New Croton Dam Construction, circa 1902

Mr. John Fish at the New Croton Dam, circa 1902

Mr. John Fish at the New Croton Dam, circa 1902

We recently acquired a great set of photographs showing the New Croton Dam under construction. The images are particularly exciting because they include some rare views of the construction site and one of the soon-to-be submerged Old Croton Dam. Based on the state of completion of the dam we think these were taken circa 1902.1

The images appear to document a visit to the site by “Mr. John Fish,” who can be seen in several photographs. Who was Mr. Fish and why was his visit photographed? Why were the photos laboriously labelled on the negatives when a simple inscription on the back of the print or on a scrapbook page would have sufficed?2

We don’t know. We speculate that Fish may have been involved in the construction as a subcontractor but so far a search of online and offline sources has turned up nothing. If you have any information please send us an email.

The scanned images below have been adjusted in Photoshop to increase contrast and bring out details. The actual prints are lighter, either due to age, overexposure when the photos were taken or printed—or both. We have cropped and enlarged sections of the images to bring out glorious details.

Click the first photo to enlarge it and then click the arrow icons to cycle through the images.


  1. Many thanks to Tom Tarnowsky, Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct, and Carl Oechsner, Croton Friends of History, for their help in analyzing these photographs. ↩︎
  2. The text labels in the photos were added to the negatives in the darkroom so they would appear on every print. To be readable when the images were printed the labels needed to be written or applied in reverse—a tricky thing to do in a darkroom—which is why some of the letters are incorrectly reversed on the prints. Because the text labels in several of the photos are cut off it appears these prints were trimmed down, though it could also have been a mistake when the images were printed. None of the prints have inscriptions on the back and the seller was unable to provide any additional information. ↩︎

If You Follow the Road to Harmon, You Surely Can’t go Wrong

Nikko Inn Card front

Here’s a real treat—a double-fold promotional postcard for the Nikko Tea House, probably printed circa 1907 to 1910.1 An artist with the initials “W.K.” created the beautiful images and hand-lettered the map and poem on the centerfold.

The map has a wonderful depiction of the Nikko and helpfully provides the location of “police traps” on the roads in Westchester. The lines indicating the Hudson River along the left cleverly become strings for Japanese lanterns at the bottom.

Nikko Inn Card center

We can thank C.K. Nazu, who was manager of the Nikko at the time, for this wonderful ode to Harmon:

Nikko Card Detail
Of Harmon on the Hudson
You surely must have heard,
But if you’ll give attention
I should like a word,

About the Nikko Tea House,
One the wooded Croton’s brink,
The situation picturesque;
The food is fine we think;

So get a horse or motor car,
And bring your friends along;
If you follow the road to Harmon,
You surely can’t go wrong.

Here are a few previous posts about the Nikko Tea House:

  • C.K. Nazu is listed as the manager in this 1908 ad (though the last name is spelled “Nezu”).
  • Another clever bit of promotion from 1917, when the Nikko was called the “Nikko Inn.”
  • One of our favorite Nikko stories by a New York journalist who stopped for some “skiyaki” in 1931.

To see all the posts about the Nikko click the “Nikko Inn” tag in the right hand column.

If you have any vintage photographs or ephemera of the Nikko or the early days of Harmon please send an email.


  1. Local postcard expert Susan Hack-Lane, who helped date the card, pointed out the names written on the front, Nellie L. Beach and Billy Beach. Beach was a Peekskill family name (Beach Shopping Center) which may explain why this card was never mailed. ↩︎

Drive to the New Croton Dam, 1913

New Croton Dam, May 13, 1913. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

New Croton Dam, May 13, 1913. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

In 1913 the Overman Tire Company in New York City ran a test to demonstrate “the ability of Overman cushion tires to withstand the abuse to which tires ordinarily are subjected by the average driver.” A National touring car was outfitted with a set of Overman cushion tires and driven over different routes and road surfaces within a 50 mile radius of New York City.1

New Croton Dam, May 13, 1913. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

New Croton Dam, May 13, 1913. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

Luckily for us the route went by the New Croton Dam, there was a photographer along to record the trip, and the entire collection of 342 photos is available online courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

Bridge below the New Croton Dam, May 13, 1913. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

