The Ghost Fleet, 1946-1947

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, December 14, 1947. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, December 14, 1947. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

Here are some dramatic aerial photos of what locals call the Ghost Fleet, taken soon after the ships were moved north from Tarrytown to Jones Point (at one time known as Caldwell’s Landing) at the foot of Dunderberg Mountain. The anchorage remained at that location until the last two ships were towed away on July 8, 1971, to be sold for scrap to Spain.

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, December 14, 1947. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, December 14, 1947. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

The fleet, officially known as the Hudson River National Defense Fleet and the Hudson River Reserve Fleet, was established by an act of Congress in 1946 “to provide a sizable group of merchant ships to support the military effort at the outset of any war.”1 According to an article published in the journal of the Rockland County Historical Society in 1972 (adapted online here):

“When foreign nations at the outbreak of World War I had diverted their ships for wartime service, the small American Merchant Marine fleet was unable to transport even 10 per cent of normal foreign exports. Docks in major ports were stocked high with products of American farms and factories for which no ships were available. When foreign vessels were again available, their rates were ruinous. . . .

The fleet was at its peak with 189 ships in July of 1965. Anchored in ten rows, it extended from the fleet office at the Jones Point dock several miles to the south—to the Lovett Orange and Rockland Power Plant and the Boulderberg House at Tomkins Cove. Several viewing points were established along Route 9W for the hundreds of motorists who stopped daily to look at the ships.

During the Korean War, a total of 130 ships were taken from the Hudson River fleet leaving only 39 ships. During the Suez Crises in 1956, 35 ships were put back into service when British and French ships were diverted from trade routes to supply their nations’ armed forces. The Vietnam War required more than 40 ships.

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1953 needed storage space for large volumes of government-owned wheat, it turned to the Hudson River Reserve fleet. During the following ten years more than 53,563,948 bushels of wheat were loaded into 231 ships. Approximately 255,000 bushels of wheat were stored in each ship with the number of ships carrying wheat at any given time ranging from 70 to 90. The last ship was unloaded in 1963. Ships that had stored wheat rose about twelve feet higher above the water surface and exposed a bright orange band of rust.

A ventilation system had been installed in the ships, making it possible to maintain the quality of the wheat for long periods of storage. This saved the U.S. government some five million dollars on commercial storage estimates. None of the grain, sold to foreign countries in the 1960s, was found to be spoiled when unloaded. . . .

The ships were kept in condition . . . by a crew of 86 men under the supervision of Charles R. Gindroz of Pearl River, fleet superintendent and one-time chief engineer on the George Washington, the ship which years before had carried President Woodrow Wilson to France and in 1950 burned at Baltimore.

The reserve fleet ships, valued at over $255 million, had their machinery turned over periodically and their internal surfaces sprayed with a coat of preservative oil on a regular basis. Electrical equipment, such as generators and motor wiring, were cleaned and coated with a fungus-retarding varnish. All loose scale and rust were water-blasted off decks, hulls and superstructures. Then the entire outside of the ships was sprayed with a gray-tinted preservative oil. This was done at least once a year on each ship. The underwater portion of the hull was protected by means of an electric current, a method known as cathodic protection . . . preventing corrosion from taking place.”

The images shown here come from a large collection of aerial photos at the New York State Archives, which has been scanned and made available online.

These specific photos must be missing identifying information other than dates because they all have vague descriptions like “Multiple boats in the water in an unknown location, possibly in the Hudson River.”

This archival mystery about the fabled Ghost Fleet is fitting because Dunderberg Mountain and Caldwell’s Landing have long been associated with ghosts, goblins and Captain Kidd’s treasure.

We will have much more to say about those legends in a future post. . . .


  1. Quote from the online adaptation of the article by article by Scott Webber from South of the Mountains, the journal of the Rockland County Historical Society, Vol. 16, No. 2, April-June 1972. ↩︎
The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, June 10, 1946. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, June 10, 1946. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

Hudson Valley Echoes, Issue #2

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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.

Croton Cider—Then & Now

Ad for "Pure and Very Old Wine & Cider Vinegar" for sale at Croton Point from The Highland Democrat, June 17, 1893.

Ad for “Pure and Very Old Wine & Cider Vinegar” for sale at Croton Point from
the Highland Democrat, June 17, 1893.

