If You Follow the Road to Harmon, You Surely Can’t go Wrong

Nikko Inn Card front

Here’s a real treat—a double-fold promotional postcard for the Nikko Tea House, probably printed circa 1907 to 1910.1 An artist with the initials “W.K.” created the beautiful images and hand-lettered the map and poem on the centerfold.

The map has a wonderful depiction of the Nikko and helpfully provides the location of “police traps” on the roads in Westchester. The lines indicating the Hudson River along the left cleverly become strings for Japanese lanterns at the bottom.

Nikko Inn Card center

We can thank C.K. Nazu, who was manager of the Nikko at the time, for this wonderful ode to Harmon:

Nikko Card Detail
Of Harmon on the Hudson
You surely must have heard,
But if you’ll give attention
I should like a word,

About the Nikko Tea House,
One the wooded Croton’s brink,
The situation picturesque;
The food is fine we think;

So get a horse or motor car,
And bring your friends along;
If you follow the road to Harmon,
You surely can’t go wrong.

Here are a few previous posts about the Nikko Tea House:

  • C.K. Nazu is listed as the manager in this 1908 ad (though the last name is spelled “Nezu”).
  • Another clever bit of promotion from 1917, when the Nikko was called the “Nikko Inn.”
  • One of our favorite Nikko stories by a New York journalist who stopped for some “skiyaki” in 1931.

To see all the posts about the Nikko click the “Nikko Inn” tag in the right hand column.

If you have any vintage photographs or ephemera of the Nikko or the early days of Harmon please send an email.

  1. Local postcard expert Susan Hack-Lane, who helped date the card, pointed out the names written on the front, Nellie L. Beach and Billy Beach. Beach was a Peekskill family name (Beach Shopping Center) which may explain why this card was never mailed. ↩︎

The Mystery of the Devil’s Footprints

Article from the Syracuse Journal, May 2, 1913, one of the many New York papers which carried the Devil's Footprints story.

Article from the Syracuse Journal, May 2, 1913, one of the many newspapers which carried the Devil’s Footprints story.

Where are the Devil’s Footprints?

This simple question was recently posed to a group of Crotonites—experts in local history, in Hudson Valley geology, and some people who grew up here and explored all of Croton’s old ruins and haunted places in their youth.

They all had the same reply: “What footprints?”

The answer takes us back more than a century, to when Alfred P. Gardiner purchased most of the land on Hessian Hill and built a magnificent estate. As the New York Times reported in 1906, “A. P. Gardiner has bought the Hessian Hill farm at Croton-on-Hudson from the Cockcroft estate. It has a frontage on the Hudson and extends back for over a mile. Hessian Hill has an elevation of 600 feet and commands a fine view of the river. Mr. Gardiner will improve the property extensively and make it his country home.”1

Did Gardiner know he had acquired the Devil’s Footprints? We may never know, but six years after he purchased the property the New York Press revealed the whole fascinating story, in an article that was picked up by newspapers across the country.2

A 1908 map showing the location of A.P. Gardiner's Hessian Hill estate. From Atlas of the rural country district north of New York City . . . by E. Belcher Hyde, 1908. Plate 12.

A 1908 map showing the location of A.P. Gardiner’s Hessian Hill estate. From Atlas of the rural country
district north of New York City . . .
by E. Belcher Hyde, 1908. Plate 12. Click the image to enlarge it.

The Devil’s Footprints

“Mysterious footprints in the solid rock on the east and west banks of the Hudson at Croton have puzzled the scientists, who believe them to have been made by a primeval man before the Stone Age. On the east shore, along the old Albany postroad (sic) and at the bottom of a steep hill belonging to the A. P. Gardiner estate, lies a huge boulder shadowed by tall trees . . . Its smooth surface bears the imprint of a pair of human feet placed side by side, as if a barefooted man had walked down the hill and stood on the spot while the stone was still soft and yielding from nature’s crucible. Every toe is clearly defined, and judging from the mold he left in the granite the foot of this ancient man was both large and shapely. Behind the footprints, all the way to the top of the rock, are a series of peculiar indentations such as the links of a heavy chain would make in soft earth. Exactly opposite, on High Tor Mountain, on the other side of the Hudson, the footprints again appear on the rock, but with the heels turned toward the river, as if the man was traveling away from it due west. By actual measurement the footprints on both sides of the river correspond in every particular and were undoubtedly made by the same pair of feet.

Gardiner Estate 2

Today, only the foundations of Gardiner’s home are left at the top of Hessian Hill. Click the image to enlarge it.

Many weird and wonderful legends have been read from the footprints in the rock. One of these attributes them to the devil, who was chained up in Connecticut for a number of years, but finally escaped and fled into New York. Dragging his chain after him, he paused on the boulder at the foot of Hessian Hill to rest before he continued his flight to the vast Adirondack wilderness. The indentations in the Hessian Hill rock are pointed out as the marks of his chain, and the footprints on High Tor as further corroborative evidence of the truth of this tale. Another story relates that a cave man was approached from the rear by a terrible many-legged serpent as he stood upon the boulder, and that he was so frightened he leaped clear across the Hudson and landed on the other side. The indentations are supposed to have been made by the serpents’ legs . . .

