August 13, 1841 – “A ride to the Croton Dam”

Here is an account of a trip from Sing Sing to the old Croton Dam that took place 172 years ago today. This is from a wonderful blog that publishes the diary of Julia Lawrence Hasbrouck, who “lived and wrote the majority of her diaries in New York City . . . [and] then moved to a rural community in upstate New York, a transition that her diaries describe as a difficult one.”

096_Page 94Sing.Sing.
Friday. August. 13. teenth. 1841.

A beautifull day, the sun obscured, and a cool
breeze blowing.

Surprised by a visit from Garret, he rode up at
twelve oclock. It was his intention to take Louis, and I home with him, but there was no boat.
At three oclock, we set off to ride seven miles, to see
the Dam at the Croton water works. Our ride was very pleasant the children behaving remarkably well.
The roads are very hilly in this part of the country,
I was afraid to ride down the steep hills. A severe
freshet* last winter carried away all the bridges, so we were obliged to drive through the Croton river, to reach the spot on which the new dam, is about being erected. Four hundred men are daily employed in repairing the dam, and live in huts, on the surrounding hills. Dame nature, seems to have indulged in some wild freaks…

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Sing Sing Camp-Meeting

Sing-Sing Camp Meeting, 1838. Painted by Joseph B. Smith, Litho by Endicott. Published circa 1839-1840. From the Prints and Photographs Department of the Library of Congress.

Sing-Sing Camp Meeting, 1838. Painted by Joseph B. Smith, Litho by Endicott. Published circa 1839-1840.
From the Prints and Photographs Department of the Library of Congress.

On August 24, 1874, the New-York Daily Tribune published an article looking back on the history of the Sing Sing Camp Meeting, which had been founded more than 40 years earlier to provide “a short season of out-door worship during the sultriest portion of the year.” Here are excerpts of that article, illustrated with sections of an exquisitely detailed lithograph, based on an 1838 painting by Joseph B. Smith.

“It was more than half a century ago the little company of men and women, ardent disciples of John Wesley, conceived the idea of a short season of out-door worship during the sultriest portion of the year. They lived near the banks of the Hudson River, and soon after the first mention of such a project were engaging in prospecting for desirable place for such a gathering in their immediate vicinity. A quiet grove near Croton was at length discovered simple to the demands of the little company of worshipers. They held a series of out-door meetings, meager in numbers but powerful in the influence, and this circumstance added to the charm of camp life and at once made the meetings a permanent institution. The little company met again the next year and was this time joined by number of friends and neighbors. So the meetings went on from year to year in the numbers being roof reinforced by persons of different villages, it was thought desirable to change the location occasionally that all might be accommodated. Pleasantville and Croton were the points most frequently visited, however. In a few years from the time of the first of these meetings was held, an association was formed called the "Mount Pleasant Camp-Meeting Association." In 1832 was found that the groves hitherto frequented were not exactly suited to the needs of the community now brought together, and search was it once begun for some central point which should be well adapted to the needs of all who might wish to unite in this novel mode of worship. After some time had been spent in a survey of the groves along the Hudson, a plot of land was discovered at Sing Sing, the natural advantages of which were seen at a glance. A purchase was made, tents were erected and the camp-meeting of 1832 was held at this place. Thus originated the first of the large important Methodist camp-meetings in America. Since this first gathering at Sing Sing, 42 years ago, the August camp-meeting has been held there was hardly an interruption. Once the ravages of the cholera prevented the meeting; once the company met at Croton and once or twice at other points, but nearly 40 meetings have been held at Sing Sing. . . .

The present attendance at Sing Sing camp-meeting is chiefly made up of the New York City churches and those of the Hudson River counties. A few come from Western New York and New England sends an occasional representative. The annual attendance averages about 3,000 though the number rises to 8,000 and 10,000 on the days of the principal meetings.

