Van Cortlandt Park

Tibbetts Brook

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

Tibbetts Brook is a small stream that begins its journey just north of the Bronx in the City of Yonkers and flows south into Van Cortlandt Park. The stream cuts through the middle of the parkland into Van Cortlandt Lake, then dips underground beneath Tibbett Avenue, flowing southwest into the Harlem River Ship Canal.

The Lenape Native Americans who once inhabited this region enjoyed the fresh supply of water and food the brook provided. They named the stream Mosholu, meaning “smooth or small stones,” because of the stones that the brook flows over. The name “Mosholu” today lends itself to Bronx landmarks such as the Mosholu Parkway (1888), Mosholu Avenue (1884-1888), and the Mosholu Golf Course (1914).

The brook’s current name, Tibbetts, is an altered version of the name of a 17th century settler, George Tippett. George Tippett’s descendants were driven off their land after the American Revolution for their royalist sympathies, but the brook retains his name. Tippett bought a tract of land from Elias Doughty in 1668, located within what is now Van Cortlandt Park and the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The land was a portion of the massive estate which Doughty had inherited from his brother-in-law, Adriaen van der Donck, which encompassed all the land between the Hudson and Bronx Rivers, from Saw Mill River in what is now Westchester County south to Spuyten Duyvil Creek.

In 1670, Doughty sold another portion of land to Frederick Phillipse, who gave the land to his daughter Eva upon her marriage to Jacobus Van Cortlandt in 1691. Van Cortlandt dammed the portion of Tibbetts Brook that ran through his property, creating Van Cortlandt Lake. Water from the lake was diverted down a sluiceway to turn the waterwheels that powered a gristmill and a sawmill. In winter, ice from the lake was sold to local businesses. With the advancements of the 19th century, water-powered industry became obsolete, and the Van Cortlandts sought to sell their land. On December 12, 1888, the City acquired title to the property that would become Van Cortlandt Park, which occupies 1,122 acres. In the summer of 1889, the Van Cortlandt gristmill produced its final bounty of wheat.

Tibbetts Brook is a major link in the natural drainage pattern of Van Cortlandt Park, which encompasses a watershed of slightly under 850 acres. Runoff collects in the stream, drains into Van Cortlandt Lake, and eventually empties into the Harlem River via a network of underground sewers. Development along the waterway, such as highway construction, often creates new sources of highly concentrated runoff that disrupt this delicate stasis, causing erosion and contamination with salt, oil, and roadside debris. In 1961, pollution leaked into the brook upstream killing thousands of fish in the lake. Subsequent efforts to revitalize the stream included a complete restocking of the lake’s fish population in 1978. Long gone are the days of the Lenape, Tippetts, and Van Cortlandts. What remains is Tibbetts Brook, a quiet stream that is home to such diverse flora as phragmites, cattails, marshmallows, willow herbs, and cursed crowfoot. The area is also a must-see for bird and wildlife watchers, who can occasionally spot herons, owls, woodpeckers, rabbits, raccoons, muskrats, and skunks in the vicinity.

Directions to Van Cortlandt Park

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