Headless Horseman Blog

About historic Sleepy Hollow and its environs…

A Short Walk on the Aqueduct

by Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

Where I started my walk.

Where I started my walk.

Today, July 21st, 2017, it was hot.  But, since the air was fairly dry and the sky was sunny, I thought I would take a brief walk…  And it occurred to me that I hadn’t been on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail for many months.

So I drove over to McKeel Avenue in Tarrytown and parked at Croton Avenue, just behind the Chase Bank.  This section of the aqueduct was the one I used most often when I was growing up in the village.  My parents’ family had just moved from one neighborhood in Tarrytown to another.  We started out in the Tarry Crest area and moved, maybe half a mile north, into a district known as Wilson Park.  Our street was new, a cul-de-sac named Walden Road.  You took McKeel Avenue up the hill from Broadway to Beech Lane, and then made a left on Walden Road.

The Old Croton Aqueduct by Steiner

Henry on a summer day at the new house.

The houses were newly-constructed there—what you would call “modern” in 1962.  My parents’ house was a roomy split-level with dramatic, birds-eye views of Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow, and the Hudson River.  But, you probably would have to say that nice appointments like river views were wasted on the kind of teenaged boy I was back then.  I’m quite sure my young mind was consumed by a variety of other matters that had nothing to do with the expansive panorama that unfolded beyond my parents’ living room picture window.

The beautiful view was pretty much lost on me...

The beautiful view was pretty much lost on me…

On any summer day—or a weekend day in just about any season—I could arrange to play football or baseball with some of my buddies at any of the modest-sized fields around Wilson Park.  At times, though, we got the bright idea of using one of the three athletic fields down at Washington Irving Junior High School, the school I was attending at the time.  Today, the beautiful old building houses a grade school, and before my junior high school days there, it was a high school.  The school was built for the good people of Tarrytown, about 1924, to serve as a high school—the second Washington Irving High School.  But, in my time there, it was a seventh and eighth grade junior high school.  The building is still impressive, of classic American design, with a formal, spacious auditorium, and impressive vistas of the Hudson River from its several athletic fields.  It is now only a few years short of its centennial anniversary.

It was easier for me to walk out the back door and down the hill.  (Dad overseeing his domain from the back deck...)

It was easier for me to walk out the back door and down the hill.  (Dad overlooking his domain from the back deck of his new house…)

At that time I was about twelve or thirteen years old, so I was not yet driving, and the easiest way to get to the school (under my own power) was to walk there.  I would exit the backdoor of my house and take a steep, dirt trail down through the

In the old days I would pick up the aqueduct trail behind the old A&P (C-Town).

In the old days I would pick up the aqueduct trail behind the old A&P (C-Town).

woods toward Hillside Place.  Once there, I could see the the C-Town parking lot below, which in those days was called the A&P parking lot.  From there, I started my walk along the aqueduct trail south (parallel to Hillside Place), and I would soon come to McKeel Avenue.

The trail looking north from McKeel Avenue.

The trail looking north from McKeel Avenue.

That’s where I parked today, on Croton Avenue behind the Chase Bank, and I picked up the aqueduct trail heading south.  In the old days the bank would have been known as the The County Trust Company.  Long ago, in 1914, the very same building served as the headquarters of Frank Romer Pierson’s “flower empire.”

Mayor Frank Romer Pierson.

Mayor Frank Romer Pierson.

Pierson had been the longtime mayor of Tarrytown and the enduring force on the Tarrytown School Board.  At the start of summer in 1914, members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) staged a demonstration at the corner of McKeel Avenue and the aqueduct.  They were harassed and attacked by disaffected

F. R. Pierson's flower headquarters.

F. R. Pierson’s flower headquarters.

Tarrytowners loyal to John D. Rockefeller (senior and junior).  In the nick of time, the Croton Aqueduct Police turned out to escort the endangered IWW demonstrators to safety.  Mayor Pierson was on that occasion called away from the annual school commencement proceedings at Washington Irving School (the old Pierson School which now serves as the Landmark Condominiums) to survey the unpleasant violence and keep an eye on his new, expensive building.  But I digress…

Heading south from McKeel Avenue.

