A Harrison Historian Comes to Rye

BY LANDY ERLICK 

Barbara Specht is the Assistant Program Director at the Jay Heritage Center.  (Pictured above left with her husband Alan Drewry). Here, she shares some stories, insight, and even book recommendations.

Were you always interested in historical sites?

Yes, I was. I had a high school class in ancient history and loved it.  Besides this start my grandmother give me her father’s diary of their trip from England to New York City in 1848. Later when my uncle started trying to interest people in the town of Harrison and White Plains, particularly the battle of White Plains on Miller Hill and Merritt Hill, I began to help him by painting scenery for use in the battle re-enactments and eventually took on the secretary’s duties when the Battle of White Plains Monument Committee formed. This original group morphed into what today is the White Plains Historical Society. This time period was in the early sixties.  So you see there was history-history-history in my background besides growing up with many great aunts who lived very long lives and would talk about their earliest memories with me.

What kind of work have you done in your time here?

B: Well, let’s see. I have given tours to visitors and our school groups. I’ve helped with speaker events, gardening, archaeology digs, and Jay Day. I’ve also organized our library, making it easier for the collection we have to eventually be open for research: organized by title, author, and category.

Have you seen the Jay Heritage Center progress or change? How so?

B: It has [progressed] in the past years.  I think everything has become – well, has expanded. Our visitation and our interpersonal relationships have grown. Everything is very harmonious and fun!

If you could recommend one or two books from the library here, what would they be?

B: Oh, well, The Manor by Mac Griswold. That is a very interesting book about a plantation on Long Island [Sylvester Manor] where they are uncovering the stories of enslaved people just as we are doing here. And mainly because I’m partial to John Adams, I’d say John Adams: Party of One by James Grant.

What is the most interesting piece of information you have come across?

B: Peter Augustus Jay’s will was just so fascinating to read and had tremendous detail including information about one of the freed servants named Caesar Valentine and another man named Giles Green who managed the farm – seeing their names in a document like that made them even more real to me.

If you could describe the Jay Heritage Center in one sentence, what would it be?

B: It’s a site that promotes a wonderful variety of cultural events on a fascinating piece of historical property.

Do you have any stories or experiences from here that you would like to share?

B: How I met Suzanne [Clary, President of the Jay Heritage Center]!  I was the Harrison town historian. To give background, I was in my ninth year there and unfortunately the position was being discontinued. We had, in our collection, quite a few displays of artifacts from prehistoric, Paleo-Indian times, like arrowheads and projectile points. Suzanne became aware of them while she was working with Eugene Boesch our archaeologist. The pieces were collected by two brothers in the town of Harrison, when they were young.  They found them in the Westchester Country Club area, and parts of Greenhaven and Marshlands which used to belong to the Jay Family. So, Suzanne made the connection and came down to the History Center where I was working and asked to see them.

In our conversation, I [told] her that I would have some free time in the future and she was looking for additional staff to help at the Jay Heritage Center. You couldn’t dream of a more serendipitous happening! She and I hit it off right away. I think, probably in a month or so, here I was. We were brought together by the Greenhaven artifacts, I guess you could say.

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