Irvington Takes a Day to Celebrate its History, Culture and Eateries

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by Barrett Seaman – 

In the end, the rain never came, though the mere threat of it no doubt deterred some who would otherwise have taken part in the village’s long-planned and well-executed Celebrate Irvington Day. About 10 of the anticipated 30 cars expected at the vintage auto display in the Main Street School parking lot didn’t show, probably because they were roofless—permanently– causing their owners to pull out.

Most everything else on the daylong agenda went off as scheduled, however. Two bands entertained street-side; kids got their faces painted at the pharmacy and took turns in the driver’s seat of one of the Volunteer Fire Department’s big red trucks; re-enactors celebrated the village’s role in the revolution, and Eileen Fisher seemed to be everywhere, selling mind/body harmony through her LifeWork philosophy, “upcycled” crafts and recycled clothing. The Eileen Fisher organization is a big force in Irvington and was a significant financial supporter of Celebrate Irvington Day.

The festivities started with the dedication of a new playground in the park adjacent to the Main Street School. A collaboration of the Irvington Education Foundation, the school’s faculty, administration and PTA and the Rivertowns Chamber of Commerce – the $100,000 facility features an array of swings, castles, jungle gyms and a “pentagode,” a geodesic-like structure that was teeming with children even before the ribbon was cut. Volunteers constructed the entire playground in two days.

The vil­lage’s his­tory was a ma­jor theme of the day. Re-en­ac­tors wear­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary-era uni­forms and car­ry­ing 18th cen­tury ri­fles stood guard on the lawn of the Irv­ing­ton Recre­ation De­part­ment. Mayor Brian Smith, fol­low­ing his rib­bon-cut­ting at the play­ground, read a procla­ma­tion hon­or­ing the Odell broth­ers, Abra­ham, a Militiaman in the Westchester Levies, and John, who aided the pa­triot cause as a guide, pro­vid­ing in­tel­li­gence on the where­abouts of British troops and their Hes­s­ian al­lies in Westch­ester, and leading Patriots through secret routes to escape the enemy .  Their fa­ther, Jonathan, was the pro­pri­etor of the still-ex­tant Odel­l’s Tav­ern, which was a ma­jor stop on the Al­bany Post Road on the vil­lage’s south side—and a mag­net for spies.

There were several tours highlighting Irvington’s rich history, the freshest of which was a walk to the site of a burial ground for slaves owned by families in the village. Residents Sarah Cox and Cathy Sears have been researching the role of slavery in the Hudson Valley in the 18th and 19th centuries. Studying maps and plats and diaries, they determined that a plot of land downhill from the present Barney Park neighborhood and east of what is now the Stanford White-designed Trent Building once served as the cemetery for the slaves of Captain John Buckout, whose farm stretched from the Hudson River eastwards toward the Saw Mill River. The graveyard (now referred to as an “African burial ground”) was abandoned but rediscovered during the construction of the original Cosmopolitan Magazine office building in 1895. Cox and Sears plan to publish their findings with the Irvington Historical Society in the fall.

Most of Irvington’s restaurants beckoned as villagers—and some out-of-town visitors—roamed the streets. Particularly popular were Revenge, the village’s Texas-style barbeque pit, and Brrzaar, the frozen yogurt emporium on Astor Street. For those daunted by the steep climb back up to Broadway, a pair of shuttle buses offered relief.

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