A Bit of Local History

0:00 Thinking Ahead to America’s 250th On July 4, 2026, the United States will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. To prepare for […]

Published July 22, 2023 2:08 PM
3 min read

0:00

Thinking Ahead to America’s 250th

On July 4, 2026, the United States will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. To prepare for this important commemoration, President  Biden designated Rosie Rios, former Treasurer of the United States, as Chair of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission in 2022.

In 2021, the New York State 250th Commemoration Act was enacted, creating a commission in charge of celebrations at the state level. One of the principal sponsors of the act was State Senator Shelley Mayer, who represents Rye and other parts of Westchester.

Despite those steps, an article in The New York Times, on July 3, 2023 reported: “For those planning the United States’ Semiquincentennial in 2026, the past few years have sometimes felt like one long winter at Valley Forge. They’ve had to battle public apathy toward the impending 250th anniversary of American independence, which has hardly been helped by the false starts, recriminations, and lawsuits plaguing the federal commission charged with coordinating the celebration….”

Although New York was one of the earliest states to enact legislation authorizing a “250” commission, it has not yet started to operate. In March of this year, Senate sponsors Mayer and Skoufis wrote Gov. Kathy Hochul, noting: 

“To date, the commission has not been seated and no plan has been delivered to your desk… The only serious planning efforts underway are all at the local level and predominantly within the Hudson Valley…The neglect now occurring at the state level will potentially cost New York dearly in years to come, with the most serious impacts hitting the fields of heritage tourism and education…With so many sites and museums ready to welcome visitors, our state stands to make millions of dollars from a successful, coordinated effort.”

One of the biggest legacies of the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976 was the dramatic interest in national and local history. That anniversary also generated major investments in history-related infrastructure. According to one survey, as many as 40 percent of the nation’s thousands of historical organizations were created in the aftermath of the Bicentennial. The 250th year commemoration could also spark widespread interest in the events that occurred in Westchester during the Revolution and highlight lesser-known stories of women, African Americans, and Native Americans who did not immediately benefit from the country’s independence. 

Since 2018, a nonprofit corporation, Revolutionary Westchester 250, has existed to further the purposes of the Semiquincentennial Commission. According to its website, www.rw250.org, its mission is to:

• Collaborate with local and regional groups — heritage and historic, art and cultural, and educational — as well as libraries, veterans’ organizations, municipalities, private businesses, and others — to promote heritage tourism and to enhance the general pleasure and well-being of Westchester residents. 

• Liaise with county, regional, state, and national groups to plan and implement 250th Anniversary events and programs. 

• Organize, support, and publicize events in Westchester and the lower Hudson Valley that relate to the story of the Revolutionary War period and the founding of the United States.

Rye is especially well-qualified to promote and help celebrate the U.S. Semiquincentennial, drawing on its long history and commitment to historic preservation through the Rye Historical Society, the Jay Heritage Center, and the African American Cemetery. Those institutions and others may also benefit from substantial funding possibilities at the federal, state, and county levels. 

Initiatives to organize and pursue these opportunities should involve not only the Rye Historical Society but also other Rye civic organizations and the Rye City Council. The time to focus on America 250 is now.

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