by Robert Kimmel –
During the initial 18 months of its existence, “Revolutionary Westchester 250” has made robust steps toward achieving some important milestones. “We strive to build awareness and excitement for the events, places, ideas and people — both the unsung and the famous — of the Revolutionary War period in Westchester County,’’ the non-profit organization cites as a leading goal.
The organization owes its presence chiefly to Constance Kehoe, its President and a director. Since its inception, the not-for-profit corporation has collaborated with other organizations for a series of lively and well-attended programs and meetings.
Kehoe, who is an Irvington Trustee and its Deputy Mayor, initiated this effort inspired largely by the “United States Semi-quincentennial Commission Act of 2016,” passed by Congress and signed by President Obama. The Commission was formed “…to plan, encourage, develop and coordinate the commemoration of the history of the United States leading up to the 250th anniversary of its founding.” As for giving those pursuits a local connection, Kehoe said, “I thought it was a worthy activity and would bring attention to Westchester County. It would be a good avenue for increasing the awareness of our special history and also help our economic bottom line, encourage tourism, and be useful for many other reasons.”
There are a number of years ahead for accomplishing those goals. On the national level, the United States Semiquincentennial will culminate in 2026 with special observances of the 250th anniversary of the establishment of the United States in 1776. Regarding the Westchester activities, “I absolutely see myself continuing through to that year,” Kehoe stated. “The project fits my values and background and passions. I was fascinated by history as early as in high school, and then in college, I was an American History major. I became a social studies teacher at Ardsley High School, and then became involved in sales, and other things, so I started way back and always have been interested in the intersection of government and promotion of historical issues and places, as I have been in Irvington as a Trustee.”
Regarding its ongoing activities, Revolutionary Westchester 250 (RW250) emphasizes its collaboration with local and regional groups, such as, “heritage and historic, art and cultural and educational, as well as libraries, veterans’ organizations, and municipalities.” Referencing the support she receives, Kehoe related, “That’s what keeps me going. Everything is done with partners.”
For many of the organization’s accomplishments, she recognized Erik Weiselberg Ph.D, as having been “my major partner. I have much respect for him as a teacher, and for participating in our efforts.” Weiselberg is “RW250’s Principal Historian and also a former board member and current member of Irvington’s Historical Society and was appointed this year as Irvington’s Village Historian. Kehoe credits him with having written the initial historical summary which played a major part in convincing the Westchester County Historical Society to offer its support for the project.
“She and I see it as a very worthy goal,” Dr. Weiselberg said. He is a resident of Irvington, and has been a teacher of American History at Irvington High School for 20 years, guiding students in both Advanced Placement and Regents history classes. He has also taught history at the college level. Called upon by Kehoe for major help in a research effort on the Irvington Veteran’s Memorial Plaza, it followed that he and Kehoe continued to work together on the start up of RW250. The Plaza now has a plaque recognizing the local families who served the Patriot’s cause, thanks to Weiselberg’s extensive research.
“We care about the Revolution’s story and we want to spread the word about Westchester’s connection,” he said.
People don’t always link Westchester locations to the Revolution, Dr. Weiselberg explained; but he said, “The war went on here for seven-eight years. Everyday people were involved, not just soldiers. Even though many battles may have been far away from Westchester, the British held Manhattan Island for the whole war, and Washington’s strategy was to get the British out of New York.”
On behalf of the RW250 project, Dr. Weiselberg has described local Revolutionary War events to standing-room-only audiences. He noted, “Some are not totally surprised about certain happenings. When offering accounts of certain occurrences, people will say, ‘Oh, that was right in my backyard,’ or ‘Oh, I know that place.’” Among the ten slide show presentations he has done, subjects have included, “Nest of Rebels: Desolation Warfare and Patriot Resistance in Westchester County, 1777,” and “The Battle of Edgar’s Lane and the Revolutionary War in Hastings.” In an appearance before the Dobbs Ferry Historical Society he spoke about “The Decision that Won the War, and Revolutionary Westchester 250.”
Revolutionary Westchester 250 events have taken place at a range of locations, including Philipse Manor Hall State historic site, Yonkers; St. Paul’s National historic site, Mt. Vernon; Jay Heritage Center, Rye, as well as at public libraries, parks, and Historical Societies.
“It has always gotten a lot of positive feedback,” Kehoe said. She hinted at a possible event in the coming year at Patriots Park, which borders Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, along with the adjacent Warner Library.
For any group which “might nominate a liaison to our RW250 Roundtable Group, or learn how to plan a program or meeting with us,” Kehoe said she could be reached by email at 1776RW250@gmail.com.
More information about the aims of the organization can be found on its website at rw250.org. RW250 encourages joining the mailing list to receive its monthly newsletter featuring news and upcoming events.