Bridge below the New Croton Dam, May 13, 1913. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

A number of other photos were taken the same day but unfortunately most show the car on unidentifiable country roads. One exception is an image taken at the Croton Lake Station of the “Old Put”—the New York Central Railroad, Putnam Division—shown below.2


  1. The company was located at 250 West 54th Street in New York City. The quote is from the June 26, 1913 issue of Motor World. See here.
  2. Located along today’s Saw Mill River Road, Route 118.
Croton Lake Station of the New York Central Railroad, Putnam Division. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

Croton Lake Station of the New York Central Railroad, Putnam Division. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

Croton-on-Hudson Phone Directory, 1938

Pages from the 1938 Croton-on-Hudson phone directory. Courtesy of Carl Oechsner.

Pages from the 1938 Croton-on-Hudson phone directory. Courtesy of Carl Oechsner.

Thanks to our friend Carl Oechsner we were able to get our hands on a copy of the 1938 Croton-on-Hudson phone directory.1 The plan was to scan some of the ads like the ones for the Mikado Inn, Konco’s Garage, and Robbins Pharmacy shown below. But when we looked closer and saw listings for well-known Crotonites like Max Eastman, Margaret Mayo, and Miss Carrie E. Tompkins we decided to scan every page, run the images through an optical character recognition program, and post a searchable PDF on Google Docs. To see the PDF click here.

Do you have any early Croton phone directories or other Croton ephemera? We would love to scan other early directories, photographs of the village or similar material. If you have something you would like to share send us an email by clicking here.

Ad for the Mikado Inn from the 1938 Croton-on-Hudson phone directory.

Ad for the Mikado Inn from the 1938 Croton-on-Hudson phone directory.


Ad for Konco's Garage from the 1938 Croton-on-Hudson phone directory.

Ad for Konco’s Garage from the 1938 Croton-on-Hudson phone directory.


Ad for Robbins Pharmacy from the 1938 Croton-on-Hudson phone directory.

Ad for Robbins Pharmacy from the 1938 Croton-on-Hudson phone directory.


  1. Carl’s copy is missing the covers, which is why the first page is numbered 3.

Celebrating High Bridge

High Bridge puzzle, published by E. G. Selchow & Co., circa 1867-1880

High Bridge puzzle, published by E. G. Selchow & Co., circa 1867-1880

High Bridge is one of the greatest feats of early American engineering and New York City’s oldest standing bridge. A key part of what we now call the Old Croton Aqueduct, the bridge once carried water across the Harlem River into Manhattan. Although it was built to support large water pipes, it was open to pedestrians and soon after completion in 1848 the bridge became a hugely popular public promenade—thronged by visitors enjoying the views—and a favorite subject for artists and photographers.

After more than 20 years of planning and fundraising by a diverse coalition of organizations High Bridge has been reopened.

To celebrate we’ve assembled a group of images including one of John B. Jervis’s original engineering drawings, 19th century prints and stereoviews, works of art inspired by the bridge, a children’s puzzle and more.

You can learn more about this historic landmark—and plan a visit—here.

Click the images below to enlarge them.

Croton’s Old Post Road Inn, 1890

Illustrated title of C. Hills Warren's article.

Illustrated title of C. Hills Warren’s article.

In January, 1890, Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly published an article by C. Hills Warren that looked back nostalgically at the history of the Albany Post Road.1 By that time the importance of the road—once the only major route for stage coaches running from New York City to Albany—had long since been eclipsed by steam boats and trains.

“It was not so very long ago when the stages ran between New York and Albany,” Warren wrote. “The introduction of steam-boat navigation on the Hudson restricted stage travel to the Winter months; then the Hudson River Railroad was built to Peekskill in 1849, shortening the stage route to that point; and when two years later, the road was opened to Albany, the stages were withdrawn.”

So Warren sets out from New York City to revisit the historic places along on the fabled road, noting how the “broad fields and well-kept orchards that lined the highway” in northern Manhattan “have been cut up by streets and built upon” and the “cozy farm-houses and suburban villas . . . like the Jumel and Hamilton mansions stand hemmed in by solid blocks of brick and stone.”

