If you want to introduce kids to Croton’s agricultural heritage, take them to Thompson’s Cider Mill on a Saturday to watch proprietor Geoff Thompson and his crew turn bushels of heirloom and traditional apples into old-fashioned apple cider.
They may not use the antique cider-making equipment that’s on display outside the mill, but the process is essentially the same as it was in the 18th and 19th century when the Underhills were growing grapes and apples on Croton Point and “one of the largest orchards in this country” belonging to “Mr. Conklin” was selling barrels of cider1 for $3 to $7 each from an orchard between Croton and Verplanck.2
For more information on Thompson’s Cider Mill, see their website.
Click the image to start the slideshow (and don’t miss the footnotes at the bottom of the page).
In the 18th and 19th centuries, what we refer to as cider was “apple juice” and “cider” was the alcoholic drink we call “hard cider.” See A History of Agriculture in the State of New York by Ulysses P. Hedrick. Hedrick says cider “was more often quoted as an exchange commodity than apples or potatoes or any other fruit or vegetable . . . Apple juice and cider were legal tender for the cobbler, the tailor, the lawyer, the doctor, and there is at least one record . . . of a farmer’s paying for his daughter’s schooling with cider.”
Conklin’s operation was described by James Stuart, who travelled north through the Croton area with his wife in September-October, 1829. After spending the night at “a second rate hotel, near the village of Croton, kept by civil people of the name of Macleod,” they head to Verplanck and along the way he includes this passage:
“One of the largest orchards in this country . . . [belongs] to Mr. Conklin. It consists of forty acres. All the trees are raised by himself from the seed, and grafted. He sells his Newton pippins and Russell pippins, and manufactures the remainder of his apples into cider. The cider-mill is eighty feet long, and there are two cellars of equal length. The barrel of cider contains from twenty-eight to thirty-two gallons; the price of each barrel is from three to seven dollars, according to the quality.”
This appears in volume one of Stuart’s two-volume work, Three Years in North America, which was published in 1833. According to Bauman Rare Books, his book is important because of its “compelling descriptions of Niagara Falls, the election of Andrew Jackson, the brutality of slavery, and the majesty of the West.” Both volumes are available free on Google Books. Here’s a link to volume one. ↩
Conklin may be the same person referred to by Pierre Van Cortlandt in a letter dated January 27, 1787. Van Cortlandt wrote that “Joseph Conklyn” wanted to rent “the Ridge farm Adjoyning the Paper Mill Farm” and that Conklyn “has Way Withal to Improve the farm; he is to make an Orchard of 150 trees, to be planted within four years.”
See the Van Cortlandt Family Papers, vol. IV, p. 350.