Swimming at Croton Point, circa 1915

Croton Point Postcard_frontAs summer comes to a close, let’s take a look at this nice postcard of swimming at Croton Point, circa 1915. The card was published for “W.H. Noll, Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.” by Commercialchrome, a printer located in Cleveland, Ohio. The company operated from 1910-1920 and the white border on the front and divided back (with separate space for the message and address) means it was probably printed circa 1915.1

“W.H. Noll” is likely William H. Noll, proprietor of Bill’s Restaurant, once located at the intersection of South Riverside Avenue and Brook Street. According to his 1941 obituary in the Ossining Citizen-Register, he had lived in Croton for 29 years and had operated the restaurant for 25 years. His wife, Ella Munson Noll, died in 1931. At the time of his death he lived at 8 Hamilton Avenue in Croton.2


  1. A great resource for identifying postcard printers is metropostcard.com. ↩︎
  2. Ossining Citizen-Register, May 23, 1941, page 2 column 4. See here. ↩︎


Croton Point Postcard_back

The Mystery of the Underhill Medal

Front of the silver medal awarded to R.T. Underhill in 1847.

Front of the silver medal awarded to R.T. Underhill in 1847.

How did a silver medal from 1847, awarded to R.T. Underhill for the grapes he grew on Croton Point, end up buried in a garden on Long Island? That’s what reader Mike S. wants to know.

“Many years ago, possibly 25 or so,” he writes, “my grandfather was turning his garden in Shirley, New York. He heard a loud bang, and quickly shut off the rototiller to see what it was. After a moment of searching he found a large piece of metal. He cleaned it off, gave it to me, and told me it was a lucky charm.”

For Mike, his treasured “lucky charm” has become something of an obsession.

  • Who was R.T. Underhill?
  • What was the American Institute, the organization that awarded the medal?
  • Why is “R. Lovett” stamped along the bottom of the front side?
  • How did the medal get buried in his grandfather’s garden?

We can answer all his questions—except the last one.

Back of the silver medal awarded to R.T. Underhill in 1847 "for choice specimens of Isabella & Catawba grapes.".

Back of the silver medal awarded to R.T. Underhill in 1847 “for choice specimens of Isabella & Catawba grapes.”

The Grape King of Croton Point

As readers of this blog know, Richard T. Underhill was the “Grape King,” who built the first commercial winery in the United States on Croton Point. He began his vineyard by planting European varieties of grapes he purchased in Brooklyn from André Parmentier, a wealthy, educated Belgian who came to America to escape the French Revolution and started a nursery that included a vineyard. At first Parmentier sold only European grapes, but it turned out that they did not grow well in New York.

According to U.P. Hedrick’s authorative book, The Grapes of New York, Parmentier later added “the two American varieties, Catawba and Isabella, which were then becoming popular.”

Detail from “Gathering Grapes—An October Scene on the Hudson,” a wood engraving published in Harper's Weekly. The image depicts the Underhill vineyard in 1867.

Detail from “Gathering Grapes—An October Scene on the Hudson,” a wood engraving published in Harper’s Weekly. The image depicts the Underhill vineyard in 1867.

Underhill’s first batch of European varieties had died, but Hedrick says that Underhill “had been fired with a consuming desire to grow grapes. In 1827 he began planting Catawbas and Isabellas. This vineyard of American grapes grew until it covered 75 acres, the product of which was sold in New York City. This was the first large vineyard in the country.”

View of one of the American Institute's fairs from Harper's magazine.

View of one of the American Institute’s fairs from Harper’s magazine.

The American Institute

The American Institute of the City of New York (also known as the American Institute of the City of New York for the Encouragement of Science and Invention) was founded in New York on February 19, 1828, to encourage and promote “domestic industry in this State, and the United States, in Agriculture, Commerce, Manufacturing and the Arts, and any improvements made therein.” It attempted to fulfill that task by two means: first, by organizing annual fairs at which prizes were awarded to outstanding artisans and inventors, and second, by actively promoting government policies that would encourage and protect domestic manufacturing, agriculture, and commerce.

R. T. Underhill was a leading member of the Institute and the 1847 silver medal is one of many awards he and his brother, William A. Underhill, won over the years for their grapes, plums and quinces. 1

The Institute’s annual report gives us an idea of the size and scope of the 1847 fair. “The fair was opened to the public at Castle Garden on the 6th day of October, and closed on the 23rd. The exhibition consisted of productions from 2,194 contributors in almost every department of manufactures, the mechanic arts and horticultural production. The whole consisting of more than 20,000 articles . . . For about three weeks the place of exhibition is the centre of attraction for this city, the neighboring cities, and throughout our country, to distances almost incredible; crowds are continually flocking here to witness the grand display, which embraces the products of all occupations and the whole industrial community.”2

Robert Lovett, Engraver

The medal awarded to Underhill 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.

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

Advertisment 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. 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 Lovett expert and collector 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 has another Croton connection—he designed 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. See an example of that medal here.

