As a kid growing up in Ossining in the 1970s and the long shadow of Urban renewal, I had a first row seat to the decline of Downtown Ossining. The stately old buildings that punctuated centuries of progress, commerce and history were reduced to a crumbling, blighted row of vacant shells. Sadly, in the clearing of some of those old buildings, what would now be considered treasured, one-of-a-kind structures became piles of rubble, then parking lots. Fire reduced some to fenced off fields. It would be that way for decades.
I left for college in 1985; in 1988 or so I got a part-time job on a semester break that made me fall in love with the nooks and crannies of this village: pizza delivery. Beyond the crumbling downtown were miles of neighborhoods, some in the shadow of Sing Sing prison, others up the hill with breathtaking views of the Hudson. The lights of the river towns across the river framed a picture that seemed like I was a speck in a 3-D Hallmark card. The image remained with me as I lived off campus at Villanova in Pennsylvania, to work transfers to Boston, New Orleans, Maryland, New Jersey, and finally Rochester NY. Whenever I visited my mom I’d see the same dichotomy of a struggling downtown and a surrounding village with strikingly charming architecture. Ossining was grappling with more than a downtrodden Main Street, however.
The school system was transitioning to the “Ossining Plan,” a spectacularly successful initiative to replace segregated neighborhood elementary schools with all kids in the same grade together in one school. It made a huge difference, and the race riots at the High School in the early 70s now seemed like they occurred in ancient history.
When I moved back home in 2000, Downtown was still a mess and administration after administration strove to support the area to reach a critical mass of progress. Happily, downtown Ossining in 2018 (The same can be said of the waterfront, but that is another post) looks nothing like it did even 10 years ago, and this past summer I was honored to serve on a working committee of residents to submit to the public our collective proposals on how to ride that momentum. The Ossining Downtown Redevelopment Working Committee met for about 4 months and made that presentation at the Library this past Summer.
After that experience, I was made aware of an opening on the Village’s Historic Preservation Commission. I applied for membership, and was accepted. The charge of the commission, according the village website is as follows:
The Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) hears applications for and recommends the designation of landmarks and historic districts to the Board of Trustees; decides upon Certificates of Appropriateness; and hears applications for and recommends to the Board of Trustees donation of façade easements. Additionally, the HPC may advise owners of historical buildings on issues of restoration and preservation; advise the Board of Trustees with respect to the acquisition of a landmark and/or structure, etc. The duties and responsibilities of the HPC are set out in Section 270-25 of the Village Code.
As dry as that sounds, was an honor to sit at my first meeting and get a feel for the ethos and passion of my fellow appointees for the exceptional history and architecture of this place. It’s been over 30 years since I first drove down a village street that was new to me, overlooking the Hudson at twilight with breathtaking beauty, just to deliver a pizza to someone who enjoyed that view in a gorgeous old home. It makes me happy that downtown is a place where I can go to eat or shop, and that the blight is a thing of the past. I love that the village has fought the good fight on so many fronts. There are thousands of reasons why I love this place and chose to remain here when I could have lived elsewhere, but this is where I want my roots, where my children are educated, and where I will remain.