By Martin Wilbur and Abby Luby
After more than 20 years, Elijah Miller House/Washington’s Headquarters in North White Plains re-opened its doors on Monday with the county holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark completion of a $3.5 million restoration project.
The 1738 Rhode Island farmhouse at 140 Virginia Rd. was used by George Washington during the Battle of White Plains. It was home to Anne and Elijah Miller, who raised their family there. Elijah Miller and the couple’s two sons were killed during the Revolutionary War.
“They say that victory has 1,000 parents, and indeed, what today represents is the combination of talent and commitment by so many different people that no single person can take credit,” said County Executive George Latimer.
The ceremony was held on the 243rd anniversary of Washington’s arrival at the house during the battle. The patriots had been retreating from the British, when Washington came upon the property and set up his command post, said Cynthia Kauffman, co-founder and president of Daughters of Liberty’s Legacy, one of the many residents who fought for the house’s restoration and for it to remain on its original site.
Westchester County has owned the property since 1917, but in the 1990s the deteriorating house was eventually closed to the public. Nearly 10 years ago, the county came up with a plan to refurbish and move the house to Kensico Dam Plaza, where there could have been easier access but that plan never moved forward.
The house languished with a blue tarp on its roof for several years until the restoration was approved. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Town of North Castle landmark.
“We can travel to Boston or travel to Virginia and it’s still our collective history, but when it’s actually in your backyard, you realize that it happened here and that if I had lived 250 years ago in the house I live in, there would be soldiers in my house,” Kauffman said. “I think it brings history much more to life when it happened in the place where you live, in your own community.”
The project also included the construction of a roughly 500-square-foot visitors center at the site.
The county approved $1.3 million toward the work in 2010 and pitched in another $700,000 last year. Most of the remainder of the expense came through a series of grants, including $250,000 from Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-White Plains).
“Many years and many people were involved in this effort,” Buchwald said. “It’s so gratifying to be at a point where we can spread the joy of all that work culminating in a great moment of history in its own right.”
“I have to say a huge thank you to my constituents for their patience, their support, their voices, that’s what helped us get to this point,” said County Legislator Margaret Cunzio (C-Mount Pleasant), whose district includes the site.
Latimer said that the project finally happened because of people in the community who kept fighting for its restoration.
“This building is not just an historic building that we want to honor, this is not just a building that was collapsing and we made a commitment to reestablish it, this building tells you something about the man, George Washington, that he was here, and it’s about the Elijah Miller family who owned this pre-Revolutionary house,” he said. This house is about the American spirit.”
Daughters of Liberty’s Legacy will hold the first public program at the site on Sunday, Nov. 17 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. which will include the history of the house and of colonial times, Kauffman said.