Heritage Facts Bundle #1
For 300 years the White Plains Presbyterian Church has been nurturing faith in our city. Heritage Facts, or snippets of history, appear in our Sunday bulletin every week. Check the index for other posts.
September – October 2012
HERITAGE FACT: Did you know that Quarropas was the Native American name for White Plains? It meant “White Marshes,” which became for the early settlers “White Plains.” The name probably referred to the white mist that hung over what was then a great marsh. Today, the intersection of Quarropas and Martin Luther King, Jr. is the site of the Westchester County Courthouse.
HERITAGE FACT: Did you know that the history of White Plains began with a group of Puritan settlers from Rye? The early history of these two towns is inextricably bound together. The settlers were seeking fertile land for farming. They believed that they had purchased this land from the native inhabitants in 1683. White Plains was incorporated as a village on April 3, 1866, and as a city on January 1, 1916.
HERITAGE FACT: In 1759, White Plains became the county seat of all Westchester. In 1776, on the eve of Independence, it was still a small colonial village with just a few stores and dwellings, two taverns, one church, and a court house. One of the earliest laws in the village sought to insure that “horses and mares not run free” along N. Broadway.
HERITAGE FACT: The first train to White Plains was in 1844, the first electric train 1910. Main Street was originally known as Railroad Avenue because it connected the town center, located along N. Broadway, with the new rail station. This new street quickly became the center of the new village.
HERITAGE FACT: The weather stained and time eroded tombstone in the hallway beside the chancel records: “Here lies the remains of the Rev’d John Smith, the First Ordained Minister of the Presbyterian Perswasion in Rye and The White Plains.” Smith served this congregation from 1742-1771. He was not the first pastor to serve this congregation, only the first Presbyterian. “Wore out with various labours,” his body rests beneath the present church building. A memorial headstone is located in the narthex near the front door.
HERITAGE FACT: Did you know that Presbyterians were instrumental in defining and defending democracy in colonial America? The Rev. John Smith, who served this congregation from 1742 to 1771, was brother to Judge William Smith of New York City, a member of the triumvirate of “Wall Street Presbyteries”, Livingston, Scott and Smith, who started the “Sons of Liberty” and issued the first call for the Convention of Patriots. They met in Philadelphia and played a part in drawing up the Declaration of Independence.
HERITAGE FACT: According to John Rösch, the grandfather of the Rev. John Smith “had been a brave soldier under Oliver Cromwell, and his father, Thomas, a business man of force and fine character, came to New York with his family in 1715.” Smith was the minister in White Plains and Rye for nearly half a century (1742-1771) and was closely identified with the progress of White Plains and the surrounding community.
HERITAGE FACT: “Jesus doeth all things well.” This is what Joseph M. Tyler, born 1873, wanted on his headstone when he died. No date is recorded for his death, but the sentiment serves as a good epitaph for the whole cemetery. For almost 300 years, the Presbyterian “Burying Ground” has been a site of grief, longing and Christian hope for our community. Ours is the oldest cemetery in White Plains.