The Examiner

Proposed Compromise May Breathe New Life into Miller House

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A photo of the deteriorating Miller House/Washington’s Headquarters house taken in December 2015.

The possibility of a compromise between Westchester County and the Town of North Castle could finally result in the long-delayed rehabilitation and preservation of the Elijah Miller House/Washington’s Headquarters in North White Plains.

After years of bickering, an intermunicipal agreement is being discussed that would require the county to pay for the desperately needed renovation of the 279-year-old house on Virginia Road and transfer ownership to the town.

If that would occur, the Friends of Miller House/Washington’s Headquarters, a nonprofit group formed in 2011, would be responsible for raising money to pay for ongoing operation of the house and various programs, said Linda Fernberg, president of the Friends.

“We feel we can meet the challenge to support the house and we will endeavor to do that if it comes to that,” Fernberg said.

Through previous fundraising efforts, the Friends have a little more than $40,000 already set aside. There has been a small amount of additional funds that have been pledged through its website and a GoFundMe page with potential donors lined up from as far away as Chicago and California, who will contribute on the condition that an acceptable restoration be completed, Fernberg said.

A rough estimate projects about a $34,000 annual operating expense. Fernberg said once the house is renovated it will be easier to attract donors interested in preserving a site with a direct connection to George Washington and the Revolutionary War.

The Miller House, built by Elijah Miller’s father, John, in 1738, was used by Washington during the Battle of White Plains in October 1776. It also is in close proximity to Miller Hill Park, where the patriots repelled the British to stop them on their advance northward from Long Island. Elijah Miller and his two sons died that year fighting the war, but his wife, Ann, lived in the house until her death in 1819, and their daughter lived there until 1838, Fernberg said.

It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, the state register in 1980 and on the county inventory of historic places in 1988. Westchester County has owned the property since 1917, allowing visitors for many years, but during the past 20 years it has fallen into disrepair. A blue tarp has covered the roof for several years to protect the house from further damage.

Town Supervisor Michael Schiliro said despite many details that still need to be ironed out, including limiting the financial exposure for the town and the Friends, restoring and preserving an important piece of local and American history is essential.

“We need to get this done, we need to get the Miller House restored, and if there’s a middle ground where because of state law the property can’t transfer to the volunteer group and they would take it on, we may have to be the vessel that holds it,” Schiliro said.

The possible solution marks the first notable chance of progress in several years. In 2010, the Board of Legislators voted to place $1.2 million toward the project, which included moving the structure to Kensico Dam Plaza. County Executive Rob Astorino vetoed the expenditure, and despite the board overriding the veto, the project was never done.

There was also an attempt a couple of years later to restore the house and move it to Fountain Park.

County Legislator Margaret Cunzio (C-Mount Pleasant) said last week it was a fair proposal and that an architectural firm is currently working on plans to restore the house to a preservationist’s standard with an improved drainage system.

There would be $1.3 million through a bond and $700,000 is available through the 2017 capital budget, she said. The county is also pursuing state grants.

Cunzio stressed that while the proposal is promising all parties must agree to terms.

“I am very committed to this project and very excited to see it moving forward,” Cunzio said. “It is long overdue.”

John Diaconis, a member of the Friends of Miller House’s board of directors, said formal discussions will likely start with the county next month. Repairs would probably not begin until well into next year, Diaconis said.

Any transfer of property between two governments would require the approval of the state legislature, he added.

Local history lovers and those involved on the town’s Elijah Miller House Committee, the Friends and the group Daughters of Liberty’s Legacy (DOLL) expressed renewed hope a solution may be on the horizon.

DOLL President Cynthia Kauffman said there could be a wide variety of programs at the grounds, including tours, programs for schoolchildren and events to commemorate holidays such as Presidents Day and July 4.

“It’s very important to see something in the place that it was and to touch it and to hear the stories,” Kauffman said.

“I can assure you Washington’s Headquarters, if the county does what it says it’s going to do, Washington’s Headquarters will be alive again and as one of the people who used to go there on Sundays and give tours to people, I can’t wait to do that again,” added Richard Nardi, a board of directors member for the Friends.

Fernberg said local residents can contribute by becoming a Friends member for $5. On its website,, pledges and donations can be made.

“It’s something we should be proud of and something we should be happy to own or have in our town,” Fernberg said. “I think we can all make this work if we all work together.”

Aidan Glendon contributed to this article.

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