John Quincy Adams Sends His Regrets

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams

On October 11, 1842 former President John Quincy Adams realized he had neglected to respond—several times—to an invitation to be an honored guest at the Croton Water Celebration. In his diary he wrote,

“. . . on turning over my letters recently received, to endorse and file them, I found one which I had totally forgotten, from . . . New York . . . inviting me to a festival to be held on the 14th of this month, in celebration of the introduction of the Croton water into the city. There was on the note a twice-repeated request for an answer, which I had overlooked till now. I answered the letter, declining the invitation, and sent [my reply] . . . so that it may reach New York on Thursday, the day before the feast.”1

Many important dignitaries were invited to the great Croton Water Celebration, but contrary to some books and a number of online sources (including—perhaps not surprisingly—Wikipedia2), former Presidents John Quincy Adams and Martin van Buren, then-President John Tyler, and Governor of New York William H. Seward did not attend. [UPDATE: We have corrected the error on Wikipedia. Depending on whether our changes are accepted the error may or may not still be present.]

It’s difficult to determine how this error crept into the historical record.

The contemporary newspaper accounts of the event exhaustively list every participating fire department, trade organization, temperance society, and civic official but say nothing of the President of the United States, two former Presidents and the Governor of New York. It seems unlikely—though not impossible—that newspapers published within days of the celebration would have missed these historic figures.

A year later Charles King even published the letters of regret from all four men in his book, A memoir of the construction, cost, and capacity of the Croton Aqueduct . . . together with an account of the civic celebration of the fourteenth October, 1842 . . .3

The President of the United States sends his regrets.

The President of the United States sends his regrets.

King has a long section of replies to invitations to the Croton Water Celebration. One of the most interesting appears long after the letters from officials like the Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller and Attorney General of the State of New York; after letters from diplomats like the Counsels of Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Greece—even after the letters from the mayors of cities like Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Troy.

Writing from Peekskill on October 8, 1842, Pierre Van Cortlandt, Jr. replied,

”I have this day received your polite invitation from the Common Council of the city of New York, to join with them on the 14th instant, to celebrate the introduction of the Croton water into the City of New York. With pleasure I accept your invitation, and will be in New York at the time appointed.”4

If anyone at that time had a plausible claim to the water from the Croton River it was Pierre Van Cortlandt, Jr. Indeed, the Van Cortlandt family had engaged in extended litigation against the Croton Water Commissioners over the diversion of water.5 Even if he had come to accept New York City’s diversion there was the matter of the Great Freshet of 1841, when part of the Croton Dam gave way. The torrent of water and debris destroyed bridges and businesses, silted out the mouth of the Croton River and is said to have come within 8 feet of destroying Van Cortlandt Manor.6

The Old Croton Dam after reconstruction.

The Old Croton Dam after reconstruction.

Did Van Cortlandt actually attend? What did he really think of the great event? Unfortunately his published correspondence contains just three letters from 1842 and none of them mention the Croton Water Celebration.


  1. Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848, compiled by Charles Francis Adams. Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott & Co., 1876. Volume 11.
  2. The current Wikipedia article for the Croton Aqueduct states “Among those present were then-President of the United States John Tyler, former presidents John Quincy Adams and Martin van Buren, and Governor of New York William H. Seward.” See here.
  3. A memoir of the construction, cost, and capacity of the Croton Aqueduct . . . together with an account of the civic celebration of the fourteenth October, 1842, on occasion of the completion of the great work . . . by Charles King. New York, Printed by C. King, 1843.
  4. Ibid.
  5. See Correspondence of the Van Cortlandt Family of Cortlandt Manor, 1815-1848, compiled and edited by Jacob Judd. Volume IV, pages 291-292.
  6. For more on the Great Freshet of 1841 see here.

October 14, 1842 – “Thousands to celebrate the Croton Dam and fresh water for NYC”

mcheshire:

A first-person account of the Croton Water Celebration from the diary of Julia Lawrence Hasbrouck. “It was a happy day for New.York, as now she stands a “queen city” with her beautifull Fountains, and pure transparent water, her delighted sons and daughters have reason to be proud of her now.”

Originally posted on :

061_Page 59Friday 14. tenth. October. 1842.

A beautifull day for the celebration of the Croton croton-water-sheet-music_detail3water Works.

