Identity Crisis : Understanding
Yonkers as Both City and Suburb
yonkers Incorporates as a village
On the path to cityhood, Yonkers first incorporated as a village in the northern part of the Town in 1853. It formed a municipal corporation which is defined by the form of government that the residents select, and the state legislature approves. For the particular case of Yonkers, the residents selected the form of government that categorized the area as a village, and while villages and cities are not legally differentiated by population, cities tend to have larger populations then villages. The surviving records suggest that the first election to incorporate the village of Yonkers was held sometime in August, 1853, but there were two defects in the original charter.
First, the charter allowed for only one police commissioner who was charged with policing the entire village by himself. Second, it dictated that the Board of Trustees could only levy $1,000 in taxes. If they needed more money, the charter indicated that funds could only be raised with the consent of a majority vote of the taxable people (taxation being an attribute of incorporated municipalities as opposed to unincorporated municipalities). Thus, some village charter supporters voted “no” because of these two defects, and the charter was defeated.
Although, the charter did not pass, the residents in the Getty Square area were not opposed to incorporating as a village because incorporation meant that the local government could provide local services in the area. Despite these benefits, however, the charter was poorly written, and it contained many discrepancies and inconsistencies. Subsequently, a new charter was drafted in 1854 and 1855, and upon completion, the Board of Trustees presented it to the state legislature. With the active support of influential men such as Lemuel W. Wells, Robert Grant, Ethan Flagg, Charles C. Merchant, Ralph Shipman, Thomas C. Cornell, Samuel D. Rockwell, Henry W. Bashford, Thomas O. Farrington, Josiah Rich, W. H. Anderson, and Robert P. Getty, it was passed on April 12, 1855 and immediately took effect. The support of these men was crucial because they either held power due to their wealth or sociopolitical connections, if not both. For example, Thomas C. Cornell was not only a politician, but a business man who started the Cornell Steamboat Company, a company which monopolized freight traffic on the Hudson River. In addition, Robert P. Getty owned substantial property such that some areas of Yonkers were named after him e.g. Parkville and Getty Square.
In retrospect, this new charter differed from that of the 1853 charter, particularly in regards to policies and procedures. For example, “the new charter did not call for a popular ratification vote, and it mandated that notice of village elections for officers be given immediately after its passage by the state legislature, and that such notices run for six weeks.” Furthermore, the new charter dictated that the act of the state legislature was sufficient to incorporate the village of Yonkers and that no popular election was necessary. Furthermore, the 1853 charter indicated that village trustees were to be elected for one year terms whereas the 1855 charter indicated that the terms of trustees be for two years. Such an alteration was important as it allowed the elected members to focus on executing polies, and not campaigning. Consequently, the residents in the Getty Square area of Yonkers generally accepted the second charter, but there is a distinction between the Getty Square area and Yonkers as a whole. The Getty Square was part of the region that incorporated as a village, while the rest of Yonkers remained a town. Subsequently, the first election for village president, held May 8, 1855, commenced and resulted in William Radford defeating Robert P. Getty 262 to 228 votes. Such results were a “harbinger of an impending political shift (because Radford was a Democrat) in the newly created village which had rapidly become the economic, social and political center of the entire town of Yonkers.”
The charter of 1855 proved more effective and efficient than the 1853 charter, but it too underwent various alterations throughout the years. Like the original charter, it had some defects and limitations, which lead to numerous alterations throughout its history. For example, it was first amended on April 17, 1857 in order to increase the powers of the Board of Trustees. Furthermore, in 1860 new amendments were proposed to extend the term of the president to two years instead of one. Other alterations included appointing the clerk instead of electing him during a general election, declaring the right to bridge the Nepperhan River in order to connect streets with bridges, a drawbridge where the tidewater had to be crossed, making assessment districts as recommended by the Commissioners, regulating docks and landing sites by ordinance, establishing a lamp and watch district, and most importantly, dividing the village into three wards. These initiatives such as bridging the Nepperhan River were monumental because they increased mobility and encouraged business.
Consequently, the amendments to these Charters, although viewed to be quite beneficial, inevitably steered Yonkers towards cityhood. For example, the stipulation dividing Yonkers into three wards was pivotal because the presence of wards is a characteristic of cityhood. Furthermore, it indicated that the Board of Trustees hoped to move Yonkers along such a developmental trajectory with cityhood as the intended goal.
 Joseph P. Madden, A Documentary History Of Yonkers, New York. Volume 2, Part 1: The Unsettled Years, 1820-1852. (Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc, 1994), 58.
 Madden, Documentary History, 60.
 Madden, Documentary History, 62.