More than 230 years ago, General George Washington and a group of men donning uniforms gathered near what is now Park Avenue and looked down on downtown White Plains, where the British forces had lined up. Though there were no enemy troops approaching Sunday and the man dressed as the country’s first president wasn’t Washington himself, the site was again filled with people in Revolutionary War garb as the city celebrated Washington’s 280th birthday at a landmark house that played a role in the nation’s founding war.
In a Presidents Day celebration hosted by the White Plains Historical Society, local history buffs visited the Jacob Purdy House, which is believed to have twice been the headquarters of Washington in 1776 and 1778, to watch a flag raising ceremony, tour the house and hear about the history from a Washington impersonator.
“[Washington] was able to achieve a lot of his dreams, the way all of us hope to in this country,” said Robert Hoch, president of the White Plains Historical Society. “That’s important to us, and that’s the reason why we host events like this. That’s the reason why we’re working very hard to preserve this house.”
The Purdy House, built early in the 18th Century, was Washington’s headquarters from July 23 to Sept. 16, 1778 and perhaps also before the Chatterton Hill battle in the Battle of White Plains on Oct. 28, 1776. The house was originally located at Spring Street in downtown White Plains and was slated for demolition in the 1960s. The Battle of White Plains Monument Committee purchased the previously neglected house in 1963, repaired it, and 10 years later moved it to its current location.
“I think because this is such a modern city and has been such a successful city, there’s very little, unfortunately, of the older buildings left, so the ones we have are very important,” Mayor Tom Roach explained Sunday. “People don’t recognize just how involved this very area was in the Revolutionary War.”
The Battle of White Plains took place on Oct. 28, 1776 and eventually ended in Washington’s retreat, though historians believe British General Sir William Howe erred by pulling his troops back rather than pursuing Washington. The Elijah Miller House in North White Plains served as Washington’s main headquarters leading up to the battle.
Though the Purdy House isn’t in its original location, its current address still bears some historic significance.
“This would have been the center of the American line. We look directly south into downtown White Plains and so the American forces would have been looking across to a line of British forces from east to west,” said Hoch. “This is very close to where Washington and [Col. Rufus] Putnam would have been directing the battle from.”
Inside the Purdy House are historic artifacts, replicas, newspapers clippings and on this day, a cake bearing General Washington’s semblance.