Valhalla’s Kensico Dam: Photos and History

The next time you find yourself on a Metro-North train going past Valhalla Station, be sure to take a look out your window, facing eastward. You’ll be able to catch a quick glimpse of the Kensico Dam as the train goes by. The dam holds back the waters of the Kensico Reservoir, the primary source of water for the city of New York. The 98-acre grounds around the dam are a county park called the Kensico Dam Plaza. While the weather was warm last week, I took the opportunity to have lunch at the park, and of course I took lots of pictures. Kensico Dam Plaza is one of the many interesting places to visit in the area within walking distance of Harlem Line stations (In this case, Valhalla). In addition to the dam, the grounds also contains a September 11th Memorial, called The Rising, designed by architect Frederic Schwartz. The memorial lists the names of all one hundred and eleven Westchester County residents that died in the attacks.

The original Kensico Dam was built in 1885 and created a small lake with water from the Bronx River, as a source of water for New York City. As the city expanded, the dam could not fulfill the city’s need for water, and was eventually expanded. This expansion required the land from the village of Kensico, and so the property of the entire town was purchased to make room for the new dam. The former town now rests underwater, covered by the now larger Kensico Reservoir. This larger reservoir receives water from other reservoirs in the Catskill Mountains, through the ninety-two mile Catskill Aqueduct.

Old diagrams of the Kensico Dam and grounds, the plan of the grounds does not appear to match with what is there now. The plans were modified, or the grounds were changed later on.

Construction photo of the dam

Construction for the new Kensico Dam began in 1909, and the project employed more than 1500 workers. Workers earned an average of one dollar and twenty-five cents per day. Railroad tracks were built for the purpose of removing earth from the site, as well as moving building materials. The main building material used in the dam is concrete mixed with large stones, called Cyclopean concrete. The dam face is made of large granite stones from a quarry in nearby Cranberry Lake. Kensico Dam measures 300 feet high, and 1830 feet long. There is a road that runs over the top of the dam, though it has been closed since the September 11th attacks. The grounds that form the Dam Plaza and county park total 98 acres, and are used for picnicking, running and walking, bicycling and more. The ice cream man also makes frequent visits during the summer months, and if you’re lucky you’ll get both the Good Humor man, and the Mr. Softee man. And who doesn’t like ice cream?

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