In the not-so-distant American past, before devastating national paranoia, politically inflamed polarization and economic despair; while the web was young and local newspapers covered local concerns and people read them; we woke up and saw a tipping off-balance. We met face-to-face, formed alliances and looked around saying enough is enough, we live here, we want to understand what we have here, and it may be taken away…let’s stop it.
This is the story of a small but vociferous grass-roots organization, a true grass-roots organization inclusive of all time: past, present and a future of meaning. In the American experience we rarely and briefly invoke forces unleashing potent revelations about our place in time and space and while it’s happening never fully grasp what is happening to us and in the end everything that is at stake, it’s enormity…forever.
These are grand statements even cosmic clichés; perhaps you’d be surprised to know that our fight was simply to preserve 41 acres of a scruffy woodland bluff overlooking the Hudson River in Dobbs Ferry, NY. Tom Morrison, a remarkable man who spearheaded our little organization’s fight for nearly 20 years recently remarked, “I think I figured time stopped in 1999-2000.” That was around the time we were stopped, beaten, and I agree. I’ve never again felt so vital, so engaged in anything I’ve done since. How rare the opportunity in a lifetime to find out what it means to be a part of a community and connected to a shared human heritage of place, important immemorial.
To fight to preserve a piece of land from development at that time was controversial but not as divisive an issue as today. There was a populist notion of preserving open space that cut across party lines in the populace if not the elected officials. There was a green movement before it was labeled as such, and I suppose our opposition viewed us as tree-huggers. The land in question was much more than just trees, even if a few were as old as the country itself. This we knew from the beginning.
Less than one hour from New York City a piece of land popular with potshard hunters, the site of ancient Native American activity dating back 15,000 years, rich in artifacts buried in a shell-midden 20 feet deep, the site of an Indian village known to the Dutch as Wysquaqua whose inhabitants were massacred by Captain Kieft in 1643; was put on the shopping block by the Sisters of Mercy at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY in 1982. This story picks up from there with the formation of FOWCAS (Friends Of Wickers Creek Archaeological Site), with excursions back to the last Ice Age to late ‘90s gatherings of thousands of supporters of FOWCAS’ “Lenape Homecoming” events and all points in-between.
Our struggle was a microcosm of what’s wrong with American environmental, cultural and historical preservation; how greed and corruption usurps the will of the people, and how slimy political maneuvers can fool good people into making bad decisions. Wysquaqua is now just another bland condo-development simply called “The Landing.” This 4-part article is for the original aboriginal inhabitants, the descendants of whom I came to know and love and who have changed my life. I will always live with the shame that we did not win a place for them in our shared heritage and in their ancestral home. I am compelled to tell FOWCAS’ story, the rich history of Wysquaqua in hopes future communities don’t make the same shitty trade. We are a reflection of the landscape, beholden to it, not separate.