The City of White Plains is the county seat of Westchester County, New York. It is located in the south-central of Westchester, about east of the Hudson River and northwest of Long Island Sound. It is bordered to the north by the town of North Castle, to the north and east by the town/village of Harrison, to the south by the town/village of Scarsdale and to the west by the town of Greenburgh. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 53,077, while a 2006 census estimate put the city's population at 57,081. White Plains is one of the edge cities that have developed outside of New York City. The daytime weekday population is estimated at 250,000.
In 1758, White Plains became the seat of Westchester County when the colonial government for the county left West Chester, which was located in what is now the northern part of the borough of the Bronx, in New York City. The unincorporated village remained part of the Town of Rye until 1788, when the Town of White Plains was created.
On July 9, 1776, a copy of the Declaration of Independence was delivered to the New York Provincial Congress, which was meeting in the county courthouse. The delegates quickly adopted a resolution approving the Declaration, thus declaring both the colony's independence and the formation of the State of New York. The Declaration itself was first publicly read from the steps of the courthouse on July 11.
During September and October 1776, troops led by George Washington took up positions in the hills of the village, hotly pursued by the British under General Sir William Howe, who attacked on October 28. The Battle of White Plains took place primarily on Chatterton Hill, (later known as "Battle Hill," and located just west of what was then a swamp but which is now the downtown area) and the Bronx River. Howe's force of 4,000-6,000 British and Hessian soldiers required three attacks before the Continentals, numbering about 1,600 under the command of Generals Alexander McDougall and Israel Putnam, retreated, joining Washington's main force, which did not take part in the battle. Howe's forces had suffered 250 casualties, a severe loss, and he made no attempt to pursue the Continentals, whose casualties were about 125 dead and wounded. Three days after the battle Washington withdrew north of the village, which was then occupied by Howe's forces. But after several inconclusive skirmishes over the next week Howe withdrew on November 5, leaving White Plains to the Continentals. Ironically, one of Washington's subordinates, Major John Austin, who was probably drunk after having celebrated the enemy's withdrawal, reentered the village with his detachment and proceeded to burn it down. Although he was court-martialed and convicted for this action he escaped punishment.
The first United States Census, in 1790, listed the White Plains population at 505, of whom 46 were slaves. (New York City's population at that time was about 33,000.) By 1800, the population stood at 575 and in 1830, 830. By 1870, 26 years after the arrival of the New York Central Railroad, it had swelled to 2,630 and by 1890 to 4,508. In the decades that followed the count grew to 7,899 (1900) and 26,425 (1910). White Plains was incorporated as a village in 1866 and as a city in 1916.
Early in the 20th century, White Plains' downtown area developed into a dominant suburban shopping district and featured branch stores of many famous New York-based department and specialty stores. Some of these retail locations were the first large scale suburban stores built in America, and ushered in the eventual post-World War II building boom. With the construction of the parkways and expressways in the 1940s and 1960s, White Plains' role as a destination retail location was only enhanced. Among some of these early stores were such storied names as B. Altman & Co., Rogers Peet, Saks Fifth Avenue, Alexander's, Macy's, Wallach's and a short-lived branch of Bergdorf Goodman, which was later converted to sister chain, Neiman Marcus, in 1981.
During the late 1960s, the city of White Plains developed an extensive urban renewal plan for residential, commercial and mixed-use redevelopment that effectively called for the demolition of its entire central business district from the Bronx River Parkway east to Mamaroneck Avenue. By 1978, the urban renewal program centered around the construction of the Westchester County Courthouse (1974), the Westchester One office building (1975), the Galleria at White Plains mall (1978), and a number of other office towers, retail centers and smaller commercial buildings.
Beginning in the 1950s, many major corporations based in New York City relocated operations to White Plains and other nearby locations. These included General Foods, PepsiCo, Hitachi USA, IBM, Nestle, Snapple and Heineken USA. At the height of the 1980s at least 50 Fortune 500 corporations called Westchester County and nearby Fairfield County, CT home, but with the corporate mergers and downsizing of the 1990s many of these companies either reduced their operations in White Plains or left the area completely.