Along the way he visits Tarrytown and recounts the history of the Dutch Church and Old Mill in Sleepy Hollow and the capture of Major André. When he gets to Croton he makes “a call” at Van Cortlandt Manor—“one of the pleasantest incidents of my journey”—and enjoys the hospitality of James Stevenson Van Cortlandt, his widowed mother and sister.

Van Cortlandt Manor in 1890.

Van Cortlandt Manor in 1890.

“All the country hereabout is historic ground,” he notes, “the scenery of the Hudson Valley is beautiful, and this happy blending of the historical with the picturesque made a tramp over the old road . . . throughly enjoyable.”

The story he tells about the history of the Van Cortlandt family and the manor house is unremarkable, but as he continues on his journey he gives us a rare treat—a vivid description of the “quiet hamlet” of Croton in 1890 and the Old Post Inn, once located on today’s Grand Street, across from the Holy Name of Mary Church.

The Old Post Road Inn in 1890.

The Old Post Road Inn in 1890.

What’s particularly interesting about his account is the depiction of the upper village as a byway, with grass growing in the road because a new street had “been cut through the bluff down by the river.” Seventy-seven years later all of Croton became a byway when the construction of Route 9 destroyed the village’s waterfront along the west side of Riverside Avenue.

"There is little of the inn left about the old house now. The grass is growing in the road before the door."

“There is little of the inn left about the old house now. The grass is growing in the road before the door.”

Let’s listen to C. Hills Warren as he takes us back to Croton in 1890.

“Croton is a quiet hamlet, whose inhabitants have been for several generations industriously digging up the fields and pressing the soil into bricks, until it looks as though the place had stood a siege, and the enemy had exploded mines all round its borders. Here I found the first post-house. It is a two-story wooden structure, somewhat the worse for wear, with a double piazza running the whole length of the front, in the style popular with builders of country taverns in the last century. A wide hall from the front door to the kitchen in the rear, and doors open from it to the sitting-room on right and the bar-room opposite.

A postcard of the Old Post Road Inn before it burned down. The brick building on the left is still there—the Cornelia Cotton Gallery is on the bottom floor.

A postcard of the Old Post Road Inn before it burned down. The brick building on the left is still there—the Cornelia Cotton Gallery is on the bottom floor.

It is the home of Miss Susan McCord, a pleasant-voiced spinster, who was born there; and remembers well when the stages used to roll to the door and hungry guests came trooping the dining-room to partake of her father’s fare. He was a popular innkeeper, and when, one stormy Winter’s day, a party of legislators, their way to Albany, were unable to go farther through the drifts, he made them so comfortable over night that they resumed their journey with reluctance. There is little of the inn left about the old house now. The grass is growing in the road before the door; for a new street has been cut through the bluff down by the river, and even the line of telegraph-poles that follows the post-road through most of its windings deserts it here for the more direct route of its rival.”

Location of the Old Post Inn today.

Location of the Old Post Inn today.


  1. See Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, January, 1890, here.

The Mystery of the Underhill Medal

Front of the silver medal awarded to R.T. Underhill in 1847.

Front of the silver medal awarded to R.T. Underhill in 1847.

How did a silver medal from 1847, awarded to R.T. Underhill for the grapes he grew on Croton Point, end up buried in a garden on Long Island? That’s what reader Mike S. wants to know.

“Many years ago, possibly 25 or so,” he writes, “my grandfather was turning his garden in Shirley, New York. He heard a loud bang, and quickly shut off the rototiller to see what it was. After a moment of searching he found a large piece of metal. He cleaned it off, gave it to me, and told me it was a lucky charm.”

For Mike, his treasured “lucky charm” has become something of an obsession.

  • Who was R.T. Underhill?
  • What was the American Institute, the organization that awarded the medal?
  • Why is “R. Lovett” stamped along the bottom of the front side?
  • How did the medal get buried in his grandfather’s garden?

We can answer all his questions—except the last one.

Back of the silver medal awarded to R.T. Underhill in 1847 "for choice specimens of Isabella & Catawba grapes.".

Back of the silver medal awarded to R.T. Underhill in 1847 “for choice specimens of Isabella & Catawba grapes.”

