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The Day That Changed the Croton River Forever

171 years ago today, the embankment that formed part of the the Old Croton Dam gave way, releasing a huge torrent of water, ice and debris—changing the Croton River forever.

The … waters dashed furiously onward along the valley of the Croton to its mouth … carrying away … Quaker Bridge, Holman’s mills, and the old piers of the old Croton Bridge.

In early January, 1841 there were 18 inches of snow on the ground in the Croton area and record cold temperatures, but on January 5th, things began to change. Temperatures rose rapidly and heavy rain began to fall. By the night of the 7th, melting snow and three days of rain had swelled Westchester’s rivers and streams to bursting.

Throughout the Croton River valley people began to prepare for flooding. Workers at Bailey’s Wire Mill, at the confluence of the Croton River and Hunter Brook, hurriedly built levees to protect their property from the rising water.

Several miles upriver, near Pine’s Bridge, water and debris was piling up behind the unfinished Croton Dam, including Pine’s Bridge itself, which had been torn from its footings and had floated down the river, along with several smaller bridges, buildings, trees and large chunks of ice.

At about two in the morning on the 8th the water rose so high that it started to spill over the earthen embankment that formed part of the dam. Within an hour, the embankment started to give way, releasing a huge torrent of water, ice and debris, sweeping away everything on the river. When it roared through the narrow Croton River Gorge it rose to a height of 50 feet, before gushing out into the Hudson, silting out the mouth of the Croton River with mud and rocks.

Read the news report of that terrible day.

Coming soon: The aftermath.

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