A Mystery

How did the medal end up buried on Long Island? The Underhills do have deep roots there. Capt. John Underhill (1608/9-1672), the founder of the oldest and largest Underhill family in the U. S. and Canada, lived at various times in Flushing, Southold, Setauket and Oyster Bay. One can speculate that perhaps an Underhill relative had once lived in Mike’s grandfather’s house. Whatever the case it’s great to be able to share this medal with our readers.

For more information on the Underhill vineyards, see these previous posts:


  1. See Underhill’s obituary in the Proceedings of the American Pomological Society, 1871.
  2. See the Sixth Annual Report of the American Institute of the City of New-York, 1848.

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.

Hidden in the Trees

Sanford Robinson Gifford, American, 1823–1880. Hook Mountain, Near Nyack, on the Hudson, 1866. Oil on canvas. Yale University Art Gallery. Click the image to enlarge it.

Sanford Robinson Gifford, American, 1823–1880. Hook Mountain, Near Nyack, on the Hudson, 1866.
Oil on canvas. Yale University Art Gallery. Click the image to enlarge it.

This magnificent Hudson River School painting, Hook Mountain, Near Nyack, on the Hudson by Sanford Robinson Gifford, shows the view looking west from the southern shores of Croton Point. Hidden in the trees in the foreground is the rooftop and cupola of Richard T. Underhill’s Italianate villa, which he built in 1846 and christened “Interwasser”.

Detail showing the rooftop and cupola of the Underhill mansion on the southern tip of Croton Point. Click the image to enlarge it.

Detail showing the rooftop and cupola of the Underhill mansion on the southern tip of Croton Point.
Click the image to enlarge it.

The image is courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery, which has made “thousands of images of works in the Gallery’s collection . . . available for free download . . .”

For a similar view from higher up, showing the Underhill vineyards, see this previous post of a wood engraving from Harper’s Weekly.

You should also check out the Hudson River School Art Trail, which includes this painting in an effort to encourage people to “hike in the footsteps of Hudson River School artists . . .” to “see the locations that influenced famous American landscape paintings of the 19th century.”

Rum-running Submarines off Croton Point?

An aerial photograph, taken by a Manhattan map-making firm June 11, 1924, near Croton Point, purports to document two submarines (possibly rumrunners), each about 250 feet long and 600 feet apart, below the surface.

An aerial photograph, taken by a Manhattan map-making firm June 11, 1924, near Croton Point, purports to document two submarines (possibly rumrunners), each about 250 feet long and 600 feet apart, below the surface.

A recently published book, Smugglers, Bootleggers and Scofflaws: Prohibition and New York City by Ellen NicKenzie Lawson, contains an amazing 1924 aerial photo, purporting to show rum-smuggling submarines in the Hudson River near Croton Point. The photo appears in the chapter “Rum Row”—the name of the smuggling area of the Atlantic coast from Nantucket to New York City and New Jersey. Lawson writes,

“News of a submarine being used on Rum Row appears to have some substance to it. One smuggler testified in court that he saw a submarine emerge on the Row with a German captain and a French crew. Newspapers in 1924 reported that submarines were smuggling liquor to New Jersey and Cape Cod. An aerial photo, taken by a commercial Manhattan map-making firm that same year, suggested submarines were thirty miles up the Hudson River near Croton Point. (German submarines were kept out of the river during World War I by a steel net strung low across the bottom of the Narrows.) The photo purported to document two submarines below the surface of the Hudson River, each 250 feet long and 600 feet apart. The aerial firm sent the photograph to the U.S. Navy, which had no submarines in the area, and the startling image was given to Coast Guard Intelligence and filed away.”

Here’s a link to the book on Amazon, which includes the Rum Row chapter.

Thanks to the New York History Blog, which alerted us to this book with their recent review.

Hudson Valley Echoes, Issue #2

HVEchoes_2_p1

Below is issue 2 of Theodore J. Cornu’s extraordinary hand-drawn, hand-lettered, self-published journal, Hudson Valley Echoes. To see issue 1 click here. Issues 3 to 4 are coming soon . . .

When the publication opens you can click on the pages and enlarge them. The embedded viewer uses Flash, so if you don’t see it below because your device doesn’t support Flash, you can click here to see images of all the pages.

Underhill Bible—on eBay!

Picture 2

A seller on eBay is currently offering—and has graciously allowed us to feature—a bible bearing the bookplate of Abraham I. Underhill, one of the three Underhill brothers who started the flour mill on the Croton River in 1792, under a lease from the Van Cortlandt family. 1

The bible contains a handwritten page recording Abraham Underhill’s marriage “in a publick Meeting of the people called Quakers at Croton in the Town of Cortlandt, the 19th day of the 12th month, 1805 according to the order of the said society,” along with the birth of their son, Edward Burrough Underhill, four years later.

Picture 3

Also included is something odd, which the seller describes as “a folded paper in an unknown hand, possibly shorthand.”

Picture 4

Here is a link to the item. If you buy it, please let me know.

UPDATE! We alerted the Westchester County Historical Society that this was available and are happy to report that they have purchased it for their collection. If they manage to decipher the “paper in an unknown hand” they have promised to let us know.


  1. Details about Abraham Underhill and his family can be found on this page of Underhill genealogy, edited by Josephine C. Frost, volume 2, The Underhill Society of America, 1932.