The Swamps of Yonkers
Just to let you know, this article is a bit lengthy but is definitely worth the read. I apologize for the lack of pictures as usually I try to provide a better ratio of words to pictures…kinda like Dr. Seuss :) Enjoy!
By definition, a Swamp can be characterized by a wetland dominated by shallow bodies of water and heavy vegetation. Now do not let your eyes fool you, this area to the right side of the page by many accounts, used to be a swampy wasteland and more and more clues have surfaced over the years providing more evidence of this theory.
We’ll call the Swamps of Yonkers the area roughly described as north of Yonkers Ave by the Raceway, out to Midland Ave, flanked to the west by Valentine Hill and to the east by the hills of Mt.Vernon.
Old timers in my neighborhood growing up used to speak about a lake that once existed here and how going even further back…thousands of years back, before the Dutch, before the Algonquins and Canarsie, even before the Vikings, were talking about just after the last ice age…yes this area was a swamp.
I am 99.9% convinced of this, leaving only the .01% on because of course seeing is believing and I have not see it with my own eyes.
Here is my list of reasons why this hilly, busy and commercial area of Yonkers has earned the nickname, “The Swamps of Yonkers”:
#1. Look at the terrain.
Typically when you build on swampy land..say in Florida or even apparently here in New York, the land will “buckle” so to speak and geologists have stated that the swamp lands will present themselves in hilly formations, which is why there are hilly parts of Florida. Florida…original Florida that is, was no higher than a 100 feet above sea level in almost any part and below sea level in many sections…enter modern day, construction, road building and land fills and this is what you get.
A rolling sea of hilly areas, especially in central Florida, where the highest point you will reach is only 345 Ft above sea level, but you still will experience rising and descending land along the way.
Even New Jersey can be seen as an example of this as the NJT and GSP are constantly in need of maintenance on top of dozens of other roadways…yes the majority of the reason being due to traffic volumes on top, but also due to rumblings beneath the surface of again a swampy terrain desperately trying to re-assert itself.
Finally look at the Cross County Parking Lot itself, made of rolling hills and every 7 – 10 years or so, they level things off, repair and re-pave the lot and faster than you can say “Swamp Thing”, the lot is hilly again, the pavement becomes fractured in most areas and the cycle repeats itself.
#2 Seeing is Believing!
I have received 3 reports now in the last 6 months that I have been asking about this very topic from people who have either worked in Cross County Center or had family working there. No not in Sears or Macy’s, but underground, doing maintenance for the Center and ALL have reported a musty scent that is present year round.
The service tunnel that spans the length of the Center has been said to have puddles in it in spots and moisture build up to actually flooding in the basement of stores and maintenance areas.
#3 Migratory Birds and Seagulls still think there is water here!
Take a look next time you are at Cross County Shopping Center, Yonkers Raceway or even perhaps the Burger King along the southbound section of the NYS Thruway near Cross County…look closely and you will notice something… Seagulls!! Why are they so attracted to this area in particular?
Usually you would find them by the Hudson or oh I dunno, the beach! My theory is that this is more proof that these birds have genetic coding that has been passed down to them from their ancestors who used to hang out in this area, when there were large bodies of water in it, otherwise what else is attracting them to this very spot day after day after day? I really believe that these birds believe that there should be water here! Why else would they be there, near a busy highway? Burger King? Yes Burger King smells good…but not that good.
#4 Lets go to the Maps shall we?
Take a look at this map provided courtesy of “Pochuck”, one of the many people who add to the forum on Soyosunset. It is from the year 1900 and shows the topography of the area. There is a creek that runs through the future site of CCC and empties into the Bronx River.
It is not the Sprain because this empties into the Bronx River near Palmer Rd, a few miles north. This creek may have fed into a much larger water area, well before the turn of the 19th century, still though, further proof of what was.
Now take a look at this map provided by “Sandbar”, another writer from the same site as mentioned before. This map from the David Rumsey collection shows the city in 1891 topographically and indicates a swampy area east of Central Ave, in the vicinity of CCC, denoted by the icons.
Thanks for sticking with me on this theory that has all but been proven. Was there a large body of water that encompassed a 2-3 Sq Mile area in what now houses the Raceway, Cross County and hundreds of homes? Does a small stream still flow beneath this area as well?
Very intriguing questions in my opinion and these mysteries are one of the many reasons that makes Yonkers such a fascinating city. Whether it is questions about the past, present or future, Yonkers always seems to have one more trick up its sleeve and always finds ways to remind its present day inhabitants, about its long and storied natural history.