If you want to introduce kids to Croton’s agricultural heritage, take them to Thompson’s Cider Mill on a Saturday to watch proprietor Geoff Thompson and his crew turn bushels of heirloom and traditional apples into old-fashioned apple cider.

They may not use the antique cider-making equipment that’s on display outside the mill, but the process is essentially the same as it was in the 18th and 19th century when the Underhills were growing grapes and apples on Croton Point and “one of the largest orchards in this country” belonging to “Mr. Conklin” was selling barrels of cider1 for $3 to $7 each from an orchard between Croton and Verplanck.2

For more information on Thompson’s Cider Mill, see their website.

Click the image to start the slideshow (and don’t miss the footnotes at the bottom of the page).


  1. In the 18th and 19th centuries, what we refer to as cider was “apple juice” and “cider” was the alcoholic drink we call “hard cider.” See A History of Agriculture in the State of New York by Ulysses P. Hedrick. Hedrick says cider “was more often quoted as an exchange commodity than apples or potatoes or any other fruit or vegetable . . . Apple juice and cider were legal tender for the cobbler, the tailor, the lawyer, the doctor, and there is at least one record . . . of a farmer’s paying for his daughter’s schooling with cider.”

  2. Conklin’s operation was described by James Stuart, who travelled north through the Croton area with his wife in September-October, 1829. After spending the night at “a second rate hotel, near the village of Croton, kept by civil people of the name of Macleod,” they head to Verplanck and along the way he includes this passage:

    “One of the largest orchards in this country . . . [belongs] to Mr. Conklin. It consists of forty acres. All the trees are raised by himself from the seed, and grafted. He sells his Newton pippins and Russell pippins, and manufactures the remainder of his apples into cider. The cider-mill is eighty feet long, and there are two cellars of equal length. The barrel of cider contains from twenty-eight to thirty-two gallons; the price of each barrel is from three to seven dollars, according to the quality.”

    This appears in volume one of Stuart’s two-volume work, Three Years in North America, which was published in 1833. According to Bauman Rare Books, his book is important because of its “compelling descriptions of Niagara Falls, the election of Andrew Jackson, the brutality of slavery, and the majesty of the West.” Both volumes are available free on Google Books. Here’s a link to volume one.

    Conklin may be the same person referred to by Pierre Van Cortlandt in a letter dated January 27, 1787. Van Cortlandt wrote that “Joseph Conklyn” wanted to rent “the Ridge farm Adjoyning the Paper Mill Farm” and that Conklyn “has Way Withal to Improve the farm; he is to make an Orchard of 150 trees, to be planted within four years.”

    See the Van Cortlandt Family Papers, vol. IV, p. 350.

View of Haverstraw Bay, circa 1868

View of Haverstraw Bay, from off Scarborough. Published by the United States Coast Survey, Washington, D.C., 1868

View of Haverstraw Bay, from off Scarborough. Published by the United States Coast Survey, Washington, D.C., 1868.
Click the image to enlarge it.

At first glance you might think this beautiful print is an etching made by a Hudson River painter—looking north from Scarborough, showing a sweeping, placid panorama of the widest section of the river, stretching from Rockland Lake to the mouth of the Croton.

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The artist has depicted a sailboat in the foreground—representing the romantic, natural state of the river—and contrasted it with the industrial future—a steamboat chugging to New York City from the factory buildings on the distant shores of Haverstraw.

Detail from View of Haverstraw Bay, from off Scarborough. Click the image to enlarge it.

Detail from View of Haverstraw Bay, from off Scarborough. Click the image to enlarge it.

This is a beautiful print, but it’s a steel engraving, not an etching; created not by Kensett or Cole, but by what was then called the United States Coast Survey—the oldest U.S. scientific organization, dating from 1807 when President Thomas Jefferson signed “An Act to provide for surveying the coasts of the United States.”

Detail from View of Haverstraw Bay, from off Scarborough. Click the image to enlarge it.

Detail from View of Haverstraw Bay, from off Scarborough. Click the image to enlarge it.

The print is one of a series of views of the Hudson which were produced to supplement detailed maps and “trigonometrical surveys” that began in the harbor of New York City, expanded up the Hudson River and eventually covered the entire coast of the United States.1

Antipodean Books, Maps & Prints, a rare book dealer just up the river in Garrison, was kind enough to let us share this print, which is just one of a group of similar views of the Highlands they are offering. To see this specific print click here. For all the Hudson River Coast Survey prints click here.