The Sing Sing camp-meeting his witness no such wondrous growth as Ocean Grove and others more recent origin. Its progress has been slow but constant. The grove was chosen exclusively for the holding of religious meetings in August of each year. It had none of the advantages of a summer resort which are so marked at Martha's Vineyard and Ocean Grove, by reason of which 300 cottages have sprung up at the latter point in less than five years. There is only an occasional cottage on the Sing Sing ground, and as soon as the camp-meeting is finished the little community strikes its tents and scatters for year.

The natural advantages of the Sing Sing camp-ground are, however, inferior to none. The Grove is composed chiefly of grand old oak trees of the century's growth. Their wide stretching arms, thickly covered with foliage, afford the best protection to the worshipers beneath, since the fiercest rays of an August sun can scarcely penetrate the depths, and the Raindrops seldom find their way through. Chestnut trees are also scattered here and there among the oaks, and an occasional elm is to be found. . . . Breezes from the Hudson come drifting through the trees, and one can catch an occasional glimpse of the majestic river, 400 feet below. The encampment is neatly laid out in avenues, and the tents, about 150 in number, are ranged among the pathways. A never-failing spring on the northern border of the grounds furnishes the clearest and coolest water to the entire encampment. In the center of the ground, on its northern side, is a large stand, where the regular services are held. The clergymen occupy the platform in the rear of the speaker. The congregation gathers in front, the' settees being arranged in semicircular form. A slight slope of the land toward the speaker's stand gives the auditorium almost the advantage of an amphitheater. . . .

The camp-ground has received very extensive improvement during the past three years, and it possesses many advantages that it knew not year ago. It has recently been thoroughly drained and graded, and no less than $12,000 been expended in the improvements of the last two or three years. The spring water is raised to a large reservoir at a central point, and this is always well supplied. The facilities for lighting the grounds have been much extended . . . Considerable territory has been added to the original purchase, and it is now nearly twice its former size. . . .

The camp-meeting now in progress differs little from those which preceded it. It is the same company of devoted Christians which with each returning summer have sought the oak grove in the heights beyond Sing Sing, for a score or more of years. . . .”

What a Delightful Ride

From Souvenir of the Hudson River, published by Wittmann Brothers, circa 1880.

From Souvenir of the Hudson River, published by Wittmann Brothers, circa 1880.

Anyone who takes Metro-North’s Hudson River Line is struck by the beauty of the river, particularly in the evening when the sun is setting over the Palisades. Although it’s difficult to imagine, this trip has made an impression on travelers for more than 160 years.

Here’s one account of the passage up the river, through “Sing Sing” and Croton in 1873, excerpted from En Rapport on the Rails (Related on the Rails) by Vieux Moustache (Old Moustache) the pseudonym of Clarence Gordon—an author who at the time lived in Newburgh, New York. This story was published in the Troy Daily Whig, on April 26, 1873.1

The next time you’re taking the train back to Croton, imagine what the river would have been like at that time. It’s been “stifling hot in the city” and we’ve just crossed the Spuyten Duyvel. Our companion in the seat next to us has “aroused himself from his open-eye nap,” and given his “attention to the book in hand,” but soon he turns “from that to the scenery.” Our “offer to him of the seat by the window led to some desultory remarks, and those passed into a conversation which, before we passed the opposite Palisades, had grown as warm and earnest as the talk of old friends. . . .”

“What a delightful ride that is up the Hudson River railroad by a six or six-thirty train, of a summer's afternoon! . . . Before Sing Sing and seven o'clock the hot sun sank down behind the Nyack hills. Then we were able to push up the blinds and enjoy the full breeze and view.

The Hudson River Railroad, north from Sing Sing in 1868 from F.W. Beers' Atlas of New York and vicinity ...

The Hudson River Railroad, going north from Sing Sing in 1868 from F.W. Beers’ Atlas of New York and vicinity.

