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A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City.

View of the Hudson River from the Keeper's House

The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington.

Recommended purchase - a map detailing the Westchester segment of the Old Aqueduct Trail.
Published by Friends of the Old Aqueduct Trail, the map is available for purchase at the Keeper's House.

First, catch a Metro-North Hudson line train to Dobbs Ferry, a village in southern Westchester County. The trip to Dobbs Ferry from Grand Central Terminal takes about 45 minutes (express trains can shorten the trip to 35 minutes). From the train station (by the way, there’s a restaurant and bar here called Hudson Social and a nearby riverfront restaurant called Half Moon - file away for later), walk up the steep Palisade Street to where the street turns into Walnut Street. These streets are quite steep, typical of many Hudson River towns, so be prepared. Elevations are in play, as the Hudson River is essentially a fjord, but this section is not as steep as those farther up in the Hudson Highlands.

Heading north on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Dobbs Ferry

Just strive to get to the Keeper’s House at the top of the hill, because the rest of the walk is fairly flat. A nice coast downhill comes at the end in Irvington. The Keeper’s House, a brick Italianate house from 1857, is the sole survivor of several such houses built for those in charge of keeping the old aqueduct running smoothly. This one belonged to the system superintendent. And it’s best to time your arrival at the Keeper’s House during the hours between 1 and 4 pm on a Saturday or Sunday because volunteers from Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct will be on hand to explain the history, current features of the trail, and where to mind your feet.

The OCA (Old Croton Aqueduct). The trail is well-worn but do pay attention to rocks and mud on occasion.

As it happened, during my walk, I ran into another volunteer farther up the trail who was out walking his dog. He saw me with the trail map I just purchased and pointed out additional sites to see on the trail ahead.*

Even in winter, the trail is pleasant. 

The water moved through the aqueduct underground into the city via gravity, beginning upstream above the Old Croton Damn in Yorktown and then flowing south near the eastern bank of the Hudson all the way down into southern Westchester County, later part of the Bronx, crossing the High Bridge (or the Aqueduct Bridge, in its day) through the large pipes just under the walkway and above the arches, and finally spilling into Manhattan.



View of the Nevis Estate from the trail

By walking north from Dobbs Ferry to Irvington, my journey moved against the direction of the water that once moved south. For those wanting to go with the flow, the walk could be reversed by starting farther north and walking south, with no serious compromise to the experience. Highlights include the Nevis Estate (above), an 1835 Greek Revival mansion named by Colonel James Hamilton III for the birthplace island of his father, Alexander Hamilton. The house is now part of Columbia University’s Nevis Labs, an academic home for experimental physics. (Rather swell to imagine experimental physics happening behind these classical columns.)

View of the Armour-Stiner Octagon House from the trail

Also look for the 1872 Armour-Stiner Octagon House (above), a trippy and whimsical apparition in pink, inspired by a classical temple that served as the summer retreat for a tea importer; and the walkway bridge views of Wickers Creek north of Dobbs Ferry, once home to Native American encampments, and Barney Brook, a stream near the town of Irvington. The walk traverses another college campus - Mercy College, an independent, coeducational college founded in 1950 by the Sisters of Mercy. Throughout the walk, look for crows, squirrels, cardinals, woodpeckers, hawks, and the Bald Eagle.

A ventilator on the trail in Irvington

The aqueduct system stretched 41 miles, dotting the landscape with fascinating ventilators and structures, including an enormous bricked aboveground reservoir in New York City at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. The New York Public Library’s main branch occupies the site. The Great Lawn in Central Park now fills the space once occupied by the massive Croton Reservoir.

The village of Irvington, New York. Explore Main Street before heading to the Metro-North station at the bottom of the hill.

Beginning in the late 1960s, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation purchased and preserved 26.2 miles of the aqueduct system for a linear park, one that stretches from Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx to Croton.

New York’s growing population would eventually require replacements for the extraordinary system, and piece-by-piece the structure crumbled into the city's very own Roman-like aqueduct ruins. The Old Croton Aqueduct has many fans, and several good hikes can be devoted to seeking out its almost mythical traces. The Old Croton Aqueduct supplied some of the city’s water until 1966.

The end of the walk in Irvington

Other sections of the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail await exploration, but this segment provides a good introduction.



Learn more:

• New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation webpage on the park: website

• Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct regularly present special events and walks. They also publish two maps detailing the Westchester section and the NYC section at $5 each. The maps are available for purchase at the Keeper’s House during open hours.   website

• The Armour-Stiner Octagon House. Consult website for upcoming guided tours. website

• See Walking Off the Big Apple’s related post on the 2015 reopening of the High Bridge in NYC.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Sunday, February 23, 2020.





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