If you enter “Hudson River” in the search box you’ll get 448 items, including this Art Deco treasure:

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  1. See this previous post for a U.S. Coast Survey map of Croton Point and links to additional information about this remarkable organization.

Bird’s Eye Views of the Croton Aqueduct, 1879-1887

Here are two priceless “bird’s eye” views of the Croton Aqueduct, made eight years apart during the period when New York City was rapidly outgrowing the capacity of what we now call the Old Croton Aqueduct. One map looks north, showing the burgeoning metropolis in 1879—straining the water supply system with its unrelenting growth. The other looks south—to the future—showing both the path of the New Croton Aqueduct tunnel and the then-planned location (later abandoned) of “the most massive structure of its kind in the world,” the Quaker Bridge Dam.

The City of New York. Will L. Taylor, chief draughtsman. New York, Galt & Hoy, 1879. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Click to enlarge.

The City of New York. Will L. Taylor, chief draughtsman. New York, Galt & Hoy, 1879.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Click to enlarge.

Taylor’s 1879 New York City Map

In a fascinating article about three-dimensional maps of New York City, the website Codex 99 calls this map “the first true attempt at a perspective map of the city . . . [The] four-sheet engraving, published by Galt & Hoy, attempted to label all roads and piers and depict buildings to (at least a more appropriate) scale using a vanishing perspective. It was a stunning achievement for the time.” 1 The map is so detailed that it shows all three major components of the Old Croton Aqueduct in New York City:

  • High Bridge and the High Bridge Water Tower
  • The Receiving Reservoir in Central Park
  • The Distributing Reservoir at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, now the site of the New York Public Library

High Bridge and the High Bridge Water Tower. Click to enlarge.

High Bridge and the High Bridge Water Tower. Click to enlarge.


The Receiving Reservoir in Central Park. Click to enlarge.

The Receiving Reservoir in Central Park. Click to enlarge.


The Distributing Reservoir at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Click to enlarge.

The Distributing Reservoir at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Click to enlarge.

Scientific American, 1887

The cover of the June 4, 1887 issue of Scientific American featured a bird’s eye view map looking south, from the Putnam County border to New York City and beyond. The accompanying article said the map “clearly presents the course of the Croton River, the location of Muscoot, Croton, and the proposed Quaker Bridge dams, and in the dotted line shows the line of the old aqueduct and in the full black line shows the course of the new aqueduct.”

The Old and New Croton Aqueduct System, looking south from Putnam County. Scientific American, 1887. Click to enlarge.

The Old and New Croton Aqueduct System, looking south from Putnam County.
Scientific American, 1887. Click to enlarge.

When this map was published the New Croton Aqueduct tunnel was three years away from completion and the dam was still in the planning stages.2

The narrow part of the Croton, where today’s Quaker Bridge crosses the river, was one of several areas subjected to extensive planning—including test borings, cost estimates and structural plans. The site was eventually abandoned in favor of one further up-river, but in 1887 Quaker Bridge was the favored location. For Crotonites the detail showing the bridge is particularly interesting because it depicts a covered wooden bridge. The current metal Quaker Bridge—one of the oldest bridges in Westchester County—wasn’t built until 1894.

Detail of the area from the Old Croton Dam to the Hudson River. Scientific American, 1887. Click to enlarge.

Detail of the area from the Old Croton Dam to the Hudson River. Scientific American, 1887. Click to enlarge.

For a before-and-after bird’s eye view of the flooding of the Croton River Valley after construction of the New Croton Dam see this previous post.


  1. A high resolution image of the Taylor map is available at the Library of Congress website.
  2. The tunnel was opened in 1890 and construction of the New Croton Dam began in 1892.

Hudson Valley Echoes, Issue #1

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Below is issue 1 of Theodore J. Cornu’s extraordinary hand-drawn, hand-lettered, self-published journal, Hudson Valley Echoes.

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.

Issues 2 to 4 are coming soon . . .

Lenape Settlement Map, circa 1600

In 1950 Theodore J. Cornu drew this map of the lower Hudson River as the Lenape saw it, circa 1600. It appeared as a small part of page 3, in issue #1, of his extraordinary hand-drawn, hand-lettered, self-published journal, Hudson Valley Echoes.HVE-n1-p3-detail-map