Gardiner Estate 1

The building on the right is a private home today and the entrance gate columns are still there.

A famous professor on first viewing the footprints advanced the theory that they were made by the ‘missing link’ before he shed his caudal appendage3, which trailed in the prehistoric clay behind him while he scanned the surrounding landscape for something good for breakfast. This accounted for the indentations and scored one for Darwinian theory. The devil legend seems to have hit the public fancy, though, for the big boulder at Hessian Hill is known as the Devil’s Rock, and Croton people point to the strange fact that nothing will grow in the unholy footprints, while the surface of the rock elsewhere is covered with gray-green lichens and thick moss. The Mohegans, who built their signal fires on the top of Hessian Hill before the first Dutch trader settled there to give rum and firearms for furs, regarded the giant boulder with deep veneration, and believed the footprints to have been made by the Great Spirit when He created the world.”4

Gardiner Estate 3

The view of the Hudson from the top of the hill.

The New York Press says nothing about how and when the Devil’s Footprints were discovered in Croton, but they must have been known for some time. As far back as 1895 they were pointed out as a local landmark to a New-York Daily Tribune reporter writing an article about the area between Tarrytown and Peekskill. “At one of the highest points on the [Albany Post Road] . . . the guide shows one a place known as “Devil’s Track,” where the imprint of two human feet can be seen in the rock. ‘That’s where he stood when he jumped across the river,’ so goes the story, ‘and on the other side, near Haverstraw, you can see the footprints on the rock to correspond with these.’ As the river is about four miles wide here, no one argues the point when the native says: ‘It was a pretty good jump.’ ”5

Footprints Everywhere

It turns out the “Devil” has been jumping around the world for millions of years, leaving what are called petrosomatoglyphs, naturally-occurring representations of human or animal body parts incised in rock (though some petrosomatoglyphs are man-made).6 As early as the 1830s, archaeologists searching for authentic dinosaur or bird footprints knew there were naturally-occurring examples, usually caused by the action of water. Here’s an 1836 account by an Amherst College professor of a visit to the “Devil’s Track” near the village of Wickford, Rhode Island:

“Encouraged by . . . several very glowing descriptions that I had received of foot marks upon stone in Rhode Island, I was led . . . to perform a journey of two hundred and fifty miles for their examination. They occur about two miles north of the village of Wickford, on the road to Providence; and every person of whom I enquired, within twenty miles of the spot, seemed to be acquainted with the impressions there, under the name of ‘the Devil’s Track.’ But I saw no evidence of any agency there, except that of water. And it seemed to me that the only reason why every one does not impute the effects to water, is the difficulty of conceiving how a stream could have ever flowed in that spot for a long time, as it must have done, to produce the excavations . . .”7

The Devil’s Footprint in a rock on the bank of the Green River Cove near Hendersonville, North Carolina.

The Devil’s Footprint in a rock on the bank of the Green River Cove near Hendersonville, North Carolina.

Croton isn’t the only place in Westchester with Devil’s Footprints. “Legends of Pelham,” a 1901 article from the New-York Daily Tribune says “When those who lived a hundred years or more ago found the prints of huge human feet on rocks at various places they decided that they had been left by the devil on his flight through the country. The first print was discovered in East Chester, and another, pointing in the same direction, was near Fort Schuyler. Across the Sound they found the third footprint in solid rock, and there the trail was lost. Long Islanders have said that if the devil could jump from East Chester across Pelham to Fort Schuyler, a distance of nine miles, he would not find it difficult to step across the island to the sea. . . .”8

Croton’s Footprints

Someplace at the bottom of Hessian Hill “lies a huge boulder shadowed by tall trees” with “a smooth surface,” bearing “the imprint of a pair of human feet placed side by side.” They aren’t the footprints of a leaping Devil, they’re a natural phenomena—but one so seemingly real that they became a local legend more than a century ago.

Unfortunately, it appears that this particular legend wasn’t passed on from A. P. Gardiner’s era to today, so we’re left with a question that we hope some Crotonite can answer. . . . Where are the Devil’s Footprints?

  1. The New York Times article is available here.
  2. The Gettysburg Times, the Indiana Gazette and the Shawnee News-Herald are just a few of the papers that ran the story.
  3. A caudal appendage is a tail. See Wikipedia here.
  4. The Devil’s Footprint, The New York Press, September 1, 1912.
  5. See the end of the article “The Charms of Tarrytown” in the New-York Daily Tribune, August 5, 1895. Page 4.
  6. See Wikipedia.
  7. From the article “Description of the Foot marks of Birds . . . on new Red Sandstone in Massachusetts” by Professor Edward Hitchcock inThe American Journal of Science and Arts. Volume XXIX. New Haven: J.D. & E.S. Dana, 1836.
  8. See the New-York Tribune, December 15, 1901.

