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An Untapped Asset: Croton's Rich History Could Be Its Salvation

October 8, 2009

To the editor:

NOTE: The following is the text of my letter to The Gazette of August 27, 2009:

Readers may be interested in the following transcript of a question-and-answer session I recently had with myself:

Q: Okay, Mr. Wise Guy, you’ve been critical of unneeded zoning changes, what’s your solution for Croton’s economic ills?
A: The answer has been right under our noses from the beginning: Old-fashioned tourism. Give people a reason to “Visit Historic Croton-on-Hudson.” and they’ll come in droves.

Q: What’s the first step?
A: We have the nucleus in Van Cortlandt Manor to cover the Dutch colonial period. The Village should acquire and restore the nearby original Harmon sales office. Make it a visitors’ center and a Croton Museum of History with permanent exhibits about Croton’s long history of boat building, railroading, brick making, and construction of the Old Croton Aqueduct and the Croton Dam.

Q: What comes next?
A: Special exhibits can be added, such as one honoring Croton’s African-American heritage. Revolutionary War cannoneer John Peterson, whose unerring aim began the downfall of British spy, Major John AndrĂ©, and playwright Lorraine Hansberry (“A Raisin in the Sun”) are both buried in Bethel Cemetery.

Q: What other attractions could there be?
A: Perhaps Metro North could be induced to establish a railroad (and trolley) museum here. (The Metro Enviro site would be ideal.) Croton should explore the possibility that the colorful replica of Henry Hudson’s ship, the Half Moon, could make Croton its homeport and wintering port.

Q: Isn’t Croton’s rich history already widely recognized?
A: Not at all. Historic sites are unmarked. Would you believe there’s only one marker in the village memorializing its historic past? Most Crotonites cannot name that lone marker. (It’s at the base of the hill on which Bethel Chapel stands.) There are more than a dozen houses in Croton associated with the Bohemian colony of artists and writers that flourished here during and after the First World War. Yet not a single marker identifies any of these houses, which would make a fine subject for a walking tour.

Q: How would you overcome Croton’s handicap of widely separated shopping areas?
A: That’s easy. In keeping with the image of a tourist-friendly village, Croton’s shopping areas could be gradually nudged toward specialization. For example, Grand Street could emulate Cold Spring’s Main Street and feature shops offering antiques and knickknacks. And attract customers to its restaurants.

Q: What about places where tourists can stay?
A: The big hurdle is lack of hotel space. For year-round tourism, a hotel/conference center with a river view could easily be built on a commercial site like the tire warehouse. The railroad’s fast express train service opens up the possibility that Metro North could promote tours to Croton from New York City as package deals.

Q: What should we do about the Gateway Law?
A: Cosmetic changes will do nothing to bring new business. We must stop excluding legitimate businesses. It’s positively un-American to convict a whole class of businesses without a trial. Let’s make Croton a village that genuinely welcomes businesses. We must halt any attempt to urbanize Croton. Don’t expand the Gateway Law. Get rid of it.

Q: What are the chances of such a plan coming to fruition?
A: Good, if Croton will stop bickering and recognize that exploitation of its history can be its salvation.

— Robert Scott, Croton-on-Hudson


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