The Kingsbridge Historical Society

The following article appeared in the May 1937 issue of the Riverdale News as a follow-up to the memoir of 19th century resident, J.B. James.

Two Mills and a Miller

Ancient Sites in Van Cortlandt

By J.B. James

Many of the older residents of Riverdale and vicinity doubtless remember the old grist and saw mills that stood at the extreme southerly end of the lake in Van Cortlandt Park, but residents who came subsequent to 1903 have never seen these interesting old structures, as they were struck by lightning and burned at that date.

Old grist and saw mills on Van Cortlandt Lake, viewed from the north bank [photo and caption original to article]

The grist mill was built in pre-revolutionary days, but the exact date is unknown. It took the place of an older mill which was located some distance farther to the south on the present raceway, probably near the road leading from the railroad station to the old mansion. The saw mill was erected at a much later date, and is not pre-revolutionary, but comparatively modern. I have not been able to ascertain its age.

The grist mill was an interesting structure. Its power was derived from a huge overshot wheel, the water falling on it from a gateway which is still to be seen in the present overflow outlet, and contained a complete set of flouring machinery, two sets of mill stones, hoppers, storage bins, and a bolting-cloth covered flour screen, operated and revolved by wooden cogs. Although it had ceased grinding flour for many years previous to my knowledge of it, I can recall seeing farmers who came a considerable distance with wagon loads of corn to be ground into feed; this, of course, before the Van Cortlandt estate was taken by the city as a public park.

Overflow Sluiceway to East

A short distance to the east, and very near the tracks of the New York and Putnam Railroad, there was an overflow sluiceway controlled by wooden gates which were lifted during heavy rains or when Spring freshets threatened to overflow the dam. It has been filled in and obliterated. The saw mill also had a peculiar fascination, as I watched the huge up-and-down saw gradually eat its way through the length of a large log, cutting it up into stone-boat slabs, fence posts and railroad ties.

This portion of an 1879 Bromley map shows the the lake feeding the channel between the two mill buildings and the aforementioned sluiceway running under the railroad tracks to the east.

On the dam, in front of the mill, stood three large elm trees under whose shade, many a bright Summer day, I have sat fishing for sun fish, shiners and bull-heads. With a grove of old trees nearby to the westward, a large oak overhanging the lake on the north bank opposite, and the water lilies in bloom, the spot was picturesque and was frequently sketched and painted by artists.

The miller was a small, crochety little man with a vocabulary as curious as himself, but who understood his business, and who would always allow us to come into the mill and warm our fingers and toes at the pot-bellied stove, when chilled from skating on the lake.

The old mill and the fine old trees have disappeared, leaving but delightful memories of childhood days spent in their vicinity.

(Editor’s Note: Historical stories by Mr. James on the old Riverdale and its surrounding country have appeared frequently in the News during the last two years. Copies of these articles will be sent promptly upon request to THE RIVERDALE NEWS, Riverdale-on-Hudson, NYC)

(To Be Continued)

There are a few notes on the millers here.