Van Cortlandt Park

Croton Woods

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Croton Woods is named for the Old Croton Aqueduct that once ran through Van Cortlandt Park. In 1833, New York City’s water supply was inadequate and, when faced with harsh fires, a cholera epidemic, and a growing population, the State Legislature created the New York State Water Commission to help the City respond to its pressing needs. John B. Jervis’s Croton Aqueduct design was approved by referendum in April of 1835. The construction of the aqueduct cost $11.5 million, and it opened on July 4, 1842.

The 41-mile aqueduct ran from the Croton River in Westchester County, down through Van Cortlandt Park and the Bronx to the High Bridge, then across the Harlem River into Manhattan reservoirs in today’s Central Park and Bryant Park. To meet the needs of New York City’s growing population, a new Croton Aqueduct was authorized in 1883 and opened in 1893. The Old Croton Aqueduct served New York City until 1897.

The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, designated a Scenic and Historic Corridor by the State Legislature in 1976, runs 26 miles from Northern Westchester County into the Croton Woods of Van Cortlandt Park. The trail combines natural beauty with historic artifact. Hikers can see parts of the Aqueduct’s underground tunnel, historic houses, and remains of the Putnam Division of the New York Central Railroad set in a landscape of bedrock and Fordham gneiss, one of the oldest rock formations in the world dating back 1.1 billion years. The woods around the trail are home to pheasant, raccoon, and fox. Near the Bronx-Westchester County line in Van Cortlandt Park, the forest is full of tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipfera), oak (Quercus spp.), and maple (Acer spp.) trees. The Van Cortlandt Golf Course, the Major Deegan Expressway and the Mosholu Parkway make up the boundaries of the Croton Woods.

Around 20,000 years ago, New York was buried beneath massive glaciers. When the ice receded, it left behind the characteristic sketch of Van Cortlandt Park: steep ridges, smooth hillsides, and open flats. The Wiechquaskeck Lenape Native American tribe occupied this site in 1639 when the Dutch East India Company brought the first Europeans to settle in the Bronx. The Van Cortlandt name became associated with this piece of land in 1699 when Jacobus Van Cortlandt bought the property. Jacobus’s son Frederick built the Van Cortlandt Mansion in 1748 and the family lived there until the 1880s. The City of New York acquired this parkland in 1888 and city dwellers have been enjoying it ever since.

Directions to Van Cortlandt Park

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