The Yorktown Landmarks Preservation Commission is developing a creative way to increase tourism in Yorktown.
With the fast approaching semiquincentennial—250-year birthday of the United States in 2026—the commission, along with Constance Kehoe, the director of the Revolutionary Westchester 250 Committee and deputy mayor of the Village of Irvington, hosted a community discussion about it at the Shrub Oak International School on Thursday, Oct. 10.
Town leaders and the public were brought together to brainstorm ideas on how Yorktown can help celebrate this monumental birthday.
One idea that was brought up was an app that would help generate heritage tourism in the town.
“There are a lot of revolutionary sights here in Yorktown and this kind of thing is important for heritage tourism. It can generate visitors to Yorktown and tourist dollars,” said Lynn Briggs, chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Heritage tourism, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States, is “traveling to experience places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past which can include cultural, historical and natural resources.”
Briggs said heritage or cultural tourism is the fourth largest industry in New York State and is vital to the economic revitalization of Yorktown.
“We know for a fact that those that come from out of town stay longer and spend more time. So they’re building loyalty to these businesses and they’re driving business in. There’s a whole economic robustness about heritage tourism,” Briggs said.
Terry Naumann, a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said that the app would help create the “walkable Yorktown” that has been long discussed.
“Our town, for years, has always talked about creating a ‘walkable Yorktown’ and in any town or village in the country, [that] usually means there are stops along the way, things that you can visit,” Naumann said.
With that in mind, the commission is teaming up with Revolutionary Westchester, the Westchester County Board of Trustees, on which Briggs is a sitting member, and the travel app Clio.
“We’re going to connect with other municipalities around here, like Cortlandt, for example. We’ve been over to talk to Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi and Michelle Robbins, the Cortlandt planning director. One of the things we’re going to do is create a mobile phone app with push-pin recognition of all of the Revolutionary War sites, particularly the path that Major Andre followed to the British lines,” Briggs said, referring to John Andre, the British officer hanged as a spy by the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War for assisting Benedict Arnold’s attempted surrender of the fort at West Point, N.Y. “Our particular area, Westchester County, is rich in historical lore and events that happened in that period.”
Briggs added that she was given the green light by the director of the Westchester County Historical Society, Susanne Pandich, to allow Yorktown to become the first municipality in the county to put its historical sites on the app.
At the community conversation, the commission noted it is getting help to develop in the app from volunteers.
“We’re really fortunate to have a young man named Brendan Murphy, who came to the RW250 initiative, raise his hand and volunteer to help us,” Briggs said. “Turns out, he has a degree in game design and archaeology. He’s taken it upon himself to start loading all the data of our historic sites into the template.”
Not only will the town’s historic sites be uploaded, the commission is partnering with Otocast, an audio mobile guide app, to help provide an audio tour of the town.
The United States’ 250th birthday will be observed from 2021 to 2026, giving the Landmarks Preservation Commission a year to plan for the celebration.
“We want to drive locals and other people here to submerge themselves in all that this town has to offer and there’s wonderful, spectacular things,” Briggs said.