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Yorktown is About to Lose Another Historic House

Yorktown has a rich history but has lost many of its historic structures. Sadly, an old farmhouse with a very interesting past spanning over two centuries will be demolished in two weeks.

Did you know that Yorktown is about to lose an old farmhouse that links the Revolutionary War with the Ziegfeld follies?  

Few people may have noticed this house that stands behind a tall pine tree on Old Crompond Road across from the Staples Shopping Center on route 202 but it has an extraordinarily well documented history that goes back exactly 250 years to 1762 when David Knapp bought the land on which it stands.  

David Knapp and his son were both veterans of the War of Independence and are included in the index of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. The elder Knapp was also a deacon of the First Presbyterian Church during a turbulent time in its history and his tombstone still stands in the churchyard surrounded by his descendants who lived in the house and farmed the land.   

In the late 19th century ownership of the house passed to Sheppard Knapp who was one of the founding fathers of the carpeting industry in the United States and helped end the flow of millions of dollars to manufacturers in Europe. But the most unexpected and colorful period of this house’s history came in the early 20th century when it was bought by Anna Held, first wife of Florenz Zeigfeld and the inspiration for the Ziegfeld Follies. 

According to Eddie Cantor: “For a generation America succumbed to the Anna Held craze [and] she toured the country like a conqueror.” Although she probably never lived in the house before her premature death, her daughter transformed it into the ‘Anna Held Inn’ which included a small museum of her mother’s memorabilia. During the Depression, benefits and exhibitions were held at this inn for struggling actors and artists including Hans Hoffman, one of the most important modern painters in America. Even the Westchester Invitational Ping Pong tournament was held on the grounds one summer.

The entire sweep of Yorktown’s history is embodied in this house. Sadly, it will be torn down in two weeks to build the Crompond Corners development that will include retail space and housing. The developer, who was not informed of its history of the house by the town, has offered the amount he would spend on demolishing the structure if it could be completely removed from the site but this was not enough. The most we can hope for is to record the structure and save a few pieces. 

Yorktown has done a great job of preserving open space over the years but much of its historic character – which could enhance the look and image of our town – continues to be lost. If we worked with developers from the beginning we might be able to effect better outcomes for historic buildings such as adaptive reuse. Please support local preservation efforts and let our town and planning boards know if they hould make more of an effort to uphold our town's motto “Progress with Preservation.”  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

