North Castle officials sternly told County Legislator Michael Smith last week that the town wants the historic Elijah Miller House in North White Plains to be rehabilitated and preserved at its current location.
The town board and residents bluntly relayed their wishes to Smith during a June 24 board discussion of the issue, urging the lawmaker to inform County Executive Rob Astorino to authorize funding for urgent restoration needed to save the 277-year-old house. The structure, located at 140 Virginia Rd., was George Washington’s headquarters for the 1777 Battle of White Plains during the Revolutionary War and is a local, state and national landmark.
Although the site is county owned, the town had been asked by Astornio’s office last year to provide a recommendation on how it wanted to proceed.
At last Wednesday’s board meeting, Supervisor Michael Schiliro repeatedly expressed frustration that no action has been taken following what appeared to be a productive meeting last July between town representatives and various county officials. At that meeting, which occurred after the town board passed a resolution to rehabilitate the house based on recommendations from the town’s Elijah Miller House Committee and Friends of Miller House, Schiliro said Westchester Parks Commissioner Kathleen O’Connor agreed with a prior study concluding that the house could be seriously damaged if it is moved.
However, he said the town received a letter from the county about three weeks ago stating that it had no interest in paying for restorative work if the Miller House wasn’t relocated. The county offered no solution other than to try and find another site, he said.
Schiliro said that the condition of the house continues to deteriorate and its survival could be in jeopardy if there is no resolution to the issue.
“Quite frankly, I was disgusted at the condition of the Miller House, with icicles handing off of the side of it,” Schiliro said of when he visited last winter. “It looked liked it was going to come down and I said to (Astorino’s Chief of Staff) George (Oros), I’m trying to be patient but something’s got to give.”
Smith said Astorino does not want to authorize significant money to keep the house in an area that is not conducive to allowing visitors comfortable access to the property. It is located next to a cement factory.
Four years ago, the county approved $1.2 million for restoration but those funds have expired, he said.
“The county is just simply not interested in rehabilitating on site,” Smith said. “The issue that we have, the issue that we continue to have, is the cement factory. The reality is I don’t hear anybody really talking about re-siting the cement factory and that’s going to be an ongoing issue with whatever happens.”
The legislator said the town and the county were on the verge of an agreement about two years ago to move the house to the town-owned Fountain Park in North White Plains. However, former supervisor Howard Arden, who supported the Fountain Park proposal, was defeated and the new town board had another vision, he said.
Smith called on the town to sit down with county officials to work out an acceptable agreement.
“We need to have a substantive discussion and negotiate what is going to be,” Smith said.
But Schiliro countered that there is nothing for the town to negotiate. The county owns the property and is responsible for preservation and maintenance.
“I just have a real hard time understanding how putting more tarps and covering more holes is preserving and maintaining the Miller House,” Schiliro said. “I’m sorry. Preserving and maintaining the Miller House is taking the $1.2 million or the $1.5 million and preserving this thing the way it should be.”
For about an hour, town residents, some of them emotional, lambasted the county for failing to live up to its obligations. Instead, it has permitted the house to fall into greater disrepair. Westchester has owned the property since 1917.
Friends of Miller House President Ed Woodyard, who said he had an ancestor fight in the Battle of White Plains, said the county’s position has been appalling.
“Right now the County of Westchester, with regard to the Miller House, is like ISIS blowing up Palmyra in Syria,” Woodyard said. “Right now the County of Westchester is no different than the Taliban blowing up a religious symbol.”
Co-town Historian Sharon Tomback said between the county’s disappearing trust fund to maintain the house and attempts to move it to town land, it is apparent the county is attempting to dodge its commitment. Tomback and several other speakers referenced the state attorney general’s Assurance of Discontinuance in 1994, which affirmed the county’s ownership and responsibility to preserve the property.
“The facts simply show the county’s pattern of deliberate neglect and deliberate efforts to erase county responsibility,” Tomback said.
Lifelong North White Plains resident Nancy Batastelli called the county’s actions leading to the current situation “unbelievable.” A supporter of having the Miller House moved to Kensico Dam Plaza, which had been discussed about five years ago, Batastelli implored Smith to find the money for its preservation. The town was told that the plaza is no longer an option.
“I really hope that you will find it in your budget to chalk up whatever it is to have this fixed and perhaps to have it moved,” she said.
Smith, who later in the week expressed outrage at Woodyard’s comments comparing the county government to terrorists, said the community’s response was loud and clear and will meet with Astorino and other county officials to discuss the options.
“I want to get something done to the property,” Smith said.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/