YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Turns out, the location of a $225,000 bronze monument to mark the Revolutionary War battle at Pines Bridge in Yorktown wasn’t set in stone.
It came as a surprise to Mary Rossetti, vice president of the Yorktown Historical Society. And to Paul Martin, its president.
And both appeared before the Town Board last week to say they didn’t like being left out of the loop.
“I am here to voice my shock and disappointment that the historical society, who was the lead agency on the Pines Bridge Monument Committee, was not asked to come in and talk to the Town Board to discuss where the monument should be placed,” Rossetti said during courtesy of the floor at the board’s meeting Tuesday, Oct. 16.
Before Rossetti voiced her displeasure, Councilman Tom Diana reported on the progress of the project, said to be nine years in the making.
“I don’t know if any of you have seen, but we have the pedestal poured and the top put on for the Pines Bridge monument,” he said. Then, referring to Railroad Park, he said, “The location has been a subject of controversy a little bit, but we thought it would be the safest spot, number one. Number two, we got the job done, and at little to no cost to the town.”
But Rossetti, in so many words, told the board that Railroad Park is no Downing Park, the preferred location of the 8-foot sculpture which depicts an integrated colonial fighting force of the 1st Rhode Island regiment featuring representations of a Native American soldier, an African American soldier and a white soldier.
“I’ve heard all the reasons why the monument is being put in Railroad Park, none of which really make sense to me, because being someone who loves history and loves this town and loves the history of this town and believes people do not know enough about the history of this town, Railroad Park has no historical significance for this monument,” she said.
According to Rossetti, a subcommittee handed the project over to the Town Board two or three years ago and came to the society “after the fact.”
“We were in agreement” with the move, she said. “We thought it would be a great partnership. Had we known the monument was going to lose its historical significance, integrity, we never would have agreed.”
Downing Park, Rossetti said, is located across from the Presbyterian Church, “where the people we are commemorating are buried” and in an area George Washington thought was “extremely significant and instrumental in winning the Revolution.”
“And you’re placing our monument, which the historical society for nine years was at every event in this town, fundraising and promoting, and then you completely cut us out of the process is really disappointing,” she said. “The monument has truly lost its historical significance.”
Martin said he, too, wanted to go on record “over the disappointment of not being part of the final decision on where the monument was going to be placed.”
Martin said members of the historical society had heard about the various locations that were being considered and had even participated in “informal discussions at various events throughout the course of the summer.”
“I think the monument is going to be great,” he said. “It’s a beautiful sculpture. It’s a credit to our community that we were able to raise” a majority of the money necessary for it, ticking off such events as the Grange Fair, Street Fair, San Gennaro Festival where fundraising was in full swing. He also noted the town’s contribution of $67,500 to complete it.
“I just feel, out of courtesy to myself, to other members of the board of the Yorktown Historical Society and the community that we should have had a little more input in the final decision that was made for the placement of the monument,” he continued. “Whether or not we would have all come to an agreement of compromise of some sort, or whether or not the monument ultimately ended up where it is going to be, which is Railroad Park, which, as Mary said, just historically doesn’t work for us, I just feel we should have at least been involved in the final decision-making process.”
John Tegeder, speaking as a member of the Pines Bridge Monument Committee and not in his role as the town’s director of planning, offered “a brief history so it’s clear where we are and how we got to be where we are.”
He related how some nine years before, Michael Kahn, a police officer in Yorktown, came to him with the idea for the monument.
“I agreed to help,” he said, noting that a committee was formed that included himself, Kahn, Martin and James Stropoli, among others. “That was the heart and the driver of that project.”
With the board’s blessing, they worked as “an ad-hoc, grassroots committee,” figuring out how to get a design; how to select an artist to create it.
“We had a competition that went nationwide,” Tegeder said. The selected artist, Jay Warren, “is from Oregon. The statue was forged in California. Eight artists came and presented models. This is all prior to the involvement of the Yorktown Historical Society.”
The committee, however, needed a non-profit entity such as the historical society to be the “caretaker” of the funds that were being raised. It agreed.
“That is the involvement that the historical society had,” Tegeder said. “I don’t believe, nor do I ever recollect, that we became a subcommittee of the historical society.”
Furthermore, he said, “I certainly am not surprised there is yet displeasure about where it goes because there was displeasure wherever we were going to put it, and I’m not here to debate that.”
Tegeder said the statues were completed in June and had been sitting in the foundry’s yard since then, “with the expectation that they would be shipped out and installed sometime in early summer. They graciously waited for us.”
In the meantime, a set of donors indicated they would be happy to fund the construction of the pedestal, but said they would like to see it built in Yorktown Heights.
“As a committee, my recollection is we agreed to that,” Tegeder said. But the committee was split on whether to put it in Patriot Park or Railroad Park. Ultimately, Railroad Park became the “place to go.”
Diana spoke to the issue again, saying, “The intention was not to leave anybody out.”
“We thought we picked the best spot,” Diana said. “I understand your passion on the historical significance of certain places, but we also took into consideration the safety of the statue and where it would get its most views.”