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Van Cortlandt Lake

In 1694, Jacobus Van Cortlandt made his first land purchase in the area that became Van Cortlandt Park. Four years later, he married Frederick Phillipse’s daughter Eva and soon after bought the 76 acres encompassing the site where the Van Cortlandt House still stands. Over a 38–year period, Jacobus, twice mayor of New York City (1710–11 and 1719–20), systematically purchased the entire area of the present–day park, developing it into a productive grain growing and milling operation. The family lived on and farmed the land until 1888 when the city purchased the estate, and the land became the nucleus of Van Cortlandt Park.

The lake was created during the 1690s when Tibbetts Brook was dammed to power a gristmill. During the American Revolution (1775–1783), Van Cortlandt’s mills ground grain and cut lumber for both the Americans and the British, depending on who controlled the region. In the early 1800s, new mills were built here, and local corn farmers continued to use them through the end of the century.

On the west side of the lake, the John Kieran Trail intersects the Putnam Trail, a former railroad. Two tracks of the New York Central Railroad’s Putnam Division once ran here, as evidenced by the double width railroad bridge. From 1881 until 1958, the line carried passengers and freight between High Bridge in the Bronx and Brewster, New York. Freight continued to be hauled on these tracks occasionally—and very slowly—until 1981. A secondary route carried passengers from High Bridge to Getty Square in Yonkers from 1888 until 1943. Those tracks ran along the edge of the Parade Ground and north through the western edge of the park. What remains of the Van Cortlandt Station can still be seen just south of the lake. Interesting wildlife like white–tailed deer and coyote often made their way into the park along this man–made corridor.