Rick Pezzullo | Oct 20, 2014 |

examinerEleven years of planning to mark an historic moment in the City of Peekskill and the history of the United States was celebrated Saturday with the long awaited opening of the Lincoln Depot Museum on South Water Street.

Local officials participated in a celebratory ribbon-cutting ceremony for the museum, the only one of its kind in New York State dedicated to the life of Abraham Lincoln that has gained national attention.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“We are proud of the result of our many years of hard work,” said Museum President and Westchester County Legislator John Testa (R,C/Peekskill), who served as Peekskill mayor from 2002-07 when the historic building was acquired and grants were awarded. “There has been a tremendous amount of research, planning and collaboration to achieve this success. We finally made it.”

The original Peekskill Train Depot where Lincoln visited on February 19, 1861 in front of about 1,500 people to deliver a short speech en route to his inauguration as President of the United States was restored and renovated by the Lincoln Depot Foundation, which was formed in 2007, the same year Governor George Pataki, a former Peekskill mayor, obtained $3 million in grants for the project.

A full-size, bronze statue of Lincoln, created by sculptor Richard Masloski, depicting the way Lincoln addressed the crowds during his only stop in Westchester County was unveiled on October 27, 2007 and stands prominently outside in front of the museum.

“This is a true treasure for our community and the city,” said Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi, whose father was a historian in Rockland County. “We are here as stewards of the history of our community.”

Equally impressed was state Assemblywoman Sandra Galef (D/Ossining), who recalled visiting the train depot and envisioning what it would take to transform it into a museum.

“It is just a miracle. It just shows it takes time and a lot of commitment from a lot of people,” she said. “It took a lot of people to say yes. This is a dream that can come true. I know visitors will flock here.”

“This is just another wonderful reason to come to Peekskill and celebrate our wonderful place in American history,” added Deb Milone, executive director of the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce.

The initial exhibit, “New York and Abraham Lincoln: The Indispensable Relationship,” features more than 100 artifacts on loan from collectors, as well as part of the museum’s growing permanent collection. Special exhibitions are planned in the future and a lecture series will be established.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Through December 21, the museum will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free for Peekskill residents.

Next month, the first phase of site work to transform the grounds to the Lincoln Depot Plaza will begin with proper grading of the property, the installation of historically appropriate fencing, creation of pedestrian and service entrances, a boardwalk along McGregory Brook and construction of a platform on the west side of the building.

The second phase is planned for 2015 with the construction of a Support Building which will house a museum gift shop, administrative offices, meeting/presentation room and public bathrooms. The work will be funded from an $8.3 million riverfront grant received from the state.

Mayor Frank Catalina said the museum will trigger a series of development projects in the city.

“This museum is important because I feel it will start the domino effect of things moving again in Peekskill. This is the first domino to fall,” he said. “It’s an attraction and it shows we’re ready to turn the page. It will open the floodgates of more things that have been held up.”

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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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