Accident on the Van Cortlandt Bridge, 1911

Accident on the Van Cortlandt Bridge, 1911. Photograph courtesy of the Ossining Historical Society.

Accident on the Van Cortlandt Bridge, 1911. Photograph courtesy of the Ossining Historical Society.

In the summer of 1911 the rear wheels of a heavy truck broke through the wooden planks of the Van Cortlandt Bridge—the bridge that once carried the Albany Post Road across the Croton River. The accident took place on the Croton side of the bridge and you can see Van Cortlandt Manor through the trees on the right of this wonderful photograph, which comes to us courtesy of our friends at the Ossining Historical Society.

According to OHS president Norm MacDonald, the occupants of the truck can be seen on the left—David Miller (who appears to be looking at the person who took the photo) and with her back to us on his right, Aimee Marie Dyckman, the local woman he would marry six years later.

Miss Dyckman lived just north of Croton in Oscawana and she was related to the Dyckmans who once owned the magnificent Boscobel estate. (For those who don’t know this bittersweet part of local history, Boscobel was originally located where the FDR Veterans Administration Hospital is today—before it was slated for demolition, partially torn down, rescued, and moved and rebuilt at great expense where it is today.)1

The Van Cortlandt Bridge had a long history, dating back to 1860 when the Board of Supervisors of Westchester County was authorized “to construct a bridge at or near the mouth of Croton river.” Like all bridges on the Croton River during the 19th and early 20th centuries the Van Cortlandt Bridge suffered regular damage from storms, ice and spring freshets and it was repeatedly repaired and rebuilt.2

The invention of the automobile and truck presented new challenges for bridges which were not originally designed to carry such heavy loads. The truck shown in the photo appears to be a 2- to 3-ton model built by the American Locomotive Company of Providence, Rhode Island. The company manufactured one of the highest quality trucks during the period of 1909 to 1913.3 It’s not surprising that such a heavy truck would break through weathered wooden planks of a bridge built for lighter vehicles.

Detail showing David Miller and Aimee Marie Dyckman on the left and the repair crew using a fulcrum in an attempt to raise the rear tire of the 2- to 3-ton vehicle.

Detail showing David Miller and Aimee Marie Dyckman on the left and the repair crew using a fulcrum in an attempt to raise the rear tire of the 2- to 3-ton vehicle.

By the end of the summer of 1911 the Westchester County Board of Supervisors took action to fix the bridge and noted two incidents—one doubtlessly recorded by this photograph—when “the flooring of this bridge gave way.”

“It was ordered that bids for building a new floor and supports on the Van Cortlandt Bridge over the Croton River be advertised to be opened on September 11th next. The flooring of this bridge gave way on two occasions recently when the heavy auto vans tried to cross with extra heavy loads on.”4

Take a drive across the Van Cortlandt Bridge and learn more in this previous post:


  1. An excellent history/timeline of Boscobel can be found here. ↩︎
  2. Until at least 1871 the long bridge on the Ossining side was a drawbridge, to allow boats to sail up the lower Croton River. ↩︎
  3. For information about and images of American Locomotive Company trucks from 1909-1913 see here and here. ↩︎
  4. See “Supervisors in Long Session Transact a Lot of Important County Business,” New Rochelle Pioneer, August 12, 1911, page 3, here. ↩︎

Swimming at Croton Point, circa 1915

Croton Point Postcard_frontAs summer comes to a close, let’s take a look at this nice postcard of swimming at Croton Point, circa 1915. The card was published for “W.H. Noll, Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.” by Commercialchrome, a printer located in Cleveland, Ohio. The company operated from 1910-1920 and the white border on the front and divided back (with separate space for the message and address) means it was probably printed circa 1915.1

“W.H. Noll” is likely William H. Noll, proprietor of Bill’s Restaurant, once located at the intersection of South Riverside Avenue and Brook Street. According to his 1941 obituary in the Ossining Citizen-Register, he had lived in Croton for 29 years and had operated the restaurant for 25 years. His wife, Ella Munson Noll, died in 1931. At the time of his death he lived at 8 Hamilton Avenue in Croton.2


  1. A great resource for identifying postcard printers is metropostcard.com. ↩︎
  2. Ossining Citizen-Register, May 23, 1941, page 2 column 4. See here. ↩︎


Croton Point Postcard_back

Selling Today Like Hot Cakes!

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Detail from a promotional postcard for Harmon captioned “View of Benedict Boulevard, where it crosses Broadway.” Circa 1907.

One hundred and nine years ago this month lots in Harmon were “selling . . . like hot cakes,” according to an article in the May 24, 1907 issue of the Katonah Times.1

“One mile north of Ossining on the Hudson River there has sprung up a new town. Its name is Harmon. It was laid out a short time ago into village lots and they are selling to­ day like hot cakes. Although the first public announcement of the new property at Harmon was made only two weeks [ago], large crowds have been visiting the property every day.

A special excursion train, leaving the Grand Central Station . . . on Sunday, May 5, carried over five hundred people, of whom almost one fourth purchased property. The total sales for that day were 140 lots. If you desire to get any of this property you should visit it some week day and avoid the rush from New York. On Sunday, May 12, many more came up and lots were sold like hot cakes.