Heading south from McKeel Avenue.

In my early teenage days, I would continue south on the aqueduct, and maybe look over at the homes of Croton Avenue to the east.  To the west one passed the Post Office, then the Second Reformed Church, and then Pierson School before coming

The trail intersects with Hamilton Place...

The trail intersects with Hamilton Place…

...just above the old Pierson School building.

…just above the old Pierson School building.

to the intersection with Hamilton Place.  From there the trail continues south a bit narrower and curving slightly from the encroachment of some houses.  You pass an ancient stone ventilator, a welcome reminder of the aqueduct’s antiquity.  The

Approaching the old aqueduct ventilator.

Approaching the old aqueduct ventilator.

...closer...

…closer…

...and from the other side.

…and from the other side.

aqueduct ventilators were installed at intervals along its path at the time the aqueduct was constructed (circa 1838).  Their purpose was to release toxic gases that tended to accumulate in the aqueduct’s tunnel.

The Neperan Road intersection...

The Neperan Road intersection…

...Neperan Road intersection...

…Neperan Road intersection…

...Neperan Road.

…Neperan Road.

The next street I would come to was Neperan Road, and, crossing that street, I continued on.  Through this next stretch one might feel like you were wondering

South of Neperan...

South of Neperan…

...south of Neperan, near East Elizabeth Street...

…south of Neperan, near East Elizabeth Street…

Saint Mark's Baptist Church seen from the trail.

Saint Mark’s Baptist Church seen from the trail.

Proceeding south between East Elizabeth and East Franklin streets...

Proceeding south between East Elizabeth and East Franklin streets…

through backyards.  But the narrow dirt path seems to confirm the way as you cross East Elizabeth Street and finally come to East Franklin Street.  Today it was a pretty “civilized” walk for a hot day, for the path is nicely shaded for most of the way.  On that last leg I passed St. Marks Baptist Church, an old, picturesque, stone building.

Approaching East Franklin Street...

Approaching East Franklin Street…

Looking west on East Franklin toward W.I.

Looking west on East Franklin toward W.I.

Finally, I turned right on East Franklin to cross Broadway, and I then approached Washington Irving School, my old junior high school.  In days gone by I would have

W.I, in my day, Washington Irving Junior High School...

W.I, in my day, Washington Irving Junior High School…

continued down past the school building to the main athletic field below and met up with the “usual suspects” to play an ad hoc football game.  We would normally use

The big football field decked out for action... (In the old days we only needed a piece of it.)

The big football field decked out for action… (In the old days we only needed a piece of it.)

only a portion of the field.   But, today I was struck by the care with which the field was “dressed up” with formal line markings in a colorfully gaudy gridiron pattern.  There was a sign too, warning all to stay off the field.  I wonder if we would have heeded that warning back in 1962?

Beautiful W.I. from the south.  I suspect the Dutch ancestors of Sleepy Hollow ands Tarrytown would have approved of the windmill..

Beautiful W.I. from the south.  I suspect the Dutch ancestors of Sleepy Hollow ands Tarrytown would have approved of the new windmill…

Alma mater...

Alma mater…

It was warm out there in the sun and I was thirsty.  I continued walking around the school building, admiring it from a distance as I headed down to Franklin and Washington.  Then my steps turned toward Main Street.  Once there I

I usually prefer hot coffee...

I usually prefer hot coffee…

Possibly a portrait of Adrian Vander Donck, but not necessarily him...

Possibly a portrait of Adrian Vander Donck, but not necessarily him…

settled into Coffee Labs with a copy of Adrian Vander Donck’s, “A Description of New Netherlands,” and I sipped a large iced tea from a tall cup dimpled with condensation.  Loitering at the coffeehouse for a while, I sat dreaming of old school days and the fleeting glories of pick up football games with school chums and neighborhood friends.  After a while I walked up Neperan Road and slowly took the aqueduct trail back to where I started.  I was glad I did not have to play football on that hot summer day…

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1 Comment

  1. Brian Houlihan

    Felt like I was with you Henry! Thanks for stirring up the memories of a well traveled path from my youth.

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