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Crotonville: What happened?

On the 13th of May 1781, when Colonel DeLancey and his British troops crossed Pines Bridge and tragically surprised the Colonial soldiers under Colonel Greene at the Davenport House, he crossed a bridge that forded the Croton River. That river, the winding stream through the Croton Valley, then supplied waterpower for all the gristmills of the flourishing hamlets along its banks.

The water demands of New York City brought about the disruption of peaceful valley farming when the first dam was built to hold back Croton River water about a mile West of the old crossing. A new bridge was built according to Bolton's History, 1848 edition, a little above the first and spanned what became known as Croton Lake. This second bridge was also called Pines Bridge, supposedly but not authenticated, after a man who owned the land there at the first crossing. The foundations of this second span can still be seen when the waters of the lake are low enough as they were in 1956 when a slight crack or defection was discovered in Cornell Dam and the waters were lowered for repairs.

Around this second bridge, completed in 1842, arose a busy community and according to Bolton's History:

"On the South side of the Croton is a small settlement bearing the name of Crotonville which contains a Methodist Church, a Friend's Meeting House, two stores, a tavern, a post office and several scattered buildings. The old bridge (the one Colonel DeLancey crossed_) was situated west of the present structure and served, during the Revolution, as a principal communication between the line."

This story is the knowledge (or the legend) I personally have of what was then Crotonville, from my parents and from Mary Byers Marks and Katie Brannigan the latter two were Yorktown residents in later years, but part of Crotonville in their early years. Katie Brannigan was older than my father, and she claimed that he was a "rascal" and that she gave him a "thrashing" for some deviation from good conduct at the old school house.

If anyone remembers Katie and her unconquerable spirit, one can easily imagine her administering justice to whom she felt deserved it. She lived on the lake road to Mount Kisco, past the Quaker Meeting House road, and went to the little old school house in Crotonville. Mary Marks (Aunt Mary to many) whose parents were Maggie and Jimmy Byers, lived on a lane north of Yorktowner editor, George Candreva's present home. (My parents' homes were designated earlier as the Candreva and Cumming's Houses on Hanover Street).

My mother, who was younger, did not go to school at the same time as my father and Aunt Mary Marks, according to the latter's recollections. But my mother, Emelie Gilbert, also received her limited education at the little one-room building at the foot of Crow Hill. The photo accompanying this article is from my father's album.

Pines Bridge Inn, then two separate buildings, possibly a private home of the Croton Lake House, consisted of an ornate Victorian building with its typical "fancy" carriage house. Both were moved from their Crotonville site and joined as one structure in their present location when the second dam was built. When we were children, a family by the name of Quinn operated the Inn as it stands at present.

When the lake was low in 1956, I drove my father all around it. He told me that the Palmer (or Parmer) House (tavern) was a little northeast of the bridge on what was known at the Somers Turnpike, and not south as father Bolton's History indicated a "tavern" in 1848. The one my father knew may have appeared at a later date, but Parmer structure is listed on an 1867 map, as lying south of the lake in Crotonville.

The old Methodist Church, where my parents presumably attended, was a "white frame" building a little south of the bridge, according to my father, and the 1867 Map confirms this.

We children went to Sunday School in the "new" stone church which still stands on the road up to the old Colonial Hotel, a huge wooden structure which burned some years ago.

I recollect from my own children, and not from hearsay, that tin the hamlet once known as Crotonville, there was an abandoned grave years just north of Pines Bridge. The Westchester Historical Society terms it the Methodist Cemetery. Approaching the bridge (a Ben Franklin Marker is there now) was a hill, and one had to go up and then down that hill to get into Pines Bridge. Where the cut-a-way is, a former road bounded the burying ground. Already old when I was a child, it lay nestled under towering and rustling pines trees. The gravestones, some standing - some toppled, lay in blankets of myrtle, lily-of-the-valley and gnarled vines, long out of control.

We went to another one-room school at the foot of Hanover Street (still there as a residence). On our recess periods, we would wander over the old cemetery on this promontory east of our school. Too young to value this experience except as a pleasurable and exciting excursion, I did not know then that my mother's two brothers who died in infancy were buried there. She casually mentioned it later, after we had left the area and the old cemetery had already been desecrated in the name of progress.

Had I remembered the names, I might possibly have found the local names of Reynolds, Birdsall, Sniffen, Griffen, VanKleeck, Gedney, Banker, Clerk or Purdy. These names all appear in Crotonville or on nearby farms on an 1867 Map of Yorktown.

Nothing seems to be known, according to the Historical Society, of the site of the Friend's Meeting House. The exact sites of tavern, post-office and stores or the school seem obscure. I do have a copy of an old photo which shows a small structure at the foot of Crow Hill in the exact area my father said the school house stood. When the waters were down, stones of old foundation could be seen.

The third bridge, the present Pines Bridge, was erected when Cornell dam was built to expand the water reservoir. I do not have the exact date of the Cornell Dam completion at this moment. My father worked on it was a very young man, and he said that it took a ling time to finish.

At this point in-local history, around 1890, Crotonville, busy, thriving, died-still young, between the births of two bridges. The effects of this new dam and the new bridge on the peaceful lives of the country folk could only have been devastating, as water flowed over farms, homes and flourishing enterprises. One can only pause a moment to reflect on the despair that met that moment of truth, when all they had built up in such a relatively short time was doomed to destruction.

Obscure history and water cover Crotonville. One can scarcely believe it was ever there.

Source: Elizabeth Macaulay, The Yorktowner March 28, 1973

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