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. ↩︎

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.

The 1842 Croton Water Celebration Medal

Croton Water Celebration medal by Robert Lovett, Sr. Courtesy of John Kraljevich Americana.

Croton Water Celebration medal by Robert Lovett, Sr. Courtesy of John Kraljevich Americana.

Here’s a fine example of 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. This is currently being offered by John Kraljevich, a leading expert in American historical medals, coins, paper money and related Americana, who has graciously allowed us to share his images.

The Croton Water Celebration medal 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.

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

Advertisement 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. His early work can’t be identified because it was unsigned, but one significant commission has been discovered by Lovett expert and collector David Baldwin. “Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Cooper in 1819 identify Robert Sr. as the creator of the official seal for the University of Virginia.”1

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 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’s Croton Aqueduct Medal was produced in silver, bronze and white metal. The silver examples were individually engraved for the 17 New York City Alderman in office at the time of the celebration and various dignitaries, including poet George Pope Morris, author of the celebration’s “Croton Ode.” The example shown here is white metal.

One side of Lovett’s exquisite medal is shown above and the other is below. If you want to enlarge the images to see the details click here to go to John Kraljevich Americana.

Croton Water Celebration medal by Robert Lovett, Sr. Courtesy of John Kraljevich Americana.

Croton Water Celebration medal by Robert Lovett, Sr. Courtesy of John Kraljevich Americana.


  1. See this letter by Lovett to Thomas Jefferson and The Croton Aqueduct Completion Medal by Dave Baldwin. Token and Medal Society Journal, September/October 2013, vol. 53, no. 5.

John Quincy Adams Sends His Regrets

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams

On October 11, 1842 former President John Quincy Adams realized he had neglected to respond—several times—to an invitation to be an honored guest at the Croton Water Celebration. In his diary he wrote,

“. . . on turning over my letters recently received, to endorse and file them, I found one which I had totally forgotten, from . . . New York . . . inviting me to a festival to be held on the 14th of this month, in celebration of the introduction of the Croton water into the city. There was on the note a twice-repeated request for an answer, which I had overlooked till now. I answered the letter, declining the invitation, and sent [my reply] . . . so that it may reach New York on Thursday, the day before the feast.”1

Many important dignitaries were invited to the great Croton Water Celebration, but contrary to some books and a number of online sources (including—perhaps not surprisingly—Wikipedia2), former Presidents John Quincy Adams and Martin van Buren, then-President John Tyler, and Governor of New York William H. Seward did not attend. [UPDATE: We have corrected the error on Wikipedia. Depending on whether our changes are accepted the error may or may not still be present.]

It’s difficult to determine how this error crept into the historical record.

The contemporary newspaper accounts of the event exhaustively list every participating fire department, trade organization, temperance society, and civic official but say nothing of the President of the United States, two former Presidents and the Governor of New York. It seems unlikely—though not impossible—that newspapers published within days of the celebration would have missed these historic figures.

A year later Charles King even published the letters of regret from all four men in his book, A memoir of the construction, cost, and capacity of the Croton Aqueduct . . . together with an account of the civic celebration of the fourteenth October, 1842 . . .3

The President of the United States sends his regrets.

The President of the United States sends his regrets.

King has a long section of replies to invitations to the Croton Water Celebration. One of the most interesting appears long after the letters from officials like the Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller and Attorney General of the State of New York; after letters from diplomats like the Counsels of Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Greece—even after the letters from the mayors of cities like Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Troy.

Writing from Peekskill on October 8, 1842, Pierre Van Cortlandt, Jr. replied,

”I have this day received your polite invitation from the Common Council of the city of New York, to join with them on the 14th instant, to celebrate the introduction of the Croton water into the City of New York. With pleasure I accept your invitation, and will be in New York at the time appointed.”4

If anyone at that time had a plausible claim to the water from the Croton River it was Pierre Van Cortlandt, Jr. Indeed, the Van Cortlandt family had engaged in extended litigation against the Croton Water Commissioners over the diversion of water.5 Even if he had come to accept New York City’s diversion there was the matter of the Great Freshet of 1841, when part of the Croton Dam gave way. The torrent of water and debris destroyed bridges and businesses, silted out the mouth of the Croton River and is said to have come within 8 feet of destroying Van Cortlandt Manor.6

The Old Croton Dam after reconstruction.

The Old Croton Dam after reconstruction.

Did Van Cortlandt actually attend? What did he really think of the great event? Unfortunately his published correspondence contains just three letters from 1842 and none of them mention the Croton Water Celebration.


  1. Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848, compiled by Charles Francis Adams. Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott & Co., 1876. Volume 11.
  2. The current Wikipedia article for the Croton Aqueduct states “Among those present were then-President of the United States John Tyler, former presidents John Quincy Adams and Martin van Buren, and Governor of New York William H. Seward.” See here.
  3. A memoir of the construction, cost, and capacity of the Croton Aqueduct . . . together with an account of the civic celebration of the fourteenth October, 1842, on occasion of the completion of the great work . . . by Charles King. New York, Printed by C. King, 1843.
  4. Ibid.
  5. See Correspondence of the Van Cortlandt Family of Cortlandt Manor, 1815-1848, compiled and edited by Jacob Judd. Volume IV, pages 291-292.
  6. For more on the Great Freshet of 1841 see here.

Croton’s Waves in All Their Glory

Today is the 172nd anniversary of the Croton Water Celebration, when what we now call the Old Croton Aqueduct opened to public use on October 14, 1842. The day-long celebration included a massive seven-mile-long parade, songs written and performed for the occasion, and culminated in jets of pure, sparkling water rising fifty feet in the air from the Croton Fountain in City Hall Park.1

To celebrate the anniversary we’ve assembled a group of artifacts produced to commemorate that great day. Some have appeared in previous posts and others are featured here for the first time.

Click the first image to start the slideshow (and don’t miss the list of previous posts about the Croton Water Celebration at the bottom of the page).

Previous posts about the Croton Water Celebration:

If you’re interested in seeing the sheet music shown in the slideshow here are links:


  1. The title of this post is from the official song, written by George Pope Morris. It’s one of the few good lines from an otherwise unmemorable work.

A Van Cortlandt Manor Treasure—on eBay!

The first page of Cartwright’s notebook.

The first page of Cartwright’s notebook.

For the second time in a month we are pleased to have helped the Westchester County Historical Society acquire an important piece of Croton-related history.

Last month WCHS purchased an 1804 bible owned by Abraham I. Underhill, one of the three Underhill brothers who started the flour mill on the Croton River.

Today the organization purchased something that may prove to be more significant—a 22-page notebook kept by surveyor George W. Cartwright when he conducted a detailed survey of Van Cortlandt Manor in 1837–1838.1

Historic Hudson Valley (the organization which manages Van Cortlandt Manor, Philipsburg Manor, Kykuit and other historic sites) has in its collection a Cartwright survey which we believe was made from these notes. By comparing the notebook and map we may be able to glean new information about the area, which Cartwright called “Van Cortlandt Manor Farm” in the first entry.

Detail of the lower Croton River from Cartwright’s survey map, likely based on his 1837-1838 notebook. Van Cortlandt Manor is in the C-shaped area in the top left. The yellow road running diagonally above it is today South Riverside Avenue.

Detail of the lower Croton River from Cartwright’s survey map, likely based on his 1837–1838 notebook. Van Cortlandt Manor is in the C-shaped area in the top left. The yellow road running diagonally above it is what we know today as South Riverside Avenue.

George W. Cartwright was a civil engineer whose maps and surveys are a treasure-trove of information about the Croton and Ossining area in the early to mid 1800s. Records show that he made a map of the “Villages of Sing Sing and Sparta” as early as 1820. In the 1820s he also surveyed and gauged the entire Croton River and his data—particularly his calculation that twenty million gallons of water a day flowed in the river near Pines Bridge—was later used in planning the Croton Aqueduct.2 The Westchester County Clerk Historical Maps collection has several by Cartwright maps online, including this map showing downtown Sing Sing in 1835.

Pages recording the survey of the creeks in the marsh on Croton Point—now the capped Westchester County dump. Click the image to enlarge it.

Pages recording the survey of the creeks in the marsh on Croton Point—now the capped Westchester County dump. Click the image to enlarge it.

We hope to have additional details about this exciting discovery soon. In the meantime, if you missed our previous posts about the Underhill bible, click the links below.


  1. The notes begin on October 2, 1837 and the last entry is dated October 1, 1838.
  2. See Water for Gotham: A History by Gerard T. Koeppe, page 151.

The Greatest Jubilee That New York . . . Has Ever Boasted

The front page of the Dollar Weekly, October 22, 1842. Click image to enlarge.

The front page of the Dollar Weekly, October 22, 1842. Click image to enlarge.

This month is the 171st anniversary of the “greatest jubilee that New York or America has ever boasted—a jubilee in commemoration of the greatest blessing that a city like New York could receive—the introduction of an abundant supply of pure and wholesome water.” 1

The jubilee took place on October 14, 1842 and the quote is from the coverage a week later in the October 22 issue of the Dollar Weekly, a short-lived newspaper that the publishers, Herrick & Ropes, modestly proclaimed was “The cheapest paper ever published! The miracle of the age! One dollar a year, with two hundred original engravings!”

In a way they were right to call their paper “the miracle of the age” because they published the kind of engravings that made Harper’s Weekly famous when it was started fifteen year later. The highlight of this issue is the 16-inch wide engraving across the front page that illustrates the “great procession celebrating the introduction of the Croton water into the city of New York.” Photography was not in widespread use in 1842 so there are very few images depicting the jubilee parade and none of them are quite like this wonderful panorama.

If they left us nothing else, we could remember Herrick & Ropes as innovative publishers who paved the way for the great illustrated weekly newspapers. But at the same time they were publishing two other papers—another weekly, The Atlas, and a daily paper, The Aurora. On March 28, 1842 Herrick & Ropes announced in the Aurora that they had “secured the services” of a “bold, energetic and original writer as their leading editor” who would “carry out their original design of establishing a sound, fearless and independent daily paper.” His name was Walter Whitman, but we know him today as the poet, Walt Whitman. 2

Click the images below to see all the Aqueduct-related images published in the October 22 issue.


  1. Dollar Weekly, October 22, 1842.
  2. Whitman’s relationship with the publishers did not end well. By May 1842 he was no longer associated with the paper, which referred to him as “the laziest fellow who ever undertook to edit a city paper.” That summer Whitman used his new position at a different newspaper to exact revenge. “There is in this city,” he wrote, “a trashy, scurrilous, and obscene daily paper, under the charge of two dirty fellows, as ever were able by the force of brass, ignorance of their own ignorance, and a coarse manner of familiarity, to push themselves among gentlemen.” For more see Walt Whitman’s America by David S. Reynolds.