Clifford B. Harmon, of Wood, Har­mon & Co., who is planning this new city, did not expect to put it on the market until June 1st as the exten­sive improvements are only under way. But the public seems deter­mined not to wait for improvements or a formal opening of the property. Since its opening sales have been made to people from New Jersey, Brooklyn and all the river towns as far north as Albany.

A noteworthy feature of the ad­vance sale of lots at Harmon is the popularity of the section reserved for bungalows. This is located around a small lake on the property, which is fed by springs . . . This idea is a decided novelty in suburban development and it is proving very popular. A large number if these sites have already been sold, which indicates that there will be a large and substantial bungalow colony at Harmon this summer.

So much interest has been taken in this new Hudson River property, which is the first to be put on the market at moderate prices and the easy payment plan, that Wood, Harmon &. Company expect to have it entirely disposed of within a very short space of time.”

We suspect everything in this article was fed to a credulous reporter by the master salesman himself, but that only adds to its charm. As we’ve recounted in previous posts Clifford Harmon was a master of real estate marketing, who ran newspaper ads telling everyone that “All New York is Amazed!” at the “Quickest and Most Successful Real Estate Development in the History of New York.” He urged New Yorkers to “Think of Your Children,” growing up in “the Highest, Healthiest, Most Beautiful, Most Accessible, and Most Aristocratic Part of Westchester County.”

Harmon Sales Office

Early promotional post card for Harmon captioned “View of Benedict Boulevard, where it crosses Broadway.” Circa 1907.

Although we can’t really appreciate what visitors to the undeveloped land at Harmon thought in 1907, the promotional post card shown above is a revelation to Crotonites today. If you stand in the parking area of the Dairy Mart, looking down Benedict Boulevard at Vogue Spa & Nails (the original Harmon sales office), you can approximate the view shown in the post card.

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Detail from a promotional postcard for Harmon. Circa 1907.

Can you believe there was once a huge, flat, treeless field in front of you, going straight down Benedict Boulevard to the hilly area of Lexington, Sunset and Observatory Drives?


  1. “A New Village in Westchester County—Harmon,” The Katonah Times, May 24, 1907, page 2. ↩︎

Blacksmiths at the New Croton Dam, 1895

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Blacksmiths at the New Croton Dam, September, 1895. Courtesy of the Ossining Historical Society.

Among the many treasures of the Ossining Historical Society Museum is a substantial collection of photographs and other material about the Old Croton Aqueduct. During a visit last week, curator Norm MacDonald showed us some recently donated material that included two rare photographs of blacksmiths at the New Croton Dam taken in September, 1895. Although there are probably thousands of photographs of the dam under construction, there’s a real dearth of images of the workers, their living quarters, and day-to-day life.

Many thanks to Norm and OHSM for letting us share these striking images.

To learn more about the Ossining Historical Society Museum visit their website and watch this video of Norm discussing the collection (and why Ossining was featured on the television show Mad Men).

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Blacksmiths at the New Croton Dam, September, 1895. Courtesy of the Ossining Historical Society.

The Ghost Fleet, 1946-1947

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, December 14, 1947. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, December 14, 1947. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

Here are some dramatic aerial photos of what locals call the Ghost Fleet, taken soon after the ships were moved north from Tarrytown to Jones Point (at one time known as Caldwell’s Landing) at the foot of Dunderberg Mountain. The anchorage remained at that location until the last two ships were towed away on July 8, 1971, to be sold for scrap to Spain.

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, December 14, 1947. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, December 14, 1947. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

The fleet, officially known as the Hudson River National Defense Fleet and the Hudson River Reserve Fleet, was established by an act of Congress in 1946 “to provide a sizable group of merchant ships to support the military effort at the outset of any war.”1 According to an article published in the journal of the Rockland County Historical Society in 1972 (adapted online here):

“When foreign nations at the outbreak of World War I had diverted their ships for wartime service, the small American Merchant Marine fleet was unable to transport even 10 per cent of normal foreign exports. Docks in major ports were stocked high with products of American farms and factories for which no ships were available. When foreign vessels were again available, their rates were ruinous. . . .

The fleet was at its peak with 189 ships in July of 1965. Anchored in ten rows, it extended from the fleet office at the Jones Point dock several miles to the south—to the Lovett Orange and Rockland Power Plant and the Boulderberg House at Tomkins Cove. Several viewing points were established along Route 9W for the hundreds of motorists who stopped daily to look at the ships.

During the Korean War, a total of 130 ships were taken from the Hudson River fleet leaving only 39 ships. During the Suez Crises in 1956, 35 ships were put back into service when British and French ships were diverted from trade routes to supply their nations’ armed forces. The Vietnam War required more than 40 ships.

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1953 needed storage space for large volumes of government-owned wheat, it turned to the Hudson River Reserve fleet. During the following ten years more than 53,563,948 bushels of wheat were loaded into 231 ships. Approximately 255,000 bushels of wheat were stored in each ship with the number of ships carrying wheat at any given time ranging from 70 to 90. The last ship was unloaded in 1963. Ships that had stored wheat rose about twelve feet higher above the water surface and exposed a bright orange band of rust.

A ventilation system had been installed in the ships, making it possible to maintain the quality of the wheat for long periods of storage. This saved the U.S. government some five million dollars on commercial storage estimates. None of the grain, sold to foreign countries in the 1960s, was found to be spoiled when unloaded. . . .

The ships were kept in condition . . . by a crew of 86 men under the supervision of Charles R. Gindroz of Pearl River, fleet superintendent and one-time chief engineer on the George Washington, the ship which years before had carried President Woodrow Wilson to France and in 1950 burned at Baltimore.

The reserve fleet ships, valued at over $255 million, had their machinery turned over periodically and their internal surfaces sprayed with a coat of preservative oil on a regular basis. Electrical equipment, such as generators and motor wiring, were cleaned and coated with a fungus-retarding varnish. All loose scale and rust were water-blasted off decks, hulls and superstructures. Then the entire outside of the ships was sprayed with a gray-tinted preservative oil. This was done at least once a year on each ship. The underwater portion of the hull was protected by means of an electric current, a method known as cathodic protection . . . preventing corrosion from taking place.”

The images shown here come from a large collection of aerial photos at the New York State Archives, which has been scanned and made available online.

These specific photos must be missing identifying information other than dates because they all have vague descriptions like “Multiple boats in the water in an unknown location, possibly in the Hudson River.”

This archival mystery about the fabled Ghost Fleet is fitting because Dunderberg Mountain and Caldwell’s Landing have long been associated with ghosts, goblins and Captain Kidd’s treasure.

We will have much more to say about those legends in a future post. . . .


  1. Quote from the online adaptation of the article by article by Scott Webber from South of the Mountains, the journal of the Rockland County Historical Society, Vol. 16, No. 2, April-June 1972. ↩︎
The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, June 10, 1946. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, June 10, 1946. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

Niagara Falls by Man’s Own Hand

Photograph by Underwood & Underwood, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Photograph by Underwood & Underwood, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This photograph of the New Croton Dam was published in the “Rotogravure Picture Section” of the Sunday, December 14, 1919 issue of the New York Times with the caption:

Niagara Falls by Man’s Own Hand: For the first time in fourteen years water is flowing over the huge dam of the Croton Reservoir at the estimated rate of 2,000,000,000 gallons a day, the vast tide dropping to the Croton River, 150 feet below.

The photo was taken by Underwood & Underwood, a pioneer in the field of news bureau photography.

The Hoity-Toitiest Spot Extant

Postcard, circa 1918, when the Nikko Inn was known as the Harmon Country Club.

Postcard, circa 1918, when the Nikko Inn was known as the Harmon Country Club. Courtesy of Carl Oechsner.

In the June 18, 1931 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, arts and entertainment writer Rian James1 used his column to promote the 8th edition of his vest-pocket Gadabout Guide to New York’s most unusual Restaurants, Night Clubs, Roadhouses.

The “Wide-Open Spaces Department” of his column gives us a flavor of life on the roads during the Depression (when, as James puts it, “the man in the streets . . . lost his stocks and socks”) and a priceless description of the Nikko Inn in the 1930s.

“If you like the wide open spaces, and you don’t mind spending the better part of your life sitting in traffic—the open-road houses beckon to you shut-ins to come out to play—and pay! We know all about the open road and open road houses, because we have devoted nearly a whole month out of our life to finding out things. The roads are good, and crowded; the road-houses are good and not nearly crowded, and judging by the numbers of automobiles that scrape the varnish off your left fender, you’d hardly know there was a depression. 2

The thing that drives home the fact that there is a depression is the way the drivers of smaller cars hang grimly onto their steering wheels. They hang onto their steering wheels with two hands . . . just as though at any moment now a big, burly traffic cop would come up and attempt to wrest their prize plaything right out of their grasp.”

After reviewing road houses in New York City, Long Island, the Bronx and lower Westchester, James concludes his column with this pithy description:

“Nikko Inn, at Harmon-on-the-Hudson (all with hyphens), which is the hoity-toitiest spot extant, providing you’ve got girl, and there’s enough moon. You can play around here in a canoe until dinner’s ready. And if this summary sounds a little hasty, or sketchy, or something, remember that it’s the best we can do considering the roads. And have a nice time!”

Canoe on the Croton River, south of the Nikko Inn. The Nikko can be seen on the cliff in the upper right. Courtesy of the Westchester County Historical Society.

Canoe on the Croton River, south of the Nikko Inn. The Nikko can be seen on the cliff in the upper right. Courtesy of the Westchester County Historical Society.


  1. According to Wikipedia Rian James must have had quite a life. “A ‘Jack of all trades’, James was a columnist covering arts and entertainment for the Brooklyn Eagle from about 1928 to 1935. He later was a foreign correspondent, parachute jumper, stunt man, airmail pilot, Air Force lieutenant, vaudeville actor, and finally, writer, director and producer.” ↩︎
  2. All quotations are from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 30, 1931, page 21, columns 1 and 2. See here. ↩︎