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.

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.

Visit to New Croton Dam—February, 1934

In the winter of 1934, members of the Bagley family of Peekskill made a visit to the New Croton Dam, recorded in this series of snapshots. Each has a penned inscription on the back and is stamped with the month and year. The photographs were recently acquired at an estate sale in Cortlandt along with other images of Peekskill, Bear Mountain Bridge, Camp Smith and more. We plan to post those images in the coming weeks.

If you’re a Crotonite, don’t miss the last image of the ice-covered rocks along Route 129. Looks familiar, doesn’t it? The Bagley family stopped their car to take the photo 81 years ago.

You can click on the images to enlarge them.

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. ↩︎

Drive to the New Croton Dam, 1913

New Croton Dam, May 13, 1913. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

New Croton Dam, May 13, 1913. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

In 1913 the Overman Tire Company in New York City ran a test to demonstrate “the ability of Overman cushion tires to withstand the abuse to which tires ordinarily are subjected by the average driver.” A National touring car was outfitted with a set of Overman cushion tires and driven over different routes and road surfaces within a 50 mile radius of New York City.1

New Croton Dam, May 13, 1913. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

New Croton Dam, May 13, 1913. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

Luckily for us the route went by the New Croton Dam, there was a photographer along to record the trip, and the entire collection of 342 photos is available online courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

Bridge below the New Croton Dam, May 13, 1913. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

Bridge below the New Croton Dam, May 13, 1913. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

A number of other photos were taken the same day but unfortunately most show the car on unidentifiable country roads. One exception is an image taken at the Croton Lake Station of the “Old Put”—the New York Central Railroad, Putnam Division—shown below.2


  1. The company was located at 250 West 54th Street in New York City. The quote is from the June 26, 1913 issue of Motor World. See here.
  2. Located along today’s Saw Mill River Road, Route 118.
Croton Lake Station of the New York Central Railroad, Putnam Division. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

Croton Lake Station of the New York Central Railroad, Putnam Division. Courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.

The Purdy Homestead on Quaker Ridge Road

The house built by Frederick Purdy in 1895.

The house built by Frederick Purdy in 1895.

One of the treats of this Sunday’s 18th Annual Croton Arboretum Garden Tour will be a chance to see the Purdy homestead on Quaker Ridge Road and a group of 100-year-old family photographs, lovingly preserved and made available by local restaurateur Craig Purdy.

Today, the property is a magnificent 23-acre estate—no longer in the family—but it was originally part of the much larger land-holdings of the Purdy family, who settled in Cortlandt in 1735.

The Purdy’s have deep roots in Westchester. Jacob Purdy is perhaps the most famous—he joined the Westchester Militia in 1775 and served until the end of the Revolution. His house in White Plains was used as General George Washington’s headquarters in 1778 (and possibly in 1776, during the Battle of White Plains).

In Cortlandt, Quaker preacher William Purdy bought land on the south side of the Croton River from the Van Cortlandt’s in 1800, though according to family lore the single-story red farmhouse on Cliffdale Farm was built by a Purdy relative as early as 1735.

William Purdy’s lasting contribution was the covered wooden bridge over the Croton River he rebuilt at his own expense in 1830, to a give Friends access to the Quaker meeting house in Croton. That bridge is long gone, but the Quaker Bridge we cross today—one of the oldest bridges in Westchester—is a lasting tribute to his civic virtue.

The home on the Arboretum garden tour was built in 1895 by Frederick Purdy, who purchased the land from Craig Purdy’s Great Grandfather, Charles Miciah Purdy. The family photographs on display (see a selection below) come from the estate of Craig’s mother, Jean Thompson Purdy, who passed away in December 2013 at the age of ninety.

Tickets for the tour are still available at $20 each (or $35 for two, if reserved in advance).
Call 914-487-3830.

Click the photos to enlarge them.

New Croton Dam, circa 1907

Cornell Dam, Croton Lake, N.Y. Click the image to enlarge it.

Cornell Dam, Croton Lake, N.Y. Click the image to enlarge it.

Here’s a nice view of the nearly-completed New Croton Dam (also known as the Cornell Dam) circa 1907. We can roughly date the image from the state of construction and the card itself because it’s an “undivided back” postcard, issued during the period from 1901 to 1907. Until 1907 only the mailing address could be written on the back of the card.

This card was published by William Terhune in “Ossining on Hudson” and printed in Germany.

Here are some other Terhune postcards: