Yonkers, on the Hudson just north of New York City, takes its name from youncker (young nobleman) Adriaen Van Der Donck, who first acquired it from the Dutch West India Company in the early 1600s. With a population of over 200,000, Yonkers is actually the fourth-largest city in New York State, but it functions primarily as a sort of scruffy extension of its much larger neighbor to the south.
Originally a Lenape Indian village, Yonkers became an important manufacturing center in the second half of the 19th century. Among its chief products were textiles, carpets, patent medicines, insulated wire and cable, and elevators. Yonkers inventor Elisha G. Otis introduced the world’s first “perpendicular stairway” in 1853.
Hudson River Museum
Yonkers’ biggest visitor attraction is the Hudson River Museum (511 Warburton Ave., off Rte. 9 at the north end of town, 914/963-4550, www.hrm.org, noon–5 p.m. Wed.–Sun., 5–8 p.m. Fri., adults $5, seniors and children 5–16 $3), partially housed in an impressive stone mansion overlooking the Hudson. Built by financier John Bond Trevor in 1876, Glenview Mansion is still outfitted with its original Victorian furnishings and art.
Next door is a large, modern museum wing that presents first-rate exhibits on everything from regional flora and fauna to Hudson River history.
Also at the museum are the exuberant The Bookstore—an “environmental sculpture” designed by Red Grooms—and the Andrus Planetarium, equipped with a Zeiss star machine (shows cost adults $5, seniors and children $3). The museum’s café is a good spot for lunch.
Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site
A few miles south of the Hudson River Museum, next door to a well-worn park, is the grand Philipse Manor Hall (29 Warburton Ave., at Dock St., 914/965-4027, http://nysparks.state.ny.us, tours offered Tues.–Sun. at noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., adults $5, seniors and students $3, children under 12 free).
The manor was originally built in the 1680s for Dutchman Frederick Philipse, who came to New York to work as a carpenter for Gov. Peter Stuyvesant. Through his own skills and a strategic marriage, Philipse later rose to become one of the most powerful men in the Hudson Valley. By the end of his life, he owned an estate that covered virtually all of today’s Westchester County.
A prominent Loyalist, Philipse was one of the 200-plus Colonial New Yorkers who signed the Declaration of Dependence, swearing allegiance to King George III shortly after those 56 other Americans signed the Declaration of Independence. Documents and artifacts from that era are on display, along with an excellent collection of American portraits by Gilbert Stuart and the like.
At Yonkers Raceway (810 Central Ave., at Yonkers Ave., 914/968-4200, post time 7:10 p.m. nightly, closed Wed. and Sun.), nighttime harness racing can be seen year-round. The current track dates back to 1958, but the first Yonkers track was built in 1898 and was long known as the “poor man’s racecourse.”
In fact, one of its earliest owners, chain-store magnate James Butler, liked to pretend that he was poor. He once declined to play golf with John D. Rockefeller, Sr.—calling it a rich man’s game—and rode around town in a rickety, out-of-date automobile. Empire City Casino now operates from the 2005 renovated clubhouse.
After suffering relocation due to a freak rockslide incident, Rangoli (615 Main St., New Rochelle, 914/235-1306, www.rangoliindiancuisine.com, $15), which moved from Pelham to New Rochelle, a 15-minute drive from Yonkers, is worth the drive for the atmosphere and well loved Indian cuisine. If you want to eat in town, Belle Havana (35 Main St., 914/969-1006, $22), in Yonkers, offers mojitos and ‘el sabor de Cuba’ with fusion foodie flair via respected chef, Alexandre Cheblal.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition