A Sense of History...Then And Now
by Doris E. Auser
"About half-way between the northern and southern boundaries of the town (Yorktown) is located the village known as Yorktown Station. It has grown up almost entirely since the building of the New York City and Northern Railroad was begun. At present the village contains five stores, about a dozen dwelling-houses, a school-house, one hotel, a station-house, two blacksmiths and a wheelwright shop, the meeting-house of the Orthodox Friends and a Methodist Episcopal Church."
This was the description of what is now Yorktown Heights by W. J. Cumming who wrote the Yorktown section of J. Thomas Scharf's "The History of Westchester County" in 1886.
In 1896 the passenger department of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad published "Health and Pleasure on 'America's Greatest Railroad.'" In the Putnam Division of this publication, each stop between the New York terminal at 155th Street and Brewster was described, and a list of hotels with rates attached for each stop.
Taking advantage of the influx of workers and sightseers to the Croton Dam, Ezekiel Palmer built the Croton Lake House in 1868 and added an additional building to it in 1879 which he then turned over to his nephews, George and H. J. Palmer to operate. In 1882 he opened the Whitney House across from the Yorktown Heights depot, naming it after Silas Whitney who owned most of the land around the depot.
In the 1896 material put out by the railroad the following notes are written about Croton Lake Station and Yorktown Station:
"CROTON LAKE. At Croton Lake Station, Located about 150 feet above the lake on its northern shore, all trains are met by carriages from the hotels, which it may be safely affirmed are situated as finely as on any part of the line. The dam holding the water that fills the aqueduct coming to the city over High Bridge is only one and one-quarter miles west of this station. The lake abounds with all varieties of fresh water fish."
"YORKTOWN. Thirty-seven miles from 155th Street, at an altitude of 450 feet, is Yorktown, a place of growing enterprise, exceptional advantages, and a very promising future. Little more than a mile west of the town, by two or three spacious shaded drives, are the two Mohansic Lakes, stocked with a numerous variety of fine fish. Covering about 300 acres, these beautiful sheets of water are a delight to the boatman and a healthful resting-place for the weary. In the vicinity of Yorktown are some of the choice farms of Westchester, and many country seats of New Yorkers."
In a list of accommodations, Croton Lake is noted as having the Croton Lake House, operated by the Palmer Brothers with accommodations for five and terms per week upon application. In addition, three boarding houses and three farms are listed, operated by people with familiar Yorktown names: Griffin, Flewellin, Sarles, Marshall and Read. The rates for these range from $6 to $12 per week with accommodations for 20 persons at Sarles' boarding house and Read's Lake View House and from four to 15 at others.
The Whitney House in Yorktown is listed as having accommodations for 20 with rates running from $7 to $10 per week. Other houses for tourists or workers on the dam operated by Bassett, Horton, Curry, Hart, Purdy, Griffen, Mekeel, Bennet and Mead.
The picture of "Station Square" as it was in 1908, from a negative owned by Edward B. Kear, shows the park opposite the depot in the foreground. This park was always kept in good condition and was a pleasant place to pass the time at the turn of the century. Across from the park from Railroad Avenue were a livery stable, bakery, shoe shop, barber shop and butcher shop. The Whitney House can be seen at right with its three stories topped by a double cupola.
Changes in the scene as it is today are all too evident.
The lovely park that was once the pride of Yorktowners, is now an overgrown plot of grass and weeds.
The building that once bore the sign "Ryder Livery and Boarding Stable" is still standing, as is the house beside it. The building that housed Slawson's Bakery was recently demolished under the town's building code. Instead of the horse and wagon in front there are cars parked alongside the buildings.
The large building that housed the shoe shop, barbershop and butcher is gone, as is the Whitney House. In their place is a small house and a Texaco Service Station just around the corner on the property where the Whitney House and shed stood.
A stranger would find it difficult to say that the past fifty years have shown any improvement in this area of Yorktown.
Source: Doris E. Auser, The Yorktowner, Vol. 2 No. 8, December 7, 1967
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