Did you know that Yorktown is about to lose an old farmhouse that links the Revolutionary War with the Ziegfeld follies?
Few people may have noticed this house that stands behind a tall pine tree on Old Crompond Road across from the Staples Shopping Center on route 202 but it has an extraordinarily well documented history that goes back exactly 250 years to 1762 when David Knapp bought the land on which it stands.
David Knapp and his son were both veterans of the War of Independence and are included in the index of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. The elder Knapp was also a deacon of the First Presbyterian Church during a turbulent time in its history and his tombstone still stands in the churchyard surrounded by his descendants who lived in the house and farmed the land.
In the late 19th century ownership of the house passed to Sheppard Knapp who was one of the founding fathers of the carpeting industry in the United States and helped end the flow of millions of dollars to manufacturers in Europe. But the most unexpected and colorful period of this house’s history came in the early 20th century when it was bought by Anna Held, first wife of Florenz Zeigfeld and the inspiration for the Ziegfeld Follies.
According to Eddie Cantor: “For a generation America succumbed to the Anna Held craze [and] she toured the country like a conqueror.” Although she probably never lived in the house before her premature death, her daughter transformed it into the ‘Anna Held Inn’ which included a small museum of her mother’s memorabilia. During the Depression, benefits and exhibitions were held at this inn for struggling actors and artists including Hans Hoffman, one of the most important modern painters in America. Even the Westchester Invitational Ping Pong tournament was held on the grounds one summer.
The entire sweep of Yorktown’s history is embodied in this house. Sadly, it will be torn down in two weeks to build the Crompond Corners development that will include retail space and housing. The developer, who was not informed of its history of the house by the town, has offered the amount he would spend on demolishing the structure if it could be completely removed from the site but this was not enough. The most we can hope for is to record the structure and save a few pieces.
Yorktown has done a great job of preserving open space over the years but much of its historic character – which could enhance the look and image of our town – continues to be lost. If we worked with developers from the beginning we might be able to effect better outcomes for historic buildings such as adaptive reuse. Please support local preservation efforts and let our town and planning boards know if they hould make more of an effort to uphold our town's motto “Progress with Preservation.”