At the Arts Exchange Building, the headquarters of the Westchester Arts Council, artists, emerging cultural organizations and new creative businesses are developing. Since March 1999, this community resource, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has served as an artist's venue for exhibition and performance.
The construction of the Galleria at White Plains mall in the 1970s ushered in a new era of downtown retail and office development, but by the early 1990s, economic development had stagnated, hampered by a deep recession and the overbuilding of the commercial real estate markets. For a time, White Plains had the dubious distinction of having one of the highest office vacancy rates in the Northeast. Consolidation within the retail industry led to the closing of many of downtown's original department and specialty stores as well. After its bankruptcy, the B. Altman store closed in 1989 and was eventually demolished to make way for the massive upscale retail mall, The Westchester, which opened in 1995 with anchors Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. A freestanding branch of Macy's, one of downtown's original retail anchor stores, was relocated two blocks away to The Galleria mall by its parent company, Federated Department Stores, replacing the location of sister retailer, Abraham & Straus when these two store divisions were merged in 1995. In early 2002, the Saks Fifth Avenue location was also closed and demolished; it was replaced in 2004 with the large retail complex called The Source at White Plains, featuring the high-end jewelry and home goods store Fortunoff's, and local outlets of the upscale restaurants Morton's of Chicago, The Cheesecake Factory, and the gourmet supermarket chain Whole Foods Markets.
Other major projects were completed in the late 1990s and early 2000s that have further altered the urban character of downtown White Plains. A new courthouse for the Southern District of New York was opened in 1998 and several large scale office properties in and near downtown, including the former General Foods headquarters building, were retrofitted and leased to accommodate smaller businesses. The Macy's store on Main Street remained vacant for several years until it was also later demolished to make way for the massive City Center White Plains complex . This large mixed-use development features two 35-story apartment and condominium towers, of retail, restaurant and entertainment space and new parking facilities. Aside from the Arts Exchange building (which used to be a bank), another bank next to the City Center was renovated to become Zanaro's, a Westchester-award-winning Italian restaurant. City Center's opening in 2003 marked the beginning of a new downtown development renaissance, and with the improving economy and healthy office leasing activity, White Plains entered the new millennium as the leading retail and office center in Westchester County.
In 2005, construction began on a second large parcel in the downtown area. The project, dubbed Renaissance Square, will feature two residential and hotel towers, each 40 stories tall, featuring a luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel and more than 400 condominium units. The expected opening date of the first tower is early 2008. The Ritz-Carlton Westchester is the tallest building between New York City and Boston, Massachusetts.
Beginning in 2000, the city's permanent population experienced a growth spurt as additional apartment buildings were constructed. An infusion of urban professionals, drawn by the city's relatively moderate housing costs and close commuting distance to midtown Manhattan (35 minutes by express train) gave the city a cosmopolitan atmosphere. However, in large part because of its proximity to New York, the cost of living in White Plains, although lower than that of New York City itself, is by some measures among the highest in the world.
Since 1988 the district has operated under a Controlled Parents' Choice Program whereby the parents of elementary and middle school children can select the school which their child attends based on factors other than proximity to the school. (All public school children have the option of being bussed to the school that they attend.)
The five elementary schools, and to a lesser extent, the two middle schools, in addition to teaching core competencies, have different educational focuses including science & technology, communication arts and global understanding. The primary distinction between the two middle schools is the number of pupils enrolled. The smaller "Eastview" Campus has about 1/3 the amount of students as the "Highlands" campus. Also, in the smaller middle school, foreign language education begins in the sixth grade rather than in the eighth. This enables Eastview students to acquire a High School credit for their 3 years of study.
The district is governed by a seven-member Board of Education, elected at-large for staggered three-year terms. A schools superintendent reports to the Board.
White Plains is also home to the German School New York (GSNY), one of only six German schools all across the United States. With some 350 students the school provides education from kindergarten through 12th grade and makes it possible for German students to obtain their Abitur (German High School Diploma) away from home.
