Thursday, April 16, 2009

John P. Davies’ Historical Map of Westchester

Every generation of Hastings residents has its history buffs. One such was civil engineer John Percival Davies. Being a mapmaker, Davies came up with the idea of a map that would visually encapsulate the entire history of Westchester County – or at least the period from the arrival of Henry Hudson in 1609 to the completion of the railroad lines in the 19th century.

Davies was born in South Wales in the UK, but lived much of his life in Hastings. He built his own house at 169 Edgars Lane, and had Margaret Sanger and Lewis W. Hine as neighbors. Hastings oldtimers remember Davies as the first captain of Hastings’ World War I Home Guard, from which he resigned to enter the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1918.

Captain John P. Davies of the Hastings Home Guard in 1917. (Click the photograph to see the entire Home Guard group.)

But by 1932, Davies was working in the city on 40th Street. He seems to have been an expert mapmaker, because our collection includes a number of maps that Davies drew up for the village of Hastings – street maps, an Air Raid Protection Service map, and a sociological map for Superintendent John Hopkins dissertation on the Hastings public school system. Davies’ office was right around the corner from the New York Public Library, and it was there that he did the research for his historical map.

The final product was printed on buff paper and hand colored in pale washes of blue and red, giving it all the romance of an antique. Among the wealth of details are tiny drawings of Patriots and Redcoats, trains and horses, and the proud coats of arms of Westchester’s earliest European settlers.

Sigges Rock on the Andrus Property

Needless to say, the map includes several important Hastings landmarks. One is Sigges Rock. Today this huge boulder on Andrus property on the east side of Broadway straddles the official line between Hastings and Yonkers, but it is said to have marked the boundary between the Weckquaeskeck in Dobbs Ferry and the Manhattes in Yonkers in Indian times. The name itself means boundary stone in the Algonquin language. Another landmark on the map is the neutral forge that served both sides during the Revolution, and was later incorporated into the house that is today called Forge Cottage at 383 Broadway. The third Hastings landmark is marked by crossed swords—it is the spot on Broadway at Edgar’s Lane where, in 1777, the Hessians soldiers and the American troops under Colonel Richard Butler clashed.

383 Broadway ca. 1900, said to have been a neutral forge during the American Revolution

It is a good-sized map, 17 x 23 inches, and far too large to fit on our scanner bed. But when Katie Hite, president of the Westchester County Historical Society, was looking for pieces to include on their “Historical Treasures of Westchester County” web site, she scooped up this map and took it away with her to scan at the Westchester County facilities. Thanks to Katie and Patricia Dohrenwend, Director of the County Archives and Records Center, we have not only an excellent digital image of the map, but also a wonderful collection of Hastings masterpieces on the web.
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