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shortening the stage route to that point; and when two years later, the road was opened to Albany, the stages were withdrawn.”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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”