Independence Day!

Below is an article I was asked to write for the Cortlandt Living Magazine July 2018 edition. They wanted a short piece showing some of the important events associated with July 4th other than being Independence Day, especially local connections.

fourth-postcardFBIt is officially known as Independence Day but more commonly referred to by its date, the Fourth of July. The birth of American Independence in 1776 has been celebrated ever since becoming a federal holiday in 1870. The day has brought us together with our families and communities to celebrate the freedom and liberties we enjoy because of the events and people who enabled those freedoms. Thanks to such organizations as the Peekskill Volunteer Fire Department, we have historically celebrated with a tradition of an annual parade and fireworks display. We look back fondly of our time growing up, watching or participating in those parades and the family cookouts that followed.Fire Dept_Parade
Over time, many important tidbits of history can be associated with the July 4th date. Some with close local connections. Incredibly, three founding fathers and past presidents passed away on this date. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826, the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and James Monroe in 1831, who was also a continental soldier in the Revolutionary War.

While the Declaration was being signed and the Continental Army being mobilized, Fort Hill in Peekskill was a key base for Washington to defend the Hudson River and develop military strategy. Eventually, West Point served that purpose, which became the focus of the Benedict Arnold conspiracy. On July 4, 1802, West Point Military Academy was founded.

New York made history by abolishing slavery on July 4, 1827 and setting the stage for what would become a great Civil War between the states. One of the pivotal battles of that war was in Gettysburg, PA. After three days of bloody fighting, on July 4, 1863, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia retreated from the battle. A number of the 700 Town of Cortlandt/Village of Peekskill area soldiers participated in that battle.

The Statue of Liberty, a symbol for freedom and independence, was deeded as a gift from France on July 4, 1884. At the statue’s dedication two years later, famous area resident and orator Chauncey Depew gave a lengthy speech celebrating the day. He clearly saw the significance of the moment and praised the cooperation of countries that made it possible. Originally known as The Bartholdi Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, the Statue of Liberty officially became a U.S. National Monument in 1924 and has been the responsibility of the national parks Service since 1933.

Above all, the symbol for Independence Day has been the stars and stripes of the American Flag. As kids, we made sure we had special devices attached to our bike’s handlebars holding an array of mini-flags and our tire spokes were threaded with red, white and blue crepe paper as we rode up and down the streets following the parade. There was also the sight of most houses displaying a flag on the 4th of July or any other appropriate holiday.  It was and still should be a simple way to show admiration and appreciation for living in such a wonderful country and it is an important way to say thank you to those men and woman who have served and continue to serve our country in the military. It is our responsibility to continue the tradition of decorating and displaying the American flag on Independence Day, for us and for our children.  Let’s make sure our way of life is not taken for granted. We should enjoy a day of celebration, yet never forget why we celebrate.

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.
This entry was posted in history, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s