History of Westchester County, New York, Volume 1 – Frederic Shonnard, W. W. Spooner
Long before this work, here in an edition containing three volumes, two of them of biographical nature, was first published, the authors cherished the hope that it could be a genuine narrative history of the county and wanted to be personally instrumental in achieving so important a result. Their attention was especially directed to the matter by their observations during their connection with the schools, from which they became convinced of the extremely elementary character of the general knowledge of this county’s history, even in relation to the Revolution, whereof, indeed, anything like a well-coordinated understanding is most exceptional among the people, and quite incapable of being taught to the young because of the unsuitability for that purpose of all books heretofore published that bear on the subject. In formulating the plan for the present work they had fundamentally in view a lucid continuous narrative, thorough in its treatment of the outlines of the subject and reasonably attentive to local details without extending to minuteness. These lines have been followed throughout. This is volume one out of three, containing the history from the county’s earliest settlement to the year 1900.
History of Westchester County, New York, Volume 1
Excerpt from the text:
CHAPTER I. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTY
THE County of Westchester, as a definitely bounded and organized political unit, was created on the 1st of November, 1683, by the provisions of an act of the first Provincial Assembly of New York, held under the administration of the Royal Governor Dongan, which formally marked off the province into the twelve original counties. By the terms of this act, Westchester County was to comprise ” East and Westchester, Bronxland, Fordham, and all as far eastward as the province extends,” and to run northward along the Hudson River to the Highlands, its southern limits being, of course, Long Island Sound and the waters between the mainland and Manhattan Island or New York County. Of the boundaries thus described, only the western and northern have continued unchanged to the present time. The precise location of the eastern line, constituting the boundary between New York and Connecticut, was a matter of serious contention throughout the early history of the county, and, indeed, was not established to the final satisfaction of both parties to the dispute until 1880. This long-standing and curious controversy as to the eastern boundary involved, however, nothing more than rival claims of colonial jurisdiction, arising from mathematical inaccuracies in original calculations of distance, and from peculiar conditions of early settlement along the Sound, which presented a mere problem of territorial rectification upon the basis of reciprocal concessions by the two provinces and subsequently the two commonwealths concerned; and. accordingly, while leaving a portion of the eastern border line of Westchester County somewhat indeterminable for two centuries, the issues at stake never affected the integrity of its aggregate area as allotted at the beginning. On the other hand, the southern boundary of the old county has undergone extremely radical modifications,’ which are still in progress. Since 1873, by various legislative acts, large sections of it have been cut away and transferred to the City of New York, comprising what until recent years were known as the ” annexed districts ” of the metropolis, now officially styled the “Borough of the Bronx” of the Greater City. Although the county still retains its two most populous municipalities, Yonkers and .Mount Vernon, the New York City line has been pushed right up to their borders, and there is no reasonable doubt that within a few more years they, too, will be absorbed. Already forty-one and one half square miles, or 26,500 acres, have been annexed to the city.
In these pages the story of old Westchester County is to be told; and whenever the county as a whole is mentioned without specific indication of the present limits, the reader will understand that the original county, including those portions which have actually passed under a new political jurisdiction, is meant.
Westchester County, thus considered in its primal extent, is something more than five hundred square miles in area, and lies centrally distant some one hundred miles from Albany. From its northwestern point, Anthony’s Nose, at the entrance to the Highlands of the Hudson, to its southeastern extremity, Byram Point, on the Sound, it is entirely surrounded by the waters of the Hudson River, Spuyten Duyvil Creek, the Harlem River, and Long Island Sound, forming a shore line more than one hundred miles in length –– — considerably more, indeed, if scrupulous allowance is made for the windings of the coast along the Sound.
The Hudson River, completing its narrow and tortuous course through the Highlands at the northern boundary of Westchester County, runs thence to the sea in an almost due south direction. For a short distance below Anthony’s Nose, however, it continues decidedly narrow, until, at the very termination of this portion of its course, a place called Verplanck’s Point, its banks approach quite close together, being only one mile apart. Here was located the famous King’s Ferry of the Revolution, an extremely important line of intercommunication between the patriot forces of the East and the West; and on the opposite bank stood the fortress of Stony Point, the scene of Wayne’s midnight exploit. Just below Verplanck’s the river suddenly widens, forming the magnificent Haverstraw Bay. This, in its greatest expansion, attains a breadth of over four miles. Farther down the prominent peninsula, of Croton Point juts out from the Westchester shore a distance of a mile and a half. Next the river spreads out into another noble bay, called the Tappan Sea. which extends to near Dobbs Ferry, with an average breadth of three miles. From there it flows majestically on to the ocean with no marked variations of width, the banks having a mean distance apart of a little more than a mile.
From Anthony’s Nose, the northernmost point of Westchester County on the Hudson, to the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, the southernmost, is a distance, as the crow flies, of thirty-four miles. The breadth of the county varies from twenty-five to eight and one-half miles. Throughout its entire extent along the Hudson the Westchester shore rises abruptly from the river edge to elevations seldom less than one hundred feet. Nowhere, however, does the Westchester bank ascend precipitously in the manner, or even at all resembling the manner, of the Palisade formation on the western shore. The acclivity is often quite sharp, but everywhere admits of gradual approach, for both pedestrians and carriages, to the high ridges. Thus the whole western border of the county both affords a splendid view of the entrancing panorama of the Hudson, and is perfectly accessible from the railroad, which runs along the bank of the river. Moreover, beyond the ridges in the interior the land has a uniform and gentle descent into lovely valleys, which permit convenient and rapid travel from all directions. These physical conditions render the western section of the county one of the most inviting and favored localities in the world for costly residences and grand estates; and from the earliest period of European settlement of this portion of America, the Hudson shore of Westchester County has been a chosen abode for families of wealth and distinction. But every other part of the county — at least every part conveniently reached from the railroads — is also highly esteemed for select residence purposes; and, indeed, Westchester County throughout its extent is peculiarly a residential county.
