Honest Abe, the Pride of Peekskill

John Testa, president of Lincoln Depot Museum, with Peekskill resident and international entertainer Daisy Jopling at the November 2016 museum fundraiser where she was the star attraction.

Presidents Day is just around the corner, on Monday, Feb. 20, and what happier way to commemorate our beloved 16th than by participating in a “Drinkin’ with Lincoln Pub Crawl”?

Starting at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18, that thirst-quenching pastime is tailor-made for very walkable downtown Peekskill, where the friendly pubs are cheek by jowl. The “crawl” is the culmination of the Lincoln Day celebration hosted each year by the Lincoln Society of Peekskill and the Lincoln Depot Museum. 

Earlier that same morning, at 10:30 a.m., there will be a re-enactment of a speech the president delivered that is the origin of his revered place in Hudson Valley history. (For more information about Lincoln Day, visit LincolnDepotMuseum.org.)

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On Feb. 19, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln was en route to his Feb. 23 inauguration in Washington, D.C. from his home of Springfield, Ill.

During that trip, he made a single stop in Westchester County. It was in Peekskill, at the Hudson River Railroad train station. After President Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, his funeral train reversed the route: On the way back to Springfield, it once again made tracks through Peekskill.

The spot where it stopped, 10 South Water Street, is now the site of Lincoln Depot Museum, which opened Oct. 18, 2014. The mission of the Museum is to explore, remember and educate audiences about Peekskill’s historic role on the national stage.

Located by Peekskill Bay on the east bank of the Hudson River, the Museum occupies a 3,000-square-foot space that was a freight and passenger rail depot at the intersection of South Water and Central Avenue.

According to the Museum, “By all accounts, a large crowd gathered to witness Lincoln’s visit. A local newspaper reported that ‘a large assemblage, about 1,500 or thereabouts, was gathered, all quiet, orderly and curiously expectant.’

“Former City of Peekskill historian Colin Naylor Jr. said, ‘Farmers and their families from all parts of Cortlandtown, Putnam County and Yorktown joined the villagers at the station.’ Lincoln spoke briefly, but his impact lasted a lifetime for those who were there to witness the event.”

The ripple effect of that whistle stop a century-and-a-half ago by Honest Abe has lasted many lifetimes, up until today, thanks to Westchester County Board of Legislators Minority Leader John G. Testa. The legislator, whose District 1 includes Peekskill, Yorktown and Cortlandt, is the prime mover of the ambitious museum project and president of the Lincoln Depot Museum board.

In 2015, the museum welcomed 1,000 visitors, and, it’s estimated slightly more than that in 2016. “We had visitors last year from as far away as Australia,” enthused Mr. Testa.

The theme that the museum embraces is “New York and Abraham Lincoln: The Indispensable Relationship.” It explains Lincoln’s influence on Peekskill, as well as his legacy in the Hudson Valley region and all of New York state.

The historic building that houses the museum was acquired in 2003. The museum was financed with the help of $3 million from the New York Environmental Protection Fund, and grants from the New York Empire State Development Corporation. Critical support came from then-Gov. George E. Pataki, a past mayor of Peekskill.

“We are proud of the result of our many years of hard work,” says Museum President Testa. “There has been a tremendous amount of research, planning and collaboration to achieve this success.” Legislator Testa was mayor of Peekskill from 2002-07, when the building was acquired and the grants awarded.

The museum’s inaugural collection features more than 100 artifacts that detail the role New Yorkers played in Lincoln’s two elections as president, and explore his ties to Peekskill.

The Peekskill Museum has several items on loan to the Depot Museum. Among them is a Hawkins Zouaves 9th New York Infantry Regiment uniform worn by a Peekskill resident during the Civil War.

Peekskill’s Field Library has contributed an 1852 map of Peekskill that is the earliest known document showing the size and location of the depot visited by Lincoln.

The Lincoln Depot Museum and attendant historic site are in an area that increasingly has become a destination for the diverse businesses within short walking distance. They include Homestyle Desserts Bakery next door, Peekskill Brewery across the street, Taco Dive and Buns-n-Bourbon around the corner. 

The museum welcomes family membership at $80 and individual for $35. For active and veteran military personnel and seniors, membership is $20. Donations of any amount are appreciated. The museum is open April through November every Saturday and Sunday, excluding holidays, from 1-4 p.m. For further information, visit LincolnDepotMuseum.org or call at 914-402-4318.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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