Accident on the Van Cortlandt Bridge, 1911

Accident on the Van Cortlandt Bridge, 1911. Photograph courtesy of the Ossining Historical Society.

Accident on the Van Cortlandt Bridge, 1911. Photograph courtesy of the Ossining Historical Society.

In the summer of 1911 the rear wheels of a heavy truck broke through the wooden planks of the Van Cortlandt Bridge—the bridge that once carried the Albany Post Road across the Croton River. The accident took place on the Croton side of the bridge and you can see Van Cortlandt Manor through the trees on the right of this wonderful photograph, which comes to us courtesy of our friends at the Ossining Historical Society.

According to OHS president Norm MacDonald, the occupants of the truck can be seen on the left—David Miller (who appears to be looking at the person who took the photo) and with her back to us on his right, Aimee Marie Dyckman, the local woman he would marry six years later.

Miss Dyckman lived just north of Croton in Oscawana and she was related to the Dyckmans who once owned the magnificent Boscobel estate. (For those who don’t know this bittersweet part of local history, Boscobel was originally located where the FDR Veterans Administration Hospital is today—before it was slated for demolition, partially torn down, rescued, and moved and rebuilt at great expense where it is today.)1

The Van Cortlandt Bridge had a long history, dating back to 1860 when the Board of Supervisors of Westchester County was authorized “to construct a bridge at or near the mouth of Croton river.” Like all bridges on the Croton River during the 19th and early 20th centuries the Van Cortlandt Bridge suffered regular damage from storms, ice and spring freshets and it was repeatedly repaired and rebuilt.2

The invention of the automobile and truck presented new challenges for bridges which were not originally designed to carry such heavy loads. The truck shown in the photo appears to be a 2- to 3-ton model built by the American Locomotive Company of Providence, Rhode Island. The company manufactured one of the highest quality trucks during the period of 1909 to 1913.3 It’s not surprising that such a heavy truck would break through weathered wooden planks of a bridge built for lighter vehicles.

Detail showing David Miller and Aimee Marie Dyckman on the left and the repair crew using a fulcrum in an attempt to raise the rear tire of the 2- to 3-ton vehicle.

Detail showing David Miller and Aimee Marie Dyckman on the left and the repair crew using a fulcrum in an attempt to raise the rear tire of the 2- to 3-ton vehicle.

By the end of the summer of 1911 the Westchester County Board of Supervisors took action to fix the bridge and noted two incidents—one doubtlessly recorded by this photograph—when “the flooring of this bridge gave way.”

“It was ordered that bids for building a new floor and supports on the Van Cortlandt Bridge over the Croton River be advertised to be opened on September 11th next. The flooring of this bridge gave way on two occasions recently when the heavy auto vans tried to cross with extra heavy loads on.”4

Take a drive across the Van Cortlandt Bridge and learn more in this previous post:


  1. An excellent history/timeline of Boscobel can be found here. ↩︎
  2. Until at least 1871 the long bridge on the Ossining side was a drawbridge, to allow boats to sail up the lower Croton River. ↩︎
  3. For information about and images of American Locomotive Company trucks from 1909-1913 see here and here. ↩︎
  4. See “Supervisors in Long Session Transact a Lot of Important County Business,” New Rochelle Pioneer, August 12, 1911, page 3, here. ↩︎

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.

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.

Quaker Bridge, Before 1894

Quaker Bridge, circa 1847-1894. Courtesy of the Westchester County Historical Society.

Quaker Bridge, circa 1847-1894. Courtesy of the Westchester County Historical Society.

Here are two rare photographs of Quaker Bridge, both courtesy of the Westchester County Historical Society. The images show the wooden covered bridge which existed at the site of the current bridge from 1847 to 1894. The metal Pratt truss style bridge we use today—one of the oldest (possibly the oldest) bridges in daily use in Westchester County—was built in 1894.

For a bird’s eye view of the wooden Quaker Bridge see this previous post, Croton River Valley, Before & After.

Quaker Bridge, circa 1847-1894. Courtesy of the Westchester County Historical Society.

Quaker Bridge, circa 1847-1894. Courtesy of the Westchester County Historical Society.

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.

Quaker Bridge, circa 1914

Postcard of Quaker Bridge. Click the image to enlarge it.

Postcard of Quaker Bridge. Click the image to enlarge it.

Postcard of Quaker Bridge, circa 1914, published by Frank L. Simone, who issued postcards of many scenes of the Croton area. This card is postmarked Oscawana, July 28, 1914.

Here are two other Simone cards:

The Mystery of the Lost High Bridge Watch

Ad from the Troy Daily Times, January 17, 1883.

Ad from the Troy Daily Times, January 17, 1883.

