||A history rooted in legend. From the Revolutionary War to the evolution of American cemetery tradition, Kensico Cemetery and the surrounding area have had a significant role in history and legend.
More than a century before the cemetery was founded, present-day Valhalla was comprised of three settlements - Kensico, Wright's Mills and Davis Brook. The name Kensico is a variation of the name of the Siwanoy Indian chief, Co-ken-se-co, a signatory of the deed for the city of White Plains. Wright's Mills, named after local mill owner, Reuben Wright, is said to have been favored by General George Washington for the Council of War. The settlement's proximity to Washington's White Plains headquarters made Wright's Mills home for many of the Patriot troops during the summer of 1778. Davis Brook is a variation on the name Davids, after Squire William Davids, a prominent patriot, who owned the 123 acres which now encompass the business district of Valhalla.
In 1845, residents of Kensico, some 2 1/2 miles away from Davis Brook, successfully appealed to change the name of the railroad station at Davis Brook to Kensico. This change created a disparity between the name of the station Kensico and the name of the post office Davis Brook. The local postmaster's wife, a student of literature, mythology and Wagnerian operas, selected the name Valhalla. The community wrangled over the name change for 10 to 15 years before it was officially adopted. Valhalla is variously defined as: a little bit of heaven; the resting place of the gods; an Indian burial ground; and, according to Norse myth, the hall into which the souls of heroes slain in battle are received.The site where the Cemetery would later be founded also played an important role in the Revolutionary War. In 1780, at a stone house located on the grounds of what is now the Cemetery,British spy Major John André was cornered by Patriot troops. Earlier that year, André had plotted with Benedict Arnold for the surrender of the American post at West Point to the British. The plot was discovered and André was captured and incarcerated nearby for two days. He was then transferred to Washington's White Plains headquarters and hanged for espionage.
One hundred and ten years later 200 members of the Sons of the Revolution traveled by train from New York City to gather in that same stone house where André was captured. Here they commemorated the erection of the first monument at Kensico, a Druid cross of Cape Ann granite that still stands, to the memory of Judge John Fitch.
Kensico Cemetery's proximity to the railroad was a key factor in its development. In 1889 cemeteries in New York City were becoming full. The Cemetery founders looked for large, reasonably priced parcels of land near the railroad. They found the appropriate site in the hamlet of Valhalla; a picturesque, 250-acre tract of farmland and rolling hills. Kensico was substantially expanded to 600 acres in 1905. It was reduced to its present 461 acres in 1912 with the sale of 130 acres to Gate of Heaven Cemetery and the acquisition of 8 acres by the City of New York.
The Cemetery office was first erected in 1890 and largely rebuilt in 1936. It was refurbished in 1954 to provide for the operation of Sharon Gardens and the expansion of Kensico. In response to requests from families and synagogues for a special section designated for members of the Jewish faith, Sharon Gardens was opened in 1953. The rolling 76 acre area borders scenic Minnetonka Brook.
The first Kensico Receiving Tomb was constructed in 1894 and replaced in 1924 by the larger existing Community Mausoleum and Chapel. The Mausoleum was designed with both permanence and grandeur in mind. Its exterior is constructed of pink marble from Georgia while the interior features white marble from Alabama. In 1928, the 98-foot tall Tower Gate was erected. More than just a majestic entranceway, the structure still serves as a 100,000 gallon water tower for the grounds.