Old Croton Aqueduct Midsection:
This description was created and transcribed on 8 October 2000 by me, Dean Gallea, of Tarrytown. I intended it as a guide for bicyclists, but hikers could certainly use it as well. I rode the trail from South to North, so any mention of Left and Right directions—which I have tried to keep to a minimum—should be reversed if going North to South.
Most of the trail is hard-packed dirt, which should be navigable even by touring bikes, though some care should be taken on rocky and rooty sections.
The Old Croton Aqueduct is a New York State Park, and as such, is subject to the laws thereof. Travelers should keep the usual earth-friendly recommendations in mind:
|Stay in the middle of the trail|
|Pass others on the right|
|Don’t litter (carry-in/carry-out)|
|Don’t disturb plants or animals|
If you have suggestions to improve this guide, email me at oldcroton(@)gallea(.)com. To make suggestions directly to the New York State Parks and Recreation Commission, write: NY State Parks, Albany, NY 12238, or call: 518-474-0456.
This covers the section of the Old Croton Aqueduct (OCA) between I-287 at the Tappan Zee Bridge in Tarrytown, NY, and the Clearview School on NY Rt. 9 just South of Ossining. Compass directions are represented by capital letters.
0.0 miles: The OCA itself begins at the point it was cut when the I-287 "trench" was dug. Its sealed opening lies in a ditch behind some houses on the E side at the end of Tarry Pl., off Sawyer Ave., S of Rt. 119, across from the Bridge Plaza Shopping Center at the intersection of Rt. 119 (Tarrytown Rd.) and Rt. 9 (Broadway). I suggest parking at Bridge Plaza if you take the trail from here. I define the trail as beginning at some gates in a fence at the back of the parking lot of a Spanish-style professional building on the S side of 119. Pick up the trail just E of the Shopping Center on the N side of 119.
There is a vent (a tower-like stone structure used to even out the water pressure in the tunnel) just after a steep decline from the road. The trail is fairly rocky and rooty here. Watch the sharp edges of paved crossings as well. Continue through an asphalt lot along Martling Ave. to Prospect Ave.
0.5 miles: Cross Prospect Ave. The dirt becomes smoother with just a few rocks. Continue along the W side of the Mozartina Conservatory property, on a bermed section, then through a parking lot for the 200 Broadway medical building to Leroy St.
0.6 miles: Go E (right) on Leroy St. to the parking lot of Temple Beth Abraham on the N (left) side. At the back of the lot, carry your bike up the steep, rocky bank, being watchful of the broken glass. (Sounds dangerous, but it’s OK.) Continue on Grove St. to Benedict Ave.
0.7 miles: Cross busy Benedict Ave. and Continue to E. Franklin St. Turn W (left) on E. Franklin almost to Rt. 9, but turn into driveway of corner house on S (right) side [currently the "Sam Said" antique shop] and look to the right, where the owners have put an "Aqueduct" sign pointing to the trail along the E side of their yard.
0.9 miles: Continue to E. Elizabeth St. (At this point it will seem like you are going through peoples' backyards, and you are, except this is a public thoroughfare. Watch that you don’t run over landscaping.)
1.0 miles: Cross E. Elizabeth St. and continue on the trail, which passes through a small break in the hedges across the street. There is a clothesline across the trail here, so tall riders watch out! A little further, there’s a tight squeeze through a hedge of thorny berry bushes, so be careful not to get snagged. Just before busy Neperan Ave., get off and walk down the rocky slope, as you can’t see around the hedges for car and foot traffic. (This whole tricky section can be avoided if you take Archer St. just W of the trail at E. Elizabeth.) A little to the E (right) the trail continues past Neperan just before the stone wall along the N side. Pass a vent halfway to the next street, Hamilton Ave.
1.2 miles: Across Hamilton Ave., the trail runs on a bermed section to McKeel Ave. There’s a good view of the TZ bridge here.
1.3 miles: The trail widens after McKeel Ave., and gets easy to ride, though with a few roots to avoid. Continue to Cobb Lane.
1.4 miles: Continue past Cobb Lane along the back of the Elementary School, coming to the spot where the Sleepy Hollow High School blocks your way. You’ll have to ride down the slope to the E (right), and carry your bike up the steps behind the Auditorium. From there, continue through the parking lot, all the way along the W side of the playing fields, to Bedford Rd.
[Commentary: Public Schools of the Tarrytowns built the enclosed walkway to the Auditorium/Gym wing across the aqueduct with no regard for its recreational use. Similarly, the homeowners adjacent to the parking lot have blocked the aqueduct with fences and hedges. I think public pressure ought to be put on the parties involved, particularly the school system, to provide a straight-through thoroughfare along the aqueduct right-of-way as they should have done in the first place.]
1.8 miles: Cross Bedford Rd. and continue on good trail. There is a vent just before the trail’s intersection with diagonal Gorey Brook Rd. coming up from the SW.