On January 17, 1883 the Troy Daily Times ran an ad for a lost watch that will quicken the heart of anyone fascinated by High Bridge, the covered wooden bridge that once soared above the Croton River.

LOST—A small sized hunting cased, gold English watch. On the upper case is an engraving of High Bridge, Croton river, N.Y. The owner prizes the watch as a family relic, and not for its intrinsic value. The finder will be handsomely rewarded by calling on JOHN E. THOMPSON, Jeweler, &c., Mechanicville, N.Y.

Who would have commissioned an engraved watch depicting High Bridge? As much as we are interested in the bridge it wasn’t unique or famous in its day—certainly not like the other High Bridge, the one that carried the Croton Aqueduct over the Harlem River. Opened in June, 1842, our High Bridge lasted just 37 years—collapsing into the river from neglect in October, 1879. 1

Why was the watch a prized “family relic”?

And why was the ad—which apparently ran in no other newspaper—published so far up the Hudson River in Troy, New York?

Wooden Tubular Bridge Over Croton River, published by the London Stereoscopic Company. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Wooden Tubular Bridge Over Croton River, published by the London Stereoscopic Company.
Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

A tantalizing clue may be found in an article, “Croton Bridge Meeting,” published in the Sing Sing newspaper Hudson River Chronicle on October 26, 1841. Earlier that year what we now call the Old Croton Dam had collapsed, sending a deluge of water and debris down the Croton River Valley. When it roared through the gorge near Quaker Bridge the torrent was said to be 50 feet high and it destroyed all the bridges from Pines Bridge to the Hudson River.2

By the end of the year the towns of Cortlandt, Newcastle and Mount Pleasant were making plans to build a new bridge on the lower Croton. The Chronicle reported that it would be built “upon the point . . . known as ‘the Deep Hole,’ ” which “from its height above the River” would be “the most secure from destruction by the risings of the River, or any outbreakings of the Dam above.”

At a meeting on October 22, in the Ferry House at Van Cortlandt Manor, interested citizens and representatives of the three towns met to discuss plans to build the access roads on each side of the river and the bridge itself, “a Lattice Bridge (after the manner of the Harlem Rail Road Bridge).” The cost of this wooden bridge would be $16 per foot (not including a roof) and the contractor selected was “Mr. Joseph Haywood, Architect, of Troy.”

A postcard of the Van Cortlandt Manor Ferry House, circa 1907.

A postcard of the Van Cortlandt Manor Ferry House, circa 1907.

Before we speculate that the watch may have belonged to Haywood we need to correct some of the errors in the article to learn more about the man responsible for our beloved bridge.

“Mr. Joseph Haywood” was actually “Mr. Joseph Hayward” and he wasn’t really an architect, but more of a builder or construction supervisor. The “Lattice Bridge” he was proposing was not “after the manner of the Harlem Rail Road Bridge,” but based on his experience building a far more important bridge—the first railroad bridge across the Hudson River, which he had helped build in 1834–1835 at Troy.

The location of High Bridge on a map published in 1868. Click the image to enlarge it.

The location of High Bridge on a map published in 1868. Click the image to enlarge it.

In his recently published book, Crossing the Hudson, Donald E. Wolf writes that the wooden Troy bridge “marked a change in the course of history in the Hudson Valley. The Age of Steam had arrived, bringing with it the power for industry in the valley, speed and reliability for vessels on the river, and railroad connections to the rest of the country. The bridge at Troy was the first to carry a steam railroad across the Hudson, and as such it was the agent of historical change.”3

Unfortunately, despite Hayward’s association with such an important project, research to date has turned up little information about him. The fact that he was from Troy may answer the question of who originally owned the lost watch, but assuming it was his there are other mysteries. Why did he have a picture of High Bridge engraved on a watch? Was it significant because it was his first independent bridge construction contract—or was it particularly challenging to construct? Was the watch a gift from the grateful citizens of the three towns which paid for its construction? Does the fact that the ad says the watch was a family relic mean that Hayward had given it to a loved one?

There’s one last question. Did anyone ever find the lost High Bridge watch?


  1. As early as the late 1850s, in his classic book The Hudson, from the Wilderness to the Sea, author Benson Lossing described High Bridge as “a wooden, rickety structure, destined soon to fall in disuse and absolute decay”. Read the section about the Croton area here.
  2. See the article The Great Freshet of 1841, the Day that Changed the Croton River Forever on the Croton Friends of History website.
  3. Crossing the Hudson: Historic Bridges and Tunnels of the River by Donald E. Wolf. Haywood’s involvement in the bridge is also mentioned in Covered Bridges of the Northeast by Richard Sanders Allen. Both books are available through the Westchester library system.