In a moment we plunge from light, breeze and freedom into the damp obscurity of a short tunnel, then rush with clanging reverberations past the high, shadowed, white walls pierced with hundreds of narrow, grated window slits. You put your face close to the car side, and peer up with sad curiosity to the prison sides; perhaps catch a flash-like picture in one of those iron-barred frames of a face—merely a bare face seen but for an instant—but perhaps you fancy it a hard, desperate countenance, marked by misery and revenge. But few seconds for your gloom. It travels not beyond the massive, dreary walls and the last sentry-box. A harsh, prolonged whistle of the engine, and we are by the pleasant open shore again. Some faint pink lines over the Rockland hills, the river cheerfully rippled, a few sails, away ahead a steamboat just passing Croton Point. With increasing speed we flash by Sing Sing, screaming as though our monster locomotive craved some victim to wet its rails. Now Brandreth's pretty little pill box and factory close under our right;2 a marshy shore and outstretched nets on the left. We cross the drawbridge3 of the Croton—the beautiful river flowing out of a but partially revealed valley, and spreading into a bay that looks the picture spot for punts4 and flocks of ducks.

The Hudson River Railroad, crossing the mouth of the Croton River and Croton Point in 1868, from F.W. Beers' Atlas of New York and vicinity ...

The Hudson River Railroad, crossing the mouth of the Croton River and Croton Point in 1868, from F.W. Beers’ Atlas of New York and vicinity.

Just there, near the south shore of Croton Point, and about a quarter of a mile from the rails, was a sloop swinging on a new tack . . . In the softening light, a little in the shadow of the land, gently touched by a reflection of the western sky, and caught but for a glance as she turned to a new course, and we ran between the gravel banks5 that open with a dry yawn right at the base of the Point, she seemed as a shape seen in the clouds, as a fading mirage—a mysterious unreality and faintness encompassing her as the atmosphere of some phantom craft.”

Clarence Gordon (1835-1920), the pseudonymous author of this piece, was born in New York City, on April 28, 1835. He graduated from the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard in 1855. He lived in Savannah, Georgia until 1860, in or near Boston from 1862-1868, and then in Newburgh, New York. He was special agent of the United States census bureau in 1879-1883, in charge of the investigation of meat-production in the grazing states. He contributed to many journals and magazines, and wrote novels for boys, under the pen name of “Vieux Moustache.” These include Christmas at Under-Tor (1864); Our Fresh and Salt Tutors (1866); Two Lives in One (1870); and Boarding-School Days (1873).


  1. The newspaper version was taken from the May, 1873 issue of The Galaxy, a Magazine of Entertaining Reading.
  2. Still standing today, but threatened with destruction.
  3. In 1873 the railroad bridge over the mouth of the Croton River was a drawbridge to allow ships to pass.
  4. A punt is a flat-bottomed boat with a square-cut bow, designed for use in small rivers or other shallow water.
  5. When the railroad was built across the mouth of the river and the “neck” of Croton Point, four hundred thousand cubic yards of sand and gravel had to be removed. The remaining banks on each side of the tracks were removed over the years and there is no trace of them today.

Croton Area, 1778-1780

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Detail from an engraving based on one of Robert Erskine’s military maps, showing the Croton Area in 1778-1780. The full map is below.

Since this was produced for military purposes it notes the location of Cortlandt Furnace (as well as the Sing Sing silver mine).

This copy was printed and folded into Washington Irving’s multi-volume Life of George Washington, published in 1859.

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View from Sing-Sing by Jaques Milbert

Milbert-sing-sing

“Sing-Sing or Mount Pleasant” by Jaques Milbert

A print from Milbert’s 1828 book, Itinéraire pittoresque du fleuve Hudson et des parties latérales de l’Amérique du Nord, looking north from Sing-Sing. Croton Point can be seen jutting into the river from the right in the middle of the image.

The French artist toured the Hudson River region in the 1820’s and compiled a series of drawings of views he encountered on his trip. Upon his return to Paris, an account of his travels, illustrated with lithographs of the views, introduced the beauties of the Hudson River to the European public.

For more images from this book, along with many other similar works, see the New York Public Library’s Hudson River Portfolio.

View of Croton Point from Sing Sing by Robert Havell

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Robert Havell (1793-1878)
View of Croton Point from Sing Sing, New York
oil on canvas
38 x 50 in. (96.5 x 127 cm.)
Painted circa 1845.