Every one was in commotion to.day, the whole city were on the move; and thousands of country people came flocking to see the procession. The stores were closed, bells ringing, soldiers marching, societys forming, and every one putting on their best faces to witness the novel scene.
At eleven Garret, the children, Bridget and myself went up to Mrs Anelli’s. They received us very politely, giveing us their small bed-room to ourselves. We had a fine view of the parade and were not exposed to the air. The procession, equalled my expectations, and was a handsome affair; every thing was so bright and neat, the very houses shone like silver.
The fire companies were very conspicuous for taste in their decorations. It was supposed the number of persons in procession, were about 20.000.croton
The streets…

View original 227 more words

Croton’s Waves in All Their Glory

Today is the 172nd anniversary of the Croton Water Celebration, when what we now call the Old Croton Aqueduct opened to public use on October 14, 1842. The day-long celebration included a massive seven-mile-long parade, songs written and performed for the occasion, and culminated in jets of pure, sparkling water rising fifty feet in the air from the Croton Fountain in City Hall Park.1

To celebrate the anniversary we’ve assembled a group of artifacts produced to commemorate that great day. Some have appeared in previous posts and others are featured here for the first time.

Click the first image to start the slideshow (and don’t miss the list of previous posts about the Croton Water Celebration at the bottom of the page).

Previous posts about the Croton Water Celebration:

If you’re interested in seeing the sheet music shown in the slideshow here are links:


  1. The title of this post is from the official song, written by George Pope Morris. It’s one of the few good lines from an otherwise unmemorable work.

Harmon, the New City

Surveyors working along the tracks at the Harmon Shops, circa 1906. Courtesy of Carl Oechsner.

Surveyors working along the tracks at the Harmon Shops, circa 1906.
Courtesy of Carl Oechsner. Click the image to enlarge it.

Sometimes what’s most interesting about an old photograph is a tiny detail, not necessarily the main image itself. This photo is a perfect example.

In the foreground we see two surveyors, working along the tracks at the Harmon Shops, circa 1906.

Behind them—hard to make out because of the damage to the print—are some workmen leaning nonchalantly on a wooden railing.

Harmon-Sign-Detail-Men

But in the background, on the hill, if you look closely you can see what master salesman Clifford B. Harmon wanted everyone riding the Hudson River line to see—his sign for “Harmon, the New City” which he modestly called “the most important and extensive suburban development in the history of New York.”

Harmon Sign Detail

Below are links to some previous posts about Harmon’s innovative marketing campaign, but before we get to that there’s another significant detail in the photo.

Sand dune at the Harmon Shops construction site, circa 1906.

Sand dune at the Harmon Shops construction site, circa 1906.

Behind the bridge on the left you can clearly see an exposed sand dune in the area where the upper parking lot is today. Although it looks like an isolated feature it’s not. The flat land for the entire Harmon Shops facility was created over a period of almost a century by removing a massive amount of sand and gravel which once formed the “neck” of Croton Point.

For another view of what was still left of the “neck” take a look at the first photo in this post. See the sand dune behind the Harmon Shops? Most of that land is gone today.

Here are the links to previous posts about marketing Harmon. Many thanks to Carl Oechsner for sharing this rare photograph.

Harmon Shops of the New York Central Railroad

Harmon Shops looking southeast, 1914.

Harmon Shops looking southeast, 1914.

Here are some photos of the “Harmon Shops” in 1907, when they were brand new, and in 1914, when they became the terminus of the innovative “electric system” from New York City—one of the main selling points for Clifford Harmon’s real estate development.

Harmon Shops looking south, 1907.

Harmon Shops looking south, 1907.

The photos come from articles in two industry publications—the Street Railway Journal and the Electric Railway Journal—which describe the facility in great detail and include maps, schematic drawings, and additional photos. Click the links below to read them. You can also click the photos to enlarge them.

Interior view of the machine shop, 1914.

Interior view of the machine shop, 1914.

  • “The Electrical Maintenance Plants of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Company,” Street Railway Journal, vol. XXIX, June 8, 1907.
  • “Harmon Shops of the New York Central Railroad,” Electric Railway Journal, vol. XLIII, June 6, 1914.
Harmon Shops looking north, with the inspection shed in the foreground, 1907.

Harmon Shops looking north, with the inspection shed in the foreground, 1907.

Harmon Yards car shop, 1907.

Harmon car shop, 1907.

Bethel Cemetery Gateway

The gateway to Bethel Chapel and Cemetery, circa 1860-1870. This image has been manipulated in Photoshop to make it lighter. The unretouched image is below.

