Recognizable across generations and indisputable in its significance, the Armonk Eagle has proven to be a special symbol in the Town of North Castle dating back decades.
What began as a simple 12 foot by 40 foot structure that was only supposed to grace the town temporarily has become a landmark rich in history. The origin of the Armonk Eagle goes back to 1976, when the town was preparing for America’s 200th birthday.
The entire country was in a patriotic mood then, which made an eagle the perfect symbol to soar above North Castle during its parade that year, Christine Eggleton, North Castle Historical Society president, explained. Originally, it was only supposed to stick around for the bicentennial, but ended up having an extended stay and has been replaced more than once when the elements battered up the previous eagle, noted Eggleton.
When one town administration decades ago was considering taking the beloved eagle down, Eggletown told the supervisor back then he shouldn’t be surprised if there is staunch opposition to that idea. She was right.
“It turned out he must’ve asked a lot of people (about taking the eagle down) and people felt very strongly about the eagle,” Eggleton said.
It’s an unofficial, visual landmark in the town, Eggleton said. When people are giving directions to visitors, they’ll reference the eagle.
“You know you’re in Armonk when you see the eagle,” she said.
Town historian Sharon Tomback said creating the first Armonk eagle was a massive community effort that required several local volunteers, including and most notably residents Arthur Soka, Charles Elson and John Schnoor.
“You’re driving up Route 22 and there’s the flags flying, the lights on the flag on the eagle and it’s a sense of civic pride and patriotism and community all rolled into one,” Tomback said.
Troy Soka, whose father was Arthur Soka, said the original plan was to place the eagle along Route 120 where the bicentennial parade would take place and suspend it overhead, but that proposal was shot down by the state department of transportation, Soka said. The alternative spot was near the IMB property, on the corner of Route 120 and Route 22, which is where the eagle continues to fly today.
“(My father) always made a big deal about how if you drove on Route 22 from Kensico coming from North White Plains when you approach the eagle and get closer to it, it appears to rise up as if it was taking off,” Soka said.
The eagle had a lasting meaning for Arthur decades after it was built. Even after Arthur moved to Florida, he would occasionally ask Troy, a New York resident, if his eagle was still in Armonk. In fact, in the third sentence of Arthur’s 2010 obituary, it states his involvement with the Armonk eagle and a plaque in town commemorates him for his efforts.
Soka said it gratifies him to see that Armonk has embraced the eagle as “its symbol.”
“And now God forbid you took it down, it would be an uproar,” he added.
But in 2013, losing the eagle was a possibility when it was once again in disrepair and the town didn’t want to use taxpayer dollars to replace it, said former North Castle councilwoman Diane Roth.
When a Garden Club member went to put flowers under the eagle, she noticed a piece of the eagle’s wing broke off and was in the flowerpot. Roth worked to find potential private dollars to pay for it and eventually phoned The Engel Burman Group, which owns the Bristal Assisted Living Facility in town. Although the price tag was a hefty $25,000, the donation came through. For the first time, the eagle was made out of steel metal so it could last much longer than wooded predecessors.
“I think it’s one of the iconic symbols of North Castle and America,” Roth said. “Keeping a memory of our past strengthens our future.”
So iconic that eagle symbols are seen on the badges of the North Castle Police Department and the North Castle Beautification Committee has spearheaded putting them on street signs and welcome-to-town signs.
Armonk Chamber of Commerce President Neal Schwartz, who owns College Planning of Westchester in town, said the eagle is one of three symbols that defines North Castle: An apple, Frosty the Snowman and finally the eagle, which is an all-encompassing symbol for the entire town.
Beautification committee member Angela Monforte said the eagle welcomes visitors and residents alike to the community like a “town mascot.”
“It symbolizes small town living,” Monforte summed up.