The Ultimate Bird’s Eye View of Manhattan

Colton's 1836 map of the sparsely populated area around Central Park. The satellite image in the middle shows the location of what was the Croton Aqueduct Receiving Reservoir (the six yellow dots—probably baseball fields). The large building in the lower right of the satellite image is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Click to enlarge.

Colton’s 1836 map of the sparsely populated area around Central Park. The satellite image in the middle shows the location of what was the Croton Aqueduct Receiving Reservoir (the six yellow dots—probably baseball fields). The large building in the lower right of the satellite image is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Click to enlarge.

Here’s the perfect follow-up to our recent post on bird’s eye view maps of the Croton Aqueduct—an interactive mashup of an 1836 map of Manhattan, georeferenced with satellite images of the city today.1

Using a “spyglass” map viewer you can switch back and forth between the two maps and explore 177 years of growth and change from the tip of the island to Spuyten Duyvil.

The interactive map is a collaboration between the David Rumsey Map Collection (one of the greatest resources of the internet), ESRI's story maps, and the online Smithsonian Magazine. The three organizations have partnered to create “urban history time viewers showing changes in the growth of six American cities.”

Swapping the images we see Manhattan 177 years later, with Colton's 1836 map in the middle.

Swapping the images we see Manhattan 177 years later, with Colton’s 1836 map in the middle Click to enlarge.

Here’s the link to the New York City map:

The Distributing Reservoir at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, now the site of the New York Public Library.

The Distributing Reservoir at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, now the site
of the New York Public Library. Click to enlarge.

Here are links to the other interactive maps:

  1. For information on georeferencing, see this Wikipedia article.

U.S. Geographical Survey Map, 1943


These images are taken from a topographic map of the "Haverstraw Quadrangle," which was surveyed in 1938 by the U.S. Department of the Interior Geological Survey and published in 19431. This map provides so many layers of information—buildings, roads, elevations, vegetation, bodies of water, place names, and more—that we can get a good sense of what Croton was like before Route 9 was built. Here are some highlights:


  • A. All but one of the buildings on the west side of Riverside Avenue were torn down when Route 9 was built. The exception is the old Croton train station, which today is the office of F.A. Burchetta Co., electrical contractors.
  • B. This isn't the Duck Pond, it's the area where Croton Auto Park is today. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries this was the site of a brickyard, so the pond shown here is most likely water filling in the excavation area.
  • C. Ed Rondthaler's beloved "Picture Tunnel" under the railroad tracks.
  • D. These railroad side-tracks across from the Duck Pond were removed to make way for Route 9, but what's even more interesting is that the area where the tracks were located was filled in. The curve of Riverside Avenue at this point most likely follows the original bank of the Hudson River.
  • USGS-topo-1943-detail-2

  • E. This curved bridge, which allowed some north-bound trains to loop back around, is still with us today. It's the bridge you drive across to go to Half Moon Bay, Senasqua Park, the Croton Yacht Club and Croton Landing.
  • F. A round-house for trains, when Croton was an even bigger railroad facility than it is today.
  • G. The bungalow colony that existed on Croton Point, shown in exquisite detail. If you're interested in learning more about the colony check out the new Facebook page, Croton Point Bungalows. If you’re interested in what existed in the same place hundreds of years earlier—the Lenape fort and cemetery, the Haunted Hollow, and Money Hill—where Capt. Kidd was said to have buried his treasure—stay tuned.

  1. From the USGS Historical File, Topographic Division

Census Map of Croton, 1935

Census Map 1935 Croton Area Detail

Census Map 1935 Harmon Detail
Census Map 1935 Croton Point Detail

These details are from a map of the Town of Cortlandt which accompanied the 1940 census. According to a note on the map it was prepared in January, 1935 "in the office of the County Engineer, with workers supplied by the Westchester County Emergency Work Bureau."

The map can be viewed and downloaded from the National Archives 1940 Census website.1

  1. The map from the National Archives website has been converted from a negative to a positive image.

Croton Aqueduct Watershed, 1908

This map and graph were published in the May 23, 1908 issue of Scientific American. They show the locations of the different reservoirs within the Croton watershed after the New Croton Dam was completed and their relative elevations.

Click the image to enlarge it.

Sci-Am Croton Map006_72dpi

Esso “Happy Motoring” map, 1950


This map is interesting because of what it does and does not show.

If your car were to break down in 1950 you wouldn’t know from looking at this map that there was a railroad (the arch-enemy of gas companies) running along the shore of the Hudson River. But if you looked carefully at the key to the map you would learn that the anchor symbol under the “n” in “Croton-on-Hudson” meant that there was a seaplane available to take you back to New York City. (And if the seaplane was unavailable you get a ride out Route 129 past the New Croton Dam to the small airplane landing strip indicated by the plane symbol.)

Click the image to enlarge it.