Peekskill is about 50 miles north of New York City. New Amsterdam resident Jan Peeck made the first recorded contact with the native tribal people of this area, identified at that time as the "Sachoes". The date is not certain (possibly early 1640s), but agreements and merchant transactions took place, which were formalized into the Ryck's Patent Deed of 1684. Peeck's Kil (meaning "stream" in Dutch) thus became the recognized name for this locale.
European-style settlement took place slowly in the early 1700s. By the time of the American Revolution, the tiny community was an important manufacturing center from its various mills along the several creeks and streams. These industrial activities were attractive to the Continental Army in establishing its headquarters here in 1776. Though Peekskill's terrain and mills were beneficial to the Patriot cause, they also made tempting targets for British raids. The most damaging attack took place in early spring of 1777, when an invasion force of a dozen vessels led by a warship and supported by infantry overwhelmed the American defenders. Another British operation in October 1777 led to further destruction of industrial apparatus. As a result, the Hudson Valley command for the Continental Army moved from Peekskill to West Point, where it stayed for remainder of that war.
Hawley Green, a resident of Peekskill during the Civil War era, was an African American citizen who voted, ran a downtown barber business, and owned several properties with his wife Harriet. Mr. Green was credited before and during the war with "helping many a slave brother on his way to Canada." Active assistance given by AME Zion Church members, Reverend Beecher, local Quakers and the Greens was part of the famous "underground railroad" of freedom in Peekskill during the 1800s.
Peekskill's first legal incorporation of 1816 was reactivated in 1826 when Village elections took place. The Village was further incorporated within the Town of Cortlandt in 1849 and remained so until separating as a city in 1940.
In the early 1990s, the population was dwindling and the downtown area was becoming more vacant. The Common Council decided to make artist studios and galleries an important part of the City’s revitalization strategy.
The city wanted to turn its unused downtown spaces into something useful. Similar to Lowell, MA’s strategy, in order to have a vibrant downtown area one must have a population living there, so that the activity does not only happen from nine to five. In creating spaces where artists both live and work, the city created a situation in which there would always be people downtown, 24 hours a day.
At the same time the Common Council wanted to get people into downtown Peekskill, rising real estate prices in New York City were driving artists to move further away from even the outer boroughs. Peekskill took an active role in pursuing displaced artists by taking out advertisements in So Ho art magazines and offering them low interest rates. This helped artists buy buildings and convert them into useful spaces. Once a few artists had moved to Peekskill, a buzz was created and more artists made the move north.
Today, the City of Peekskill has 80 artist/live work lofts. This includes the Peekskill Art Lofts opened in 2002. The Peekskill Art Lofts are an affordable 28-unit limited equity cooperative apartment complex built for qualified artists.As an economic development incentive, landlords can be offered tax incentives, grants, facade improvements, and loans to renovate buildings that can be used as live-work spaces by artists. To lease one of these artist lofts for living and working, the City’s Artist Certification Committee must certify an individual as an artist. The City of Peekskill Department of Planning, Development and Code Assistance currently manages the developmental process to maintain and grow live-work spaces for artists on the upper floors of commercial buildings.
The city of Peekskill is serviced by two separate school districts, Hendrick Hudson School District and the Peekskill City School District. The Hendrick Hudson District includes Buchanan, Crugers, Montrose, Verplanck, and parts of Cortlandt Manor, Croton, and the City of Peekskill. The Peekskill City School district has three elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. The mission of the Peekskill City School District is to educate students in a caring, inspiring environment characterized by a spirit of excellence and high expectations. They also prepare graduates to meet or exceed state standards and to prepare students to pursue adult lives as contributing citizens of our local and global community.