CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- Members of the New Castle Town Board are considering whether to make one of the biggest alterations to the municipality in its 291-year history: changing its official name to the Town of Chappaqua.
While the town's name has been the same since its 18th-century founding, its name recognition has lagged far behind its hamlets, Chappaqua and Millwood, a point that isn't lost on the community's elected officials.
Speaking at a Jan. 3 town board work session, Supervisor Rob Greenstein compared the insider-focused name recognition of New Castle to the general public's broader awareness of its largest hamlet, noting “for the most part, most people never heard of New Castle.”
“It would help us brand, which Chappaqua – whether people want to accept it or not is – is a popular brand. People know it just like they know Greenwich, just like they know Scarsdale.”
The naming contrast between the town and the hamlet is notable. Chappaqua indeed has a brand that is widely known, whether for being the home of Hillary and Bill Clinton or for its school district. New Castle, by contrast, is an esoteric name, one that is more frequently referenced among town officials, journalists and policy wonks.
The town's lack of name recognition is compounded by the fact that New Castle does not have an eponymous zip code; postal zones in the municipality either name the two hamlets or overlap with surrounding towns, such as Mount Kisco and Ossining. The most notable resident who exemplifies the identity confusion is Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who lives in northern New Castle but gets his mail from Mount Kisco. The New York Times explored the differences in a 2011 story that can be read here.
Changing the town's name would not affect zip-code names, officials noted. Changing a postal name requires a request to the U.S. Postal Service, according to Town Attorney Ed Phillips. Nor would a name change alter school-district boundaries.
Sympathizing with he proposal, Councilwoman Lisa Katz recalled that the town's arts and culture committee had to have “Chappaqua and Millwood” added to its wording due to New Castle's low name recognition. She also noted that the town gets confused with one of its neighbors, North Castle.
“Nobody knows where New Castle is, and then they mess it up with North Castle and it's - it's quite confusing.”
The areas that are now part of New Castle were once part of North Castle, historical records show. New Castle was split off from North Castle by the New York State Legislature and formed in 1791, according to an 1886 Westchester County history book by author John Thomas Scharf, which can be read on Google Books.
As far as Scharf could tell, the partition of old North Castle was due to its large size.
“The reason which led to the separation of this town from North Castle, so far as the writer can ascertain, was merely the matter of convenience,” the 1800s author wrote. “The town of North Castle, as it existed previous to the division, was awkward in size and shape.”
The Chappaqua name is actually older than New Castle, according to a 2006 book on the town's history that was released by Arcadia Publishing. The history of the name predates the town's formation by decades and was used by Quakers who settled the area, according to the book, which notes that they called the area “Shapiqua.”
A name change could potentially stir up longstanding tensions among residents of the town's West End, who are located in the Ossining school district and the Ossining zip code.
“The West End has been the step child of Chappaqua since day one, so that's not going to change,” argued West End resident Nicole Riche.
Riche also expressed concern that some Chappaqua hamlet residents would look down on their crosstown neighbors who live in other sections, arguing that they would be perceived as not truly living in Chappaqua.
Riche also noted that West End residents would still not have access to Chappaqua-focused amenities.
“I don't think it would make people on the West End feel more a part of it,” she said about the name change. “I think if anything it would make them feel more isolated because it would be the town of Chappaqua, only we're not Chappaqua, so we don't have the cache in terms of the values of our homes or being able to have the services at the Chappaqua Library or go to the Chappaqua schools.”
Greenstein, who was sympathetic to Riche's concerns, wondered if West End residents feel left out from the broader community was due to not being in the Chappaqua Central School District. In contrast, Greenstein noted that residents
“Most people move here for the Chappaqua schools, and if you don't go to the Chappaqua schools, you'll feel like a little bit of like an outsider.”
In order to get a name change, Phillips explained, the Town Board would need to approve a resolution and submit it to the State Legislature, which in turn would need to sign off.
Phillips noted that state denials of proposed name changes are “far and few between,” but added that they are not unprecedented.
The last time that a municipality in Westchester County changed its name was 20 years ago, after residents in the village of North Tarrytown voted to rename it to “Sleepy Hollow,” according to The New York Times. Like with New Castle, the Times article notes that branding was a cause.
Town Board members ended discussion without taking further action, but left the door open to future public-outreach meetings.
Greenstein noted that he would only support a name change if there is overwhelmingly public support; even a 60-percent to 40-percent approval would be inadequate for the supervisor.