The Grape King of Croton Point

As readers of this blog know, Richard T. Underhill was the “Grape King,” who built the first commercial winery in the United States on Croton Point. He began his vineyard by planting European varieties of grapes he purchased in Brooklyn from André Parmentier, a wealthy, educated Belgian who came to America to escape the French Revolution and started a nursery that included a vineyard. At first Parmentier sold only European grapes, but it turned out that they did not grow well in New York.

According to U.P. Hedrick’s authorative book, The Grapes of New York, Parmentier later added “the two American varieties, Catawba and Isabella, which were then becoming popular.”

Detail from “Gathering Grapes—An October Scene on the Hudson,” a wood engraving published in Harper's Weekly. The image depicts the Underhill vineyard in 1867.

Detail from “Gathering Grapes—An October Scene on the Hudson,” a wood engraving published in Harper’s Weekly. The image depicts the Underhill vineyard in 1867.

Underhill’s first batch of European varieties had died, but Hedrick says that Underhill “had been fired with a consuming desire to grow grapes. In 1827 he began planting Catawbas and Isabellas. This vineyard of American grapes grew until it covered 75 acres, the product of which was sold in New York City. This was the first large vineyard in the country.”

View of one of the American Institute's fairs from Harper's magazine.

View of one of the American Institute’s fairs from Harper’s magazine.

The American Institute

The American Institute of the City of New York (also known as the American Institute of the City of New York for the Encouragement of Science and Invention) was founded in New York on February 19, 1828, to encourage and promote “domestic industry in this State, and the United States, in Agriculture, Commerce, Manufacturing and the Arts, and any improvements made therein.” It attempted to fulfill that task by two means: first, by organizing annual fairs at which prizes were awarded to outstanding artisans and inventors, and second, by actively promoting government policies that would encourage and protect domestic manufacturing, agriculture, and commerce.

R. T. Underhill was a leading member of the Institute and the 1847 silver medal is one of many awards he and his brother, William A. Underhill, won over the years for their grapes, plums and quinces. 1

The Institute’s annual report gives us an idea of the size and scope of the 1847 fair. “The fair was opened to the public at Castle Garden on the 6th day of October, and closed on the 23rd. The exhibition consisted of productions from 2,194 contributors in almost every department of manufactures, the mechanic arts and horticultural production. The whole consisting of more than 20,000 articles . . . For about three weeks the place of exhibition is the centre of attraction for this city, the neighboring cities, and throughout our country, to distances almost incredible; crowds are continually flocking here to witness the grand display, which embraces the products of all occupations and the whole industrial community.”2

Robert Lovett, Engraver

The medal awarded to Underhill was designed by Robert Lovett, Sr., the patriarch of a family of famous engravers. He was born on March 19, 1796, and grew up in a quiet New York City neighborhood in an area now covered by the western end of the Brooklyn Bridge. After a brief military service during the War of 1812 he apprenticed in the shop of master stone seal engraver Thomas Brown.

Advertisment from Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, [Philadelphia], January 15, 1818.

Advertisment from Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, [Philadelphia], January 15, 1818.

By 1816 he had married and moved to Philadelphia to set up his own engraving business, specializing in dies and seals. By 1824 Lovett was back in New York City, where he set up shop at 249 Broadway. “His shop location moved several times over the years,” according to Lovett expert and collector Baldwin, “but he stayed in New York City until his death on December 31, 1874, just six hours after the passing of his wife of 60 years.”

Lovett has another Croton connection—he designed the medal produced for the Croton Water Celebration, when what we now call the Old Croton Aqueduct opened to public use on October 14, 1842. See an example of that medal here.

A Mystery

How did the medal end up buried on Long Island? The Underhills do have deep roots there. Capt. John Underhill (1608/9-1672), the founder of the oldest and largest Underhill family in the U. S. and Canada, lived at various times in Flushing, Southold, Setauket and Oyster Bay. One can speculate that perhaps an Underhill relative had once lived in Mike’s grandfather’s house. Whatever the case it’s great to be able to share this medal with our readers.

For more information on the Underhill vineyards, see these previous posts:


  1. See Underhill’s obituary in the Proceedings of the American Pomological Society, 1871.
  2. See the Sixth Annual Report of the American Institute of the City of New-York, 1848.