2.2 miles: Cross Gorey Brook Rd. to the NW. Just past a fire hydrant on the E (right) side, cut W (left) onto a driveway area. The trail continues past a set of metal gates, with a bypass to the W (left). Pass through a quiet, wooded area and behind the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
2.6 miles: The aqueduct becomes very elevated here on both sides (over 100 feet), so be extremely careful to stay in the middle of the trail! The Pocantico River passes through an arch at the base of the aqueduct structure (don't look!)
2.8 miles: There is an old "waste weir" building here. Past it, the trail gets wider, surfaced with gravel or cinders, as it enters NY State Parkland (former Rockefeller property.) There’s a steep drop on the W (left) side.
3.3 miles: Here you come to a "T", with the S (right) side entering Rockefeller State Park. The Aqueduct trail goes to the N (left), across a steel bridge over Rt. 117. Turn W (left) after crossing the bridge. This section is used by equestrians from the Rockefeller estate, so watch for "hazards" on the trail!
3.9 miles: Pass a vent. You’ll see farm fields on the E (right).
4.1 miles: The trail crosses Rt. 9 on a 1998 steel bridge. At the W end is a monument that includes the 1839 stone dedication tablet for the original arch bridge over Rt. 9, and a bronze plaque marking the 1924 replacement underground "inverted siphon."
4.3 miles: Beyond here, the wide road turns N takes a series of switchbacks down hill to the W, but the aqueduct trail continues straight N at the first switchback.
4.6 miles: The narrow dirt trail crosses a curved boulevard, Country Club Lane, and continues after a lift-over drop off the road. Within 200 yards, a driveway interrupts. Go to the E (right) about 50 yards and turn N back onto the trail.
4.8 miles: Pass a vent.
5.0 miles: Meet River Rd. at the Clearview School. I could not find a trail through the school property. The aqueduct crosses Rt. 9 to the W about here. I may go back to describe it further at some time.
Excerpt from Chapter 21 of "Our Firemen: A History of the New York Fire Departments", published in 1887 (now in the public domain):
"The whole amount of expenditure in connection with the building of the Croton Aqueduct from the commencement of the work, say from July, 1835, to August 1, 1842, was $7,606,213.84. On June 8th of the latter year the commissioners, accompanied by the engineers, commenced a journey on foot through the Aqueduct, which was completed to the Harlaem River, a distance of thirty-three miles, in the two succeeding days. The whole line having been found in good condition, orders were given to close the openings; which being done, and the dam raised sufficiently to cause the water to flow into the Aqueduct, it was admitted to a depth of eighteen inches at five o'clock in the morning of June 22. A boat capable of carrying four persons, called the Croton Maid, was then placed in the Aqueduct to be carried down by the current, and she completed her singular voyage to the Harlaem River almost simultaneously with the first arrival of the water.
"On the arrival of the water at Harlaem on Thursday, June 23, a formal notice of the event was given by the commissioners to the mayor and Common Council, who were also informed of the intention to admit it into the Receiving Reservoir at Yorkville on the following Monday.
"This intention was completely carried out, the water having been admitted into the reservoir on that day at half past four o'clock P.M. in the presence of a large assemblage, which included the mayor and several members of the Common Council, the governor of the State, the lieutenant governor, and other members of the Court for the Correction of Errors, and many other distinguished persons. A salute of thirty-eight guns was fired. The Croton Maid, which arrived soon afterwards at the reservoir, was hailed with much enthusiasm, and was presented to the Fire Department. The water was retained in that reservoir until July 2, when it was allowed to flow into the iron pipes, which conducted it to the distributing reservoir. At five o'clock on the morning of the Fourth of July the Croton River was in full flow into the reservoir. A jet, which threw the water from forty to fifty feet high, had been prepared at Forty-seventh Street, and was playing at an early hour. At the particular request of the mayor, who stated that the tanks at Thirteenth Street were dry, and the city much exposed if a fire should occur, the water was allowed to flow into the distributing pipes, which had been laid down under the direction of the Common Council.
"The citizens and the Council were certainly to be congratulated on the successful introduction of the Croton water. The Aqueduct could furnish daily fifty million gallons. No population of three hundred thousand had ever before voluntarily decreed that they would execute such a work. No population but one of freemen would have conceived the idea, for it was undertaken not to commemorate the birth or decease of any monarch, nor to mark a battlefield, or the death or victory of any military chieftain. The stately marble monuments, and the colossal mounds of maimed cannon, only record battles fought. The Croton work was not made for the purpose that the ancient walls of China, Rome, and London, or the modern walls of Paris, were designed. The great Croton work, voted for by the people, did not contemplate protection from external foes, but it looked to making the population happier, more temperate, and more healthy; and that the countless millions thereafter might enjoy the benefits of the water service...
"...The reception of the Croton water into the city was a matter for universal congratulation. It was an achievement constituting another evidence of the patriotism, scientific and mechanical talent and energy of the citizens; a work in its conception and execution second only to the Erie Canal. Arrangements were immediately set on foot to conduct it to the market places, to be used in cleansing them, and by which each hydrant in the city might be used in cleaning the streets."