New Castle Historian: Chappaqua Doesn’t Exist

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New Castle Town Historian Gray Williams notes that Chappaqua, as an unicorporated hamlet, has no legally defined borders.
New Castle Town Historian Gray Williams notes that Chappaqua, as an unicorporated hamlet, has no legally defined borders. Photo Credit: Michael Nocella

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. – Chappaqua doesn’t exist.

According to New Castle Historian Gray Williams, the entity known as Chappaqua is simply a figment of its residents’ imaginations.

“Legally, Chappaqua doesn’t exist,” he said. “It is a state of mind.”

Williams, a New Castle resident since 1936, explained that the area known today as Chappaqua originated from a nearby location that was called “Shapequaw” by Native Americans. To this day, no one definitively knows what that stands for. Shapequaw, Williams said, was not located where the hamlet of Chappaqua is today.

The Wikipedia entry on Chappaqua cites a 1982 publication by the Chappaqua Central School District, “Chappaqua: Our Connections to Its Past,” saying: “It was an Algonquian word, ‘shah-pah-ka,’ and it meant ‘the rustling land’ or ‘the rattling land,’ or a place where nothing is heard but the rustling of the wind in the leaves. The Quakers spelled it ‘Shapiqua,’ ‘Shapaqua,’ ‘Shapequa,’ ‘Shappaqua’ and, finally, ‘Chappaqua.’ Their meeting was often referred to as the ‘Shapequa Meeting’ as early as 1745.”

“As you’ll notice, Chappaqua has no village center, no village green, no village church,” Williams said. “The only church we had is now part of Mount Kisco and is called New Castle Corners. It was never intended to be the community it is today.”

While Chappaqua might not exist in a legal sense, it obviously exists in a physical one. Williams said that transformation began in 1846, when Chappaqua became a stop on the railroad. What started out as a way to import milk and apple products eventually turned Chappaqua into New Castle’s most attractive downtown area. This transformation led the hamlet to its most official calling card: a school district.

“After becoming a railroad stop, the location became more of a destination,” Williams said. “This led to Chappaqua becoming the core of the school district around the turn of the 20th century.”

So how could a place that has its own school district not legally exist?

“Chappaqua has a school district, a ZIP code, a fire district and a public library,” he said. “But legally speaking, it is known as an unincorporated hamlet within the Town of New Castle. At the end of the day, it is, more than anything else, a state of mind of those who live there.”

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Is it the same situation for the hamlet of Millwood? It has a zip code and a fire district, and it had a railroad stop, but it does not have a school district or a library.