There were 20,921 households out of which 26.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.7% were married couples living together, 11.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.3% were non-families. 33.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.47 and the average family size was 3.14.
In the city the population was spread out with 21.2% under the age of 18, 7.5% from 18 to 24, 32.5% from 25 to 44, 23.6% from 45 to 64, and 15.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 89.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $58,545, and the median income for a family was $71,891. Males had a median income of $47,742 versus $36,917 for females. The per capita income for the city was $33,825. About 6.5% of families and 9.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.2% of those under age 18 and 7.2% of those age 65 or over.
Two Metro-North Railroad stations serve the city; the North White Plains (Metro-North station) and the White Plains (Metro-North station) downtown at Main Street and the Bronx River. The Bronx River Parkway is the main north-south highway, and has a bikeway running south to Bronxville.
The Cross-Westchester Expressway (I-287) is the main east-west highway through White Plains. Current highway works include pedestrian walkways over the highway, an extra lane on either side, and on/off ramps to help motor traffic and pedestrians. Vegetation removals have upset some of the community and it is reported that the area will be fixed and trees will be replanted when work on the highway comes to an end.
The Jacob Purdy House was used as General George Washington's headquarters in 1778 and possibly in 1776 during the Battle of White Plains of the American Revolutionary War. Originally constructed prior to 1730, in the 1960s it was repaired and restored, and in 1973 the structure was moved to its present location. A further renovation was conducted around 1980, involving both professional craftsmen and local teenagers in an apprentice program. The Jacob Purdy House is now the headquarters of the White Plains Historical Society.
A National Register of Historic Places plaque commemorates the dates of George Washington's occupancy. The house came into the possession of Jacob Purdy about 1785.
See also Washington's Headquarters for other locations used by George Washington as headquarters.
The White Plains Historical Society traces its genesis to the Battle of White Plains Monument Committee. This committee came into existence in the late 1950s with the sole purpose of beginning work to erect a -high stone obelisk on Chatterton Hill in White Plains to commemorate the battle which took place there between British and American armies on October 28, 1776. Due to the $400,000-$600,000 price tag, the monument was never built, however the Monument Committee found another mission in 1963 when it purchased the historic Jacob Purdy House, set to be demolished by the City of White Plains Urban Renewal Agency. This 1721 wood frame structure had been documented as George Washington’s Headquarters both during the Battle of White Plains in 1776 and later in 1778. In 1973 an agreement was entered into between the Monument Committee and the Urban Renewal Agency for the Committee to maintain and restore the house following its move, which occurred on August 9, 1973, from Spring Street in White Plains to its current location at 60 Park Avenue in White Plains, at the top of Purdy Hill, part of the original Purdy Estate. On April 31, 1979, the House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1985, the White Plains Historical Society was established to continue the work of the Battle of White Plains Monument Committee. On May 8, 1985 an agreement was entered into between the City of White Plains, the Battle of White Plains Monument Committee and the White Plains Historical Society under the terms of which the Historical Society leased the premises of the Jacob Purdy House for a period of 99 years.
Both annual events and long-term projects are coordinated by the White Plains Historical Society. The Society holds annual commemorations for both the Battle of White Plains and Washington’s Birthday at the Jacob Purdy House. An annual dinner is hosted in early May and regularly features prominent historical authors, as well as the annual naming of the Society’s "Citizen Extraordinaire". In addition, the Society participates in and is a sponsor of many of White Plains’ annual parades and festivities, including in recent years the Taste of White Plains. Other Society events in recent years have included concerts, lectures and art shows.
The White Plains Historical Society and its members have been instrumental in the designation of a number historic sites in White Plains for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, which currently lists 9 sites in the city.. The White Plains Historical Society has also for many years worked to preserve local cemeteries including the Jacob Purdy Family Cemetery, which dates to 1760 and, as a result of the Society’s investigation, was determined to be the burial site of two Revolutionary War veterans - Isaac Purdy and Hercules Wessels. The Historical Society’s efforts at discovering the history of White Plains extend even farther back in time, as it was a Society member who discovered a 10,000-year-old Native American spear point on the former site of the Jacob Purdy House.