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

A Croton River Disaster—197 Years Ago Today

Detail from a map of Cortlandt Manor in 1797 showing (A) the mill complex, (B) Van Cortlandt Manor and the Ferry House, (C) Bethel Chapel and the Quaker Meeting House, (D) docks on the Hudson River and (E) the location where Quaker Bridge is today. Since there is no line across the river indicating a bridge it is likely the bridge had been washed away by a freshet at the time this map was made.

Detail from a map of Cortlandt Manor in 1797 showing (A) the mill complex, (B) Van Cortlandt Manor and the Ferry House, (C) Bethel Chapel and the Quaker Meeting House, (D) docks on the Hudson River and (E) the location where Quaker Bridge is today. Since there is no line across the river indicating a bridge it is likely
the bridge had been washed away by a freshet at the time this map was made.

As the weather in Croton gets warmer and we rejoice that the snow and ice are finally melting, let’s look back to a time when the Croton River ran wild and spring thaws would often bring massive freshets—river floods caused by heavy rain and/or melted snow and ice.

On Tuesday, March 10, 1818—exactly 197 years ago today—the Westchester Herald published a story about a freshet and the great damage it caused to “two Merchant Mills owned by Gen. Cortlandt.” 1

“Croton River.—The rapid thaw on Saturday . . . and the succeeding day, attended with heavy rain, occasioned the Croton river to rise to a considerable height, and floated down ponderous shoals of ice. Among the disasters it has occasioned we have to regret the damage done to the two Merchant Mills owned by Gen. Cortlandt, situated on that river. One of them was removed some feet from its base, the water-wheel destroyed, and some hundreds of barrels stove in; the floor of the second story was carried away, and upwards of one thousand bushels of feed destroyed. A saw-mill on the same race way was also swept away. The other mill, we are happy to learn, received but little damage. The whole loss is estimated at upwards of $3,000.”

Although the article is short it gives us a wealth of information about the flour mills on the lower Croton River.

  • There were two separate mills operating on the lower Croton River in 1818. As shown in the map above, they were both on the south side of the river.
  • The “race” that diverted water from the Croton River also powered a sawmill.
  • The mills are called “merchant mills” because they were large commercial operations that purchased unprocessed wheat from farmers and sold the flour themselves or through agents. 2
  • We get a sense of the size of the operation from the description of the damage—hundreds of barrels crushed, a thousand bushels of feed destroyed—and the estimated cost, roughly $55,000 in today’s dollars.
Philip Van Cortlandt (1749-1831) by John Ramage. Watercolor on ivory, circa 1783. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library.

Philip Van Cortlandt (1749-1831) by John Ramage. Watercolor on ivory, circa 1783. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library.

The mills were then owned and operated by Philip Van Cortlandt, (who was often referred to as “General Van Cortlandt” due to his rank at the end of the Revolutionary War) but they had been built by the Underhills in 1792 and operated by them until their lease with the Van Cortlandt’s ended acrimoniously in 1813.

It’s unlikely this was the first freshet to damage the mill complex and it was certainly not the last. Indeed, the Great Freshet of 1841—which caused the partial collapse of the earthen embankment of the old Croton Dam—destroyed the Van Cortlandt mills, along with all the bridges and buildings on the banks of the lower Croton River.3

What’s remarkable is that the water power produced at the site was so valuable that despite the continued destruction something was always rebuilt there. The site was used for more than 80 years and by the 1840s iron had replaced wheat as the material processed at the location.

Remains of the mill complex on the Croton River. Photo courtesy of Carl Oechsner.

Remains of the mill complex on the Croton River. Photo courtesy of Carl Oechsner.

Iron bolt in a boulder at the edge of the river.

Iron bolt in a boulder at the edge of the river.

Sadly, little remains of the mill complex remain today. If you paddle up the river—and you should—when you get near Fireman’s Island you’ll see a graceful brick archway, marking the end of the long race. Drilled into a boulder at the edge of the river there’s a large iron bolt where boats tied up. On the shore you can search for chunks of slag metal among the leaves, explore what’s left of the mill building foundation, walk along the top of the overgrown wall of the race and imagine what the mills must have been like in their heyday.

