Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Firing Up for the Fourth of July


Hard to believe it’s 4th of July already.

What happened to June?

For that matter what happened to winter?

Time seems to flash by at lightning speed these days.

“Live for now”, they say, but how are we supposed to do that when now becomes history the second we blink our eyes.

I guess we could avoid blinking…but all those dry, red eyes around town would look odd to outsiders, in to see the fireworks.

As I said, last year, the annual Port Chester 4thof July fireworks display and celebration is a hometown tradition, rich with history and memories for those of us who’ve lived here all our lives, as well as late arrivals and even newcomers just settling in.

In fact, it’s such a tradition that no matter where in the world you travel or settle, when the 4th rolls around, one way or another you’ll always find yourself siting on a blanket or up in the bleachers under that big lighted clock tower watching the sky explode with all those magical streaks and streams of color and sound.

If you’re from Port Chester, it’s a part of your personal history, but more than that…it’s a part of your DNA.

Personal histories are important that way. They’re the storied foundations that define us all as individuals and as families.

And in that way you could say the same thing about the history of a town and the manner in which that history ties us all together as a community.

But what is the “Real” history of this little town of ours on the sound shore and why isn’t it more readily known or appreciated by even folks like me, who’ve lived here their entire lives.

Sure, we’ve all heard the basics. The purchase of land from the Mohegans by a group of settlers who came down from Connecticut, because the bars closed later here…even then.

How they settled at Manursing Island, mostly because, at that time, they were still allowed to use the beach club.

And of course there’s the well-known story of “The Saw Pits", the fine restaurant that used to be on South Regent just off Westchester Avenue.

But the rest of the history is sketchy at best, especially when it comes to our role in minor events like the Revolutionary War, which was where the real fireworks began.

A thousand years ago I was looking through some local history books at the library and I stumbled upon an interesting fact about an encampment of British troops inhabiting the top of what is now William Street, also known as Bloomer Hill. Aside from being a strategic location to view the Sound and ward off the local militia, they found the sleigh riding to be particularly jolly.

Just think about that the next time you find yourself on William St. zipping towards Pearl; imagine all those Redcoats and British Boots marching down the hill to Pizzarello’s for a spot of tea.

It’s another little known fact that these very same British troops later abandoned their encampment when they became offended at being refused entry to the Capitol Theatre by a band of persistent picketers who found all those flashy coats and shiny bayonets distracting. It’s also rumored that all the king’s men couldn’t handle the red hot chili at “Texas”, which was a source of much embarrassment.

And everyone in town should know the story of Revolutionary War hero, General Israel Putnam making his headquarters at the old Bush Homestead, who may or may not have been related to those Bush’s.

The 18th century, historic structure is still standing on its original location, just off the corner of King Street and Putnam Avenue, which I believe is the real reason the General took residence there in the first place, mostly because it made it easy for him to remember where he lived. Especially after a night of Revolutionary merry making with George Washington down on Main Street, which is actually more conjecture than fact since, back then, video surveillance cameras were not as numerous downtown, as they are today.

And what about our other street names, the ones whose origins aren’t as apparent? Who was Betsy Brown? Was she related to Buster? And more importantly, did she have a lovely daughter?

We have Spring Street and Summer Street…but what happened to Fall and Winter Streets?

Did they run marathons on Marathon Place…it seems kind of short.

Why is there only a High School on College Avenue; what happened to the College?

Who was Mr. Hobart or was it Ms? What about Messers Austin, Hewlet, Renshaw and some guy named Frank? They must have been somebody, they all have a place.

Just what is a Leicester and who lived in those great old Victorians still lining that majestic street?

And what’s the story of those two big newly refurbished white columns that usher you onto Quintard Drive from King Street and Indian Road? When I was a kid growing up in the area I was told that a spread called Alden Estates existed back there and those columns were the grand entrance way. In fact another column still exists as part of the structure of a nice little Spanish hacienda style house a bit to the south of there. Was that the estates original gate house? I have no idea, but how cool is to say you lived on an old estate. Still, who was this Alden dude and why are all the houses in that area built out of cinder blocks? Were they afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

So you see, probably due to our own modern day indifference, there really is so much history about our town that’s still so cloudy to so many of us. And that’s a shame because, as I said, history is what defines us, both as a people and a town.

Not ugly surveillance videos that go viral all over the world, snide remarks, finger pointing and bitter political rhetoric. Sure, high taxes, overcrowded schools, suspect bars, illegal housing and code violations are problems that have to be addressed…but it’s not who we are.

So while the fireworks streak through the sky this 4thof July, take 30 seconds and turn a gaze towards the throng of eclectic faces staring into the summer night with awe. Young, old and everyone in between…see their smiles, the sparkle in their eyes, the glee in their oooohs and ahhhhss…and experience the shared joy as it rises off the field with every echoing boom.

Those are your neighbors.

That’s your town.

That’s your history.

And that’s who we are….

On the 4th of July and every day in between.

Proud to be from Port Chester.

So let’s make sure that goes viral too.

Enjoy the fireworks!

I know I will….

Check out more 4th of July:

A Hometown 4th of July

Morgan on The 4th of July


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  1. Bravo, Brian! That is soooo gooood.

    "One of the pleasant things those of us who write or paint do is to have the daily miracle. It does come."

    Gertrude Stein

  2. Thanks, that means a lot!

    The daily miracle is nice…but would be nicer if it came with an expense account….

    Have a happy 4th!

  3. It is like virtue - it brings its own reward.


Retort to the Retort -

“Is there anybody alive out there…”