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What New York river was the site of battles waged during the American Revolution?  Over what body of water did famed British actors Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh take seaplane lessons in the 1940s?  Where was the home port for financier Jay Gould’s palatial yacht?  Where was the mothball fleet located after World War II?  "

If your answer to all these questions was “the Hudson River,” then you’ve probably had a sneak preview of the latest section of Westchester County’s Virtual Archives.

With the launch of “The Hudson River: A Voyage Through Time,” the Westchester County Archives and the Westchester County Historical Society have completed their fifth and most ambitious collaborative effort online.  Found at www.westchesterarchives.com and launched to coincide with New York Archives Month, the new offering focuses on the Hudson River and its impact on the county’s development.  The site even provides an opportunity to take a “video” voyage up the river from New York harbor to Peekskill in the year 1848.

On the website, the 11 Westchester communities that border the river provide rich historical records of those commercial, cultural, historical and recreational connections to the Hudson that have been part of their development over the past 400 years.  Additionally, preservationists will find samples of historic buildings and places that have enduring value not only for understanding our local development, but also the nation’s history.  And, lastly, the site features the 1909 and 2009 commemorative celebrations of the New World explorations of Henry Hudson and the scientific breakthrough of Robert Fulton’s steamboat that both settled the river valley and powered our growth in industry and commerce. 

 “The Hudson has often been called ‘America’s River’ because of its connection to the Revolutionary War, West Point and, of course, the fact that New York City was founded on its banks and is a world capital of finance.  But, this river’s connection to Westchester County is no less noteworthy to us for an appreciation of our local history,” stated Patty Dohrenwend, director of the Westchester County Archives.  “We engaged noted Fordham University historian Roger Panetta to guide this website’s exploration of the themes that are entwined with the river and the county’s growth.”

Katie Hite, executive director of the Westchester County Historical Society, noted that the public will especially enjoy the video version of an 1848 steamboat voyage up the river.  This unique feature captures the feel and the sites that would have been available to a 19th-century day-tripper, just as the website provides unique insights to the 21st century web browser.
 
She added: “For years our archives and historical societies have safeguarded unique primary source materials.  Now, thanks to the web, we can showcase these documents 24/7, in a user-friendly manner, thereby encouraging a far richer understanding of our past.”
 
The new site, like the four other sections of the Virtual Archives, places unique and original materials in their historical context and provides many geographic references and tools for understanding the river communities and their unique pasts.

The Virtual Archives specifically aims to assist educators and their students to discover significant records pertaining to their own towns. 

“This is a great tool for anyone wanting to know more about the county’s rich history,” said County Executive Robert Astorino.
 
As examples, Astorino pointed to the inclusion of the Crawbucky Tales that illustrate the folk history of shad fishermen near the Sparta section of Ossining, the village clerk’s photograph albums that document the construction of Tarrytown’s Tappan Zee Bridge in the mid -1950s, and the reproductions of Jasper Cropsey’s Hudson River landscape paintings that highlight Hastings’ most important artist.
 
“The Virtual Archives is one of the few government-sponsored websites in New York State to provide the public with immediate access to important historical documents,” reports Marguerite Beirne, the county’s chief information officer.  “The County Archives, a unit within the Dept. of Information Technology, is proud to serve as the backbone and continuum of this initiative, and we hope the county’s residents will enjoy it for years to come.”