Multistory mill buildings towering over the river, the constant sound of millstones grinding together, the creaking waterwheels, hammering sounds of barrels of flour being sealed, then the clattering of heavy barrels being rolled on planks into the hold of a waiting ship.

One hundred ninety seven years ago today the sounds would have been very different, as a huge flood of water and “ponderous shoals of ice”—high enough and powerful enough to move a two-story building off its foundation—swept down the Croton River to the Hudson.


  1. The Westchester Herald began publishing in Sing Sing in Feburary, 1818—one month before this article was published—and continued to 1829.
  2. For more information on merchant mills see this article.
  3. At that time the mills were in a state of disrepair and were not in use.

Map of the Hudson River Line Steamers, 1883

Map of Hudson River Line Steamers, Albany and C. Vibbard. Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London. Click the image to enlarge it.

Map of Hudson River Line Steamers, Albany and C. Vibbard. Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London.
Click the image to enlarge it.

Here’s a nice route map of the Hudson River Line steamers Albany and Chauncey Vibbard during the Golden Age of steamboats.

The New York State Education Department has a fascinating account of Hudson River steamboat travel which includes descriptions of both boats and what was then called the Day Line.

Of the many Hudson River steamboat lines, the one which became the best known in this country and abroad was the Hudson River Day Line. Its “white flyers” were famous for their elegance and speed, and provided the most enjoyable way to travel the Hudson River. No one could claim to have seen America without seeing the Hudson River, and the only way to properly see the Hudson River was from the deck of a Day Liner. . . .

In the first full season of the Day Line in 1864 the steamer Chauncey Vibbard was launched and paired with the Daniel Drew to provide regular steamboat service between New York and Albany. Service was offered six days a week, but never on Sunday. As one of the steamboats was traveling upriver, the other was traveling downriver. The Day Line claimed its steamboats operated under the “nine hour system.” That is, it took nine hours for the boats to complete the trip between Albany and New York City, with Poughkeepsie as the half-way point for these trips. . . .

In the 1880s the Day Line, in order to better promote its business, felt that it needed to upgrade its fleet with new boats that were not only larger and faster, but also more elegant in appearance and décor. The Day Line introduced the Albany in 1880 and the New York in 1887.

These two new steamers, built on iron hulls 300 feet in length, could accommodate 1,500 passengers and claimed to be the fastest steamboats in the world. They were built exclusively for carrying passengers, and were said to be the finest boats ever constructed for the business. The Day Line advertisements emphasized that it was “strictly first-class—no freight.” 

These boats featured spacious cabins finished in highly polished woods; they were handsomely paneled, luxuriously furnished and adorned with statuary and paintings by celebrated artists. The dining rooms were on the main deck, where the traveler could enjoy an excellent dinner, which was served on the European plan, and lose nothing of the view of the most charming of American rivers.

See this previous post for images from Souvenir of the Hudson River, which has an inscription in the back that reads “Bought Sept. 1881 on Steamer Vibbard.”

This map is courtesy of Wellcome Library, London, which has 100,000 images—ranging from ancient medical manuscripts to etchings by artists such as Van Gogh and Goya—available for free download on their website.

Map Hudson River Line 1883_detail

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.

Ice Boating on the Hudson River

Ice Boating on the Hudson River, N.Y. Post card by the Hugh C. Leighton Co., circa 1910.

Ice Boating on the Hudson River, N.Y. Post card by the Hugh C. Leighton Co., circa 1910.

As a follow-up to our recent post, Winter on the Hudson River, here’s a postcard showing an ice boat in action on the river, circa 1910.

This image is part of the Waterways Post Card Collection at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, Queens College (CUNY), New York—a collection of “historically significant cultural heritage materials documenting the waterways of New York state.”

Here are links to this collection, which is part of a much larger treasure-trove of New York-related documents and images:

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.

View Haverstraw-cropped-center_w

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.