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Van Cortlandt Park’s physical and human landscape has evolved over thousands of years. This 1,146–acre park, the third largest in New York City, offers real connections to the region’s geologic and cultural history. Through the lens of Van Cortlandt Park, one can learn about the natural world while gaining insight into how infrastructure develops as a city grows and changes.

Early Land Formation

Around 20,000 years ago, New York was buried beneath massive glaciers. When the ice receded, it left behind the characteristic sketch of Van Cortlandt Park—steep ridges, gradual hills, and open flats—and exposed its three major rock components: Fordham Gneiss, Inwood Dolomite, and Manhattan Schist. It took about seven thousand years for Paleo–Indians to arrive in this area, following mastodon, giant beaver, and caribou. 

Communities Take Shape

By 1000 AD, Woodland Indians known as the Lenape began permanent settlements from lower New York State through Delaware. The Wiechquaskeck Lenapes occupied this site, settling into an agricultural lifestyle. They hunted in wooded uplands, fished in Tibbetts Brook, farmed on the Parade Ground and Indian Field and foraged through meadows and forests for nuts, fruits and other edible plants.

In 1639, the Dutch East India Company brought the first Europeans to settle in the Bronx, purchasing most of today’s Bronx County from the local Natives and, in 1646, sold it to Holland native Adriaen Van Der Donck, who became the first single owner of what is now Van Cortlandt Park. His vast estate “de Jonkeerslandt“ gave Yonkers its name. The land passed through several families, each gradually developing it into viable farmland and a working plantation.