Katonah - a village on the move.
Since the early 1880’s, rumors had circulated throughout Westchester County that New York City needed more water. Nothing, however, prepared the citizens of Katonah for the 1893 New York Times headline: “Destruction to Katonah.” http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9500E4D81F3FEF33A2575BC0A9629C94629ED7CF What followed is a unique and inspiring story of a community that refused to be drowned out of existence. “Old Katonah”, an offshoot of Whitlockville and daughter of a nearby area known as Cherry Street, was a small but thriving mill town huddled on the bank of Cross River in New York’s Westchester county, northeast of the junction of today’s highways 684, 35, and the Sawmill Parkway, approximately a half mile north of where the Katonah Village library stands today. That fortuitous location on the river gave the young village its livelihood. New York City’s coveting that water spelled Old Katonah’s doom, as the City had secured broad rights to dam rivers and thereby establish reservoirs throughout Westchester and nearby counties. At a meeting of the Katonah Village Improvement Society, the people of Old Katonah pondered New York City’s decision to condemn and submerge their village. Reflecting the strong sense of community – a community worth preserving through hardship - they decided to literally move the hamlet, buildings and all. The Katonah Land Company purchased a farm south of the old village, and hired landscape architects G.S. and B.S. Olmstead to design new Katonah with broad islands and tree-lined streets arranged in a Celtic cross design, a design that remains clearly visible today, centered at the intersection of Bedford Road and Parkway Avenue.To avoid some of the problems of old Katonah, where residential and commercial uses mixed, the Katonah Land Company imposed deed restrictions placing commercial uses nearer the railroad tracks and limiting the area surrounding the Greens to residential and institutional uses such as libraries and schools. This was a true innovation in 1896, as community planning was rare, resulting in the often haphazard design of many New England towns, and zoning laws didn’t appear in New York State until the late 1920's. More remarkably, residents moved roughly fifty-five of Old Katonah’s original homes, stores, barns, and even a church, to sites in new Katonah. Some buildings were dismantled and rebuilt, yet most were moved whole. Families even lived in the houses as they were pulled along soaped rails by horses.The result is a beautiful hamlet of well preserved 19th century “painted lady” Victorian homes, charming independent family-owned shops, a strong sense of community and a warm, welcoming heart.