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Yorktown Heights 10598

 

Yorktown has a rich historical heritage beginning with the earliest known inhabitants — Mohegan Osceola, Amawalk, Kitchawan and Mohansic — all familiar names of local places. Most of Yorktown was part of the Manor of Cortlandt, a Royal Manor established by King William III for the  Van Cortlandt fanily. The Croton River, which runs through the southern part of Yorktown, was dammed by New York City to provide its first major source of clean and reliable water. The first Croton Dam was located in Yorktown and broke in 1842, causing significant damage to property and major loss of life.

 

During the American Revolution, Yorktown was of strategic importance, with the Pines Bridge crossing guarded by a regiment of Rhode Island troops made up mostly of African Americans who were massacred at the Davenport House in Croton Heights. A memorial to them is at the Presbyterian Church in Crompond. Major John André, a British officer who communicated with Benedict Arnold, ate his final breakfast at the Underhill House on Hanover Street just before his capture and eventual hanging as a spy.

In 1788 the township was officially incorporated as Yorktown, commemorating the decisive Revolutionary War Battle of Yorktown near Yorktown Virginia, on October 19, 1781.

Moving north after the battle of Yorktown, the French army camped at the site of today's French Hill Elementary School, where cannonballs and other relics have been found. Although rumors claim that George Washington passed through Yorktown, no factual records confirm this.

Yorktown once had five stations along the  New York and Putnam Railroad — Kitchawan, Croton Lake, Croton Heights, Yorktown Heights and Amawalk. The railroad failed, was purchased by the New York Central, and was finally abandoned. The old right of way is now part of the North Country Trailway Railway which runs north as far as Carmel, New York.

 

Present Day Huntersville currently occupies six square miles between the Taconic Parkway, Route 129, and the Town of Cortlandt border. Most of the original village of Huntersville was lost after the New Croton Dam flooded some twenty square miles in the path of the Croton River. Of the old hamlet, little remains intact other than a few homes, a schoolhouse, and the church and cemetery at the junction of Baptist Church and Hunterbrook Roads.

The stone ruins of a former grist mill are said to stand near the church, but the old Wire Mill or Dugway – a covered bridge spanning the Croton River – was long ago dismantled, burned and replaced by the Hunterbrook Bridge. Some speculate that a brickyard once existed here as well. The Aqueduct Commission spent fifteen years in preparation for the New Croton Dam, appraising and condemning properties, evicting occupants, and relocating hundreds of buried bodies. Families moved to Route 120 or to Yorktown. Initial construction of the dam began in 1892, and by the time of its completion in 1907, scores of Italian and Irish immigrants were lured to the area to work on the project.

 

In 1957, half a century after the New Croton Dam was completed,  area resident Sam Tompkins once again saw his old house when the reservoir was drained for repairs. Before the dam was built, many houses were saved after being dismantled and rebuilt. One Tompkins house stands behind Tompkins Garage on Route 129. The old farmhouse, currently the local Department of Environmental Protection headquarters, situated on Route 129 and Locke Lane, was allegedly moved from its original location on logs.

 

The Tompkins family was among the earliest to settle in Huntersville. Family members may have been tenant farmers before they purchased land in the fertile Croton Valley from the Van Cortlandts around 1750; within seventy years they had amassed  fifteen hundred acres of land. By 1841, a calamitous flood had silted the Croton River in, denying farmers access to the Hudson River boats that had once transported their goods to market.