“The knowledge of a shared heritage binds people together. It creates a community feeling, gives strength and cohesiveness.” Charles Dawson,
Harrison’s First Town Historian, 1980.
Charles Dawson, an art and industrial arts teacher at Harrison High School for 35 years, was an avid collector and history buff. After retiring from teaching, he devoted himself to preserving Harrison’s history.
Mr. Dawson collected historical items found by residents, interviewed old-timers about their past and successfully persuaded town officials to provide space for historic documents. His collection cluttered virtually every room of the Matthews Street home he lived in for 40 years.
It was through Charles Dawson’s untiring efforts that the Harrison Historical Society was founded in 1971. In 1972, he was designated the Town’s Historian, a volunteer position. In 1980, the Town granted Mr. Dawson’s request for $2000.00 to set up a center in the West Harrison Public Library. Mr. Dawson’s collection, which was relocated there after his death in May 1980, required no less than 4 full truckloads to move it to the new center where it sat on the floor until the Town appointed Rosemary O’Connor, in the summer of 1981, to sort, shelve and catalog his collection.
The Charles Dawson History Center was officially opened on October 4, 1981. On July 11, 1998, the Harrison Historical Society was relocated in the lower level of the Park Lane Reserve Recreational Center at One Park Lane in West Harrison (formerly the Little Red Schoolhouse). The Little Red Schoolhouse (1898) was the last Common School District in Westchester County, District School No. 5, and relocated to its present site from a location further up Park Lane, then Park Road. The new home of the Harrison Historical Society was again dedicated as the Charles Dawson History Center. Rosemary O’Connor (1981-1982) was succeeded by Edyth Caro (1982-1984), Michael Cassarella (1985-2000), Barbara Specht (2000-2010) and Gregory Ricci (2010 - present).
The Harrison Historical Society collects and preserves photographs, documents, maps, diaries and other artifacts which relate to the historical events or personalities of Harrison, West Harrison and Purchase. Its collections and records, dating back to the 18th century, include documents referencing town government, the Italian immigration to Silver Lake, the Haviland and Purdy families, the history of the black community of Stony Hill, American Indian artifacts, military memorabilia, vintage clothing, maps, newspapers, periodicals, records/tapes, oral histories, town record books from 1774, and the patent of 1696.
In addition, the Society documents historical landmarks, such as the Stony Hill (West Harrison) and Thomas Thomas (Purchase) cemeteries, Merritt Hill, site of the Battle of White Plains during the Revolutionary War (West Harrison), Reid Hall (Purchase), the Quaker Friends Meeting House (Purchase), the Old Mill (Harrison), the Aranac Athletic Association (Harrison), the Norswift Ski Club ski jump (West Harrison) and the ice house, which divided West Harrison and Purchase near Anderson Hill Road, owned by Rubel Ice Company on Croker’s Pond.
Currently, the Harrison Historical Society is in the process of preserving years old oral histories, slides and photographs using the latest available digital technology. A popular feature is the Society’s social media presence on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/HarrisonHistoricalSociety). Over 100,000 hits! The Society is also in the process of petitioning the New York State Department of Education for provisional chartering, enabling it, among other benefits, to become grant eligible.
If you are interested in joining the Harrison Historical Society in preserving the rich histories of Harrison, West Harrison and Purchase, please contract the History Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.