Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park is a land excursion that will bring you back in time to the early 19th century. Along with its importance and historical significance, it is also dotted with architectural treasures from the Gilded Age along its route. Constructed between 1837 and 1842, this 41 mile long masonry aqueduct was hand dug with three to four thousand, mostly Irish immigrants earning $1.00 per day. For most of its length, the aqueduct is a horseshoe-shaped brick tunnel 8.5 feet high by 7.5 feet wide, set on a stone foundation and capped with an earthen cover.
Major David B. Douglass started the project and John B. Jervis succeeded him on this project designed on construction principles from Roman times. This gravity-fed tube, which drops only 13 inches per mile, beginning from the Croton reservoir, filled two above ground reservoirs on the present sites of the Great Lawn in Central Park and the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.
The Croton Aqueduct continued to provide water to New York City until 1955. Now the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail runs 26.2 miles from Croton-on-Harmon to the Bronx.Picking up the trail in Yonkers, New York on Lamartine Avenue, heading north, you will meander through wooded areas in an urban neighborhood setting. Before long, you will encounter Untermyer Park which is high on a hillside above the Hudson River in Yonkers.
The grounds include a rock garden, a Grecian garden and amphitheater, a classical pavilion, pergola and a view of the river. Two giant, ancient Roman columns, made from Cipolino marble, stand tall at the Hudson overlook at the base of the Vista steps and date back to 200 BC. The park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It is open to the public.
The next 19th century treasure along the trail is the Armour-Stiner House. It is a octagon shaped Victorian style house located at 45 West Clinton Avenue in Irvington, New York. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. The house was built in 1859-1860 by financier Paul J. Armour. The dome was added and the house was enlarged during 1872-1876 by Joseph Stiner, who was a tea importer. The house was occupied from 1946-1976 by historian Carl Carmer, who claimed that the house was haunted. In 1976, the house was briefly owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to prevent it from being demolished. The Trust was unable to fund the amount of renovation the property required, and sold it. It is now in private hands. The Old Croton Aqueduct, abuts the property on the east.
Washington Irving’s home, Sunnyside is next on the trail. Sunnyside (1835) is an historic house on 10 acres overlooking the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York. It was the home of American author Washington Irving (1783-1859) Irving is best known for his short stories “Rip Van Winkle” (1819) and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820). His home was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962. It features architectural influences of Dutch-Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival and Scottish Gothic. Irving had a strong dislike toward the Irish workers that were building the Croton Aqueduct. In an 1840 letter to the editor of Knickerbocker Magazine in New York City, he described how a camp of Irish laborers near Sleepy Hollow had been visited by the headless apparitions associated with the area and aroused by “strangers of an unknown tongue.” These ghost tales intimidated the workers, and kept them from walking past the haunted Dutch church to nearby whiskey mills. His objective was to keep the workers in their shacks at night, cut off from their whiskey, and ultimately the Irish would abandon the regions of Sleepy Hollow. His literary scare tactics obviously failed.
It is open to the public.
Next on the trail is Lyndhurst mansion, which is also known as the Jay Gould estate. It is a Gothic Revival country house that sits in its own 67-acre park overlooking the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York. Designed in 1838 by Alexander Jackson Davis, the house has been owned by New York City mayor William Paulding, Jr., merchant George Merritt, and railroad tycoon Jay Gould. In 1961, Gould’s daughter Anna Gould donated it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Behind the mansion, down a steep hill is a large wood framed building, containing a two lane bowling alley which dates back to 1895. The super rich of the period, including Gould and Vanderbilts had the opulent lanes. It is open to the public.
Although the aqueduct is mostly under ground, there are visible viaduct structures of fitted stone that transverse streams that flow towards the Hudson. Weirs that can divert the entire flow of aqueduct water to the Hudson below for maintenance and stone ventilation shafts dot the trail as well. These can be seen in Yonkers, Irvington and Ossining. The New Croton dam is a marvel in itself. The dam is built on the site of the original dam which became obsolete in 1906. In the town of Ossining there is a museum where you can actually enter the aqueduct structure through a weir as well as view the Double Arch Bridge.
The southern end of the Croton Aqueduct includes the iconic High Bridge. It is the oldest bridge in New York City, opening as an aqueduct in 1848. It was put out of service as an aqueduct in 1917 due to the newly built New Croton Aqueduct. It closed to pedestrian use in 1970 and has now been spruced up and reopened as a pedestrian walkway in 2015. It spans the Harlem River and connects the Bronx and Manhattan. The Bronx entrance is at West 170th Street, and the Manhattan end is located in Highbridge Park at 174th Street.
There are numerous access points to the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail. To view a map, click on the link below.
Thank you to nysparks.com and The Untermyer Gardens Conservancy