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. ↩︎

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