William Primavera October 02, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Jean-Francois,as he promised, the developer has kindly offered to have you take whatever details you want from the house for preservation. But I haven't heard anything about your plan. Could you please tell us if you will be arranging to take the details prior to its demolition? I too am a preservationist and I know only too well that, as much as we might wax eloquent about history and preserving the past, there must be a practical plan and some resourceness to deal with it, such as with the Adams-Bernstein house. I do hope that something can be saved from the Knapp House and look forward to hearing. Best.
Jean-Francois de Laperouse October 02, 2012 at 11:28 AM
It is wonderful if the Adams-Bernstein house can be saved but it should be stated that there is a financial incentive in that case for you and others since there will be a commission and new construction on the property. There is absolutely no financial reward here other than saving something of historic interest for the town so its all left up to me despite the fact that Michael Grace, Nick Bianco and you are on the record in both the Journal News and the Yorktown Examiner as supporting efforts to salvage any items of historic interest. Over the summer John Tegeder of our Planning Department assured me that he would arrange a meeting with the developer Mr. DeLuca who has always been very agreeable. That never happened. So I emailed both Mr. Tegeder and you at the beginning of last week asking for Mr. DeLuca's telephone number. There are people who would be willing to help with what needs to be done but we can't make plans without a meeting. I prepared a display on the Knapp House for the Yorktown Historic Society's tent at the Grange fair and it raised more interest than I expected-- the house's history is rather unique. The fact is people care but they are busy with their lives and unaware about what goes on until it's too late and a house that stood for over two hundred years goes into a dumpster.
Jonathan Nettelfield October 02, 2012 at 12:56 PM
Jean-Francois, I salute your efforts! It appears that increasingly, Yorktown's future is being dictated by those with financial interest. While there is nothing wrong with that, at some point we have to ask ourselves, as a community, if the sum total of all the individual "rights" is a benefit to the whole. So often those things that cannot be monetized, for example open space and historical preservation, get shorter shrift. It's a fine balance and when those who advocate for the non-financial side of the equation get steamrolled, the balance gets upset. History is a particularly susceptible element in the character of a place, partly because it is so often made up by lots of individual stories expressed in many different places, each without the individual weight to demand preservation. But an even greater reason is the fact that as a society we are losing the tools to interpret history and therefore to understand and appreciate it. And yet, when we choose to go and visit a place for recreation, the kinds of places that we end up at are often those that generations of residents have fought hard to preserve and which have a historical character. It did not happen by accident! Am I alone in finding an irony in the raising of public funds to create a memorial to a slice of history, the Pines Bridge Monument, (one of the stated goals of which is to increase tourism), when the real history is allowed to gradually disappear?
Bob Rohr October 03, 2012 at 01:57 AM
Jean-Francois, you are a breath of fresh air and I hope you can get others to join you and be proactive. When i was on the School Board it became necessary to move the Administrative offices out of the old Farm House on 202. While the House was structurally sound as a House, the floors were way beyond the acceptable floor loading do to the filing cabinets and office equipment. The District tried in vain to find someone to take over the House and preserve it and put it to good use. No interest from anyone. The place decayed to a point it needed to be demolished. People were up in arms - 10 years too late. I am glad you are taking up this cause.
Meg Henry October 03, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Yorktown has both a setting of natural beauty and a long and interesting history, and one of the joys of living here has been discovering some of the special places that still assert that sense of place. How sad that we keep letting those places disappear and the town feels increasingly generic, as if it could really be any town, anywhere. There is a lot of potential for working with what we have rather than tearing it down and replacing it with more banality. Yet the town seems destined to repeat its history of poor planning. Wasn’t the comprehensive town plan supposed to help prevent that? Mr. De Laperouse is right: it is incumbent on our elected Town boards and officials, and the departments that work under their direction, to dig deeper and with more imagination in the planning efforts done on our behalf. As Mr. Nettlefield notes, monuments to the past are pretty hollow if there is little left of the living character of the past. A town with more character is a better place both to live and to visit, and that’s good for residents and for businesses.
Dr. Edwin Pell Ph.D. October 09, 2012 at 05:43 PM
All The Knapp House, The Strang-Purdy 1912 House (now demolished) and The Adams/Bernstein House (Route 132) all merit saving. They are Yorktown. Thank you Ed Pell Ph.D.
Dr. Edwin Pell Ph.D. October 09, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Dr. Edwin Pell Ph.D. 1:43 pm on Tuesday, October 9, 2012 All I feel: The Knapp House, The Strang-Purdy 1912 House (now demolished) and The Adams/Bernstein House (Route 132) all merit saving. They are Yorktown. Thank you Ed Pell Ph.D.
Dr. Edwin Pell Ph.D. October 09, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Jonathan Nettelfield Well said. Thank you Ed Pell Ph.D.
Dr. Edwin Pell Ph.D. October 09, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Bob Rohr Habitat For Humanity offered to save The Strang-Purdy 1812 Farmhouse, then, ithe house would provide residence for two school teacher families or two families of some other in need Yorktown resident, at reasonable cost, but, The School Board spent about $247,000 of taxpayer money to demolish Yorktown History, Thank you Ed Pell, Ph.D.
Dr. Edwin Pell Ph.D. October 09, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Meg Henry Well said. Thank you Ed Pell, Ph.D.
Jean-Francois de Laperouse November 07, 2012 at 08:00 PM
I only got into the house this past weekend after the last tenants left. I can now confirm with experts from the SHPO and HVVA that the roof rafters are scribe marked indicating a pre1800 date that that the two fireplace uncovered are of a mid 1700s design. Given these facts and the associated documentation I have uncovered it is simply outrageous that Town is allowing the demolition to go forward. Shame on you too Mr.Primavera if you don't save the house for the town since you are the PR represetative for this project!

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