For approximately 140 years, the Katonah Village Improvement Society (KVIS) has been active in cultivating Katonah’s unique character and sense of community. KVIS has it roots in “Old Katonah” when the idea of forming a Village Improvement Society was first brought up at the annual meeting of the Bedford Farmers’ Club in 1878 by Henry E. Pellew. The group was organized as the Katonah Village Improvement Association and Mr. Pellew was elected its first president at the first meeting on October 21st, that same year. The purposes of the association were to improve the sanitation, safety and “sightliness” of the village, and to advance its cultural life. In 1880, a reading room, forerunner of the Library, was opened in space rented in a private dwelling. Various village organizations soon began to use it for meetings. The Society was incorporated under its present name in 1886.
When Katonah was threatened by the building of a dam in 1893, residents of old Katonah banded together to preserve their village. Members of KVIS launched a plan that literally moved its families and homes to the village’s present day site. Prior to the move to the new village site, chief concerns of the Society included maintaining library facilities and promoting cultural activities such as concerts, lectures, exhibitions and book fairs. For many years after the move, KVIS focused on the upkeep and beautification of “New Katonah” – the boulevarding on Bedford Road, on The Parkway and near the railroad depot, all on lands owned by the Katonah Land Company. The Town of Bedford took over maintenance in 1958, when it acquired these lands.
The Katonah Village Library and the Katonah Gallery, now the Museum of Art, were both early projects of KVIS. The Katonah Free Library was originally part of KVIS; however, the Katonah Village became a separate entity when New York State changed the way libraries were chartered. In 1954, the Society fathered a second organization, the Katonah Gallery, now the Katonah Museum of Art, which was chartered as an independent corporation in 1956. Other KVIS activities include support of the Katonah Village Library and the Community Center; building the town gazebo; providing benches; building and maintaining a community event board; publishing Katonah: The History of a New York Village and its People (McNaughton & Gunn, Inc., 1996) and a Historic Katonah Village Walking Tour; and organizing annual events including a Spring Cleanup and Plant Sale, Town Forum and Holiday and Halloween Festivities on the Bedford Road Boulevards.
Since its inception in 1878, the Katonah Village Improvement Society has been at the forefront of preserving the Village’s rich historical legacy. KVIS published Frances Duncombe’s Katonah: The History of a New York Village and its People and reprinted her children’s book, Cassie’s Village. More recently, the group successfully fought the attempt to trademark the Katonah name and spearheaded an effort to maintain the town’s unique character in the historic commercial district. KVIS participated in the Centennial commemoration of Katonah and helped organize festivities each subsequent decade with Cen10ial and Cen20ial celebrations.
page photo courtesy of The Record Review