Spuyten Duyvil Creek and the Harlem River, which separate Manhattan Island from the mainland and form a portion of the southern boundary of the old County of Westchester, are in reality only an arm of the sea: and though to the superficial observer they may appear to constitute one of the mouths of the Hudson, they have no such function, and, indeed, receive none of its flow. The two are strictly to be considered not as a river, but as a strait, connecting the tide waters of the East River and Sound with those of the North River. Their length is about eight miles. The Harlem River at its eastern extremity is divided by Randall’s Island into two channels — the southern and principal one communicating with Hellgate, and the northern one (unnavigable), called the Bronx Kills, passing between the island and the Westchester shore into Long Island Sound. The Harlem and Spuyten Duyvil waterway presents the remarkable phenomenon of double tides, which vary decidedly in height, time of occurrence, duration of rise and fall, and swiftness of flow. ”The tides in the Harlem River,” says General John Newton, in a report to the War Department, ” are chiefly due to the propagated Hellgate wave, while the latter is the result of the contact of the Sound and Sandy Hook tides. The tides in the Hudson River and Spuyten Duyvil are produced by the propagation of the sea. tide through the Upper and Lower bays.” The mean rise of the tide in the Harlem is from Ave and one-half to six feet; in the Spuyten Duyvil Creek it is three and eight-tenths feet. The mean high water level in the Hudson River at Spuyten Duyvil Creek is nearly a foot lower and an hour and forty minutes earlier than in the Harlem, and the mean duration of the rise of tide in the former is thirty-six minutes shorter than in the latter. The westerly current, from Hellgate, is swifter than the easterly, from the Hudson. The place of ” divide ” between the Harlem River and the Spuyten Duyvil Creek is usually located at Kingsbridge. In early times the Harlem was navigable for most of its length, but owing to artificial obstructions (notably that of Macomb’s Dam), which were begun in the first part of the present century, the channel above the present Central Bridge became both shallow and contracted. The mean natural depth of Spuyten Duyvil Creek has always been comparatively slight. Owing to the importance of this waterway as a means of short transit for craft plying between the Hudson River and ports on the Sound and in New England, the United States Government has in our own time dredged a channel, which, from the Hudson to Hellgate, has a depth of from twelve to fifteen feet. This improvement, known as the Harlem Ship Canal, was opened to commerce on the 17th of June, 1805. The Harlem River and Spuyten Duyvil Creek are crossed at present by thirteen bridges.
Along the Spuyten Duyvil and Harlem River portion of its water line, as along the Sound, the (old) County of Westchester loses the comparatively lofty feature which characterizes its Hudson shore, and the land is generally low, sinking into marshy tracts in some localities near the Sound. The Westchester coast on the Sound, stretching from the mouth of the Harlem River to the mouth of the Byram River (where the Connecticut State line begins), is broken by numerous necks and points, with corresponding inlets and coves. Among the more important of the projecting points of land are Stony Point ( Tort Morris), Oak Point, Barreto Point. Hunt’s Point, Cornell’s Neck (Clason’s Point), Throgg’s Neck (with Fort Schuyler at its extremity), Rodman’s (Pelham) Neck, Davenport’s Neck, De Lancey Point, and Rye Neck. Some of these localities are famous in the history of the county, the province, and the State. The coast indentations include the outlets of the Bronx River, Westchester Creek, and the Hutchinson River; Eastchester Bay, Pelham Bay. De Lancey Cove and Larchmont Harbor, Mamaroneck Harbor, and Byram Harbor. Much of The contraband trade of colonial times was supposed to have found cover in the unobserved retreats which the deep inlets of this coast afforded; and of some of the earlier settlements along the Sound it is supposed that they were undertaken quite as much to provide secure places of rendezvous for commerce more or less outside the pale of the law as to promote the development of the country. In close proximity to the shore are many islands, of which the more notable are those between Pelham Bay and New Rochelle, including City, Hart’s, Hunter’s, David’s, and Glen Islands.
The New York City limits on the Hudson now reach to the northern bounds of the hamlet of Mount Saint Vincent, and on the Sound to a point about opposite, taking in also Hunter’s, Hart, and City Islands. Of the more than one hundred miles of coast line originally and until 1873 possessed by Westchester County, about thirty have passed to the city — three miles on the Hudson, eight on Spuyten Duyvil Creek and the Harlem Hirer, and the remainder on the Sound.
The eastern boundary of the county is an entirely arbitrary one, in no respect following natural lines of division, of which, indeed, there are none of a continuous character at this portion of the eastern confines of New York State. To the reader unfamiliar with the history of the New York and Connecticut boundary dispute, this zigzag line will appear to have been traced quite without reference to any symmetrical division of territory, but for the accommodation of special objects in territorial adjustment. This is largely true, although the line, as finally drawn, was reduced as nearly to a simple construction as could be done consistently with the very difficult circumstances of the boundary dispute.