The gateway to Bethel Chapel and Cemetery, circa 1860-1870.
This image has been manipulated in Photoshop to make it lighter. The unretouched image is below.

This is the second in a series of rare 19th century images of Croton, selected from a collection that Croton filmmaker, journalist and history-buff Ken Sargeant photographed many years ago at the Ossining Historical Society. To see the first installment click here.

Bethel Cemetery Gateway, circa 1860-1870

Although you’d never guess it from looking at the driveway on Old Albany Post Road, during the time of the Civil War worshippers and mourners visiting Bethel Cemetery and Chapel would have entered the property through this quaint wooden gateway. The dirt road in the photograph follows the same path up the hill as the driveway does today and a number of the gravestones, particularly the two obelisks, are easily spotted.

The photograph was most likely taken circa 1860 to 1870, but the property (which was smaller then than it is today) had a fence around it since at least 1831. In the Codicil to the Will of Philip Van Cortlandt wherein he bequeathed, “all that piece or parcel of Land . . . whereas the Methodist Meeting House now stands . . . to be used for a burying place for the Inhabitants of the Neighborhood, and the Meeting House for a Place of Public Worship under the direction of the Methodist Congregation . . .” he did so with the stipulation that the “Meeting House and the Fences are kept in good Order and Repair.” (emphasis added).1

If you’d like to see the interior of the historic chapel2 you can attend Sunday service tomorrow, August 31, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

For a fascinating look at the gravestones see The Graven Images of Bethel Cemetery by Carl Oechsner and Howie Meyers at the Croton Friends of History website.

Coming next: A photograph of the tiny strip of land which once connected Croton Point to the mainland—long before landfill and the county dump altered the landscape forever.


  1. See the Codicil dated January 18, 1831 to the Will of Philip Van Cortlandt in Correspondence of the Van Cortlandt Family, volume III, pages 213-214.
  2. Both Bethel Chapel and Cemetery and the nearby Asbury United Methodist Church are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Detail adjusted to bring out the lettering on the wooden entrance gate archway.

Detail adjusted to bring out the lettering on the wooden arch.


Unretouched image of the entrance gate to Bethel Cemetery.

Unretouched image of the entrance gate to Bethel Cemetery. Although we have not seen the original photograph at the Ossining Historical Society, the image provided by Ken Sargeant appears to be a tintype, which enjoyed their widest use during the 1860s and 1870s.

Croton’s First Train Station

Croton's first train station, circa 1849-1850.

Croton’s first train station, circa 1849.

Croton filmmaker, journalist and history-buff Ken Sargeant has shared with us a disk of images he acquired many years ago when he was doing some work with the late Roberta Arminio at the the Ossining Historical Society. Ms. Arminio was a long-time director of the OHS, as well as the Ossining town and village historian.

We’ve selected a few rare 19th century images of Croton from Ken’s cache and are pleased to present the first in the series, courtesy of the Ossining Historical Society.

Croton’s First Train Station, circa 1849

This is a very early photograph—possibly the earliest—of the first train station in what was then called Croton Landing. The station was built in 1849 and was located on the river side of the tracks, across from the intersection of today’s North Riverside Avenue and Grand Street (then called River Street and Lower Landing Road, respectively).

There is a different photograph of this station in the Croton Historical Society’s Images of America book—which you can order here or purchase at the CHS office in the Municipal Building—but it was taken from the opposite side of the building and appears to be a later image.

What’s significant about this photograph is that it shows the shore of the Hudson River before it was greatly extended with landfill and also nicely juxtaposes the old and new modes of transportation.

Below is a detail of the area from a map of the property of Phillip G. Van Wyck.1 The map helps approximate the age of the photo because it shows landfill and buildings on the river side of the station which don’t appear in the photograph. The map is dated 1850, making it likely that the photograph dates from 1849, the year the station was constructed.

Detail from an 1850 map of the property of Phillip G. Van Wyck in Croton. The road on the right is today's Grand Street, then called Lower Landing Road.

Detail from an 1850 map of the property of Phillip G. Van Wyck in Croton.
The road on the right is today’s Grand Street, then called Lower Landing Road.

Coming next: A photograph of the ornamental wooden arch and gate that once greeted worshippers and mourners visiting Bethel Cemetery.


  1. For more on the Van Wyck map, see this previous post.