Discover the History of Cortlandt, NY

October 13th, 2022 by

Visitors and residents of Cortlandt, New York, might know about the town’s great cultural events, like those held at its premier music and performing arts center, or Cortlandt’s access to incredible parks and restaurants, or the beautiful rolling hills that decorate the city. What they might not know is that the town has a deep and rich history that spans hundreds of years. This town, with all its resplendent and exciting historical significance, is one full of surprises to be explored.

Cortlandt’s Role in the Revolutionary War

American History in Cortlandt, NY

The Revolutionary War, which lasted from 1775 to 1783, started when tensions between the 13 North American colonies and the British Crown escalated, ultimately culminating in a violent conflict in Massachusetts in April 1775. A little over a year later, the colonists were in a full-scale war for independence from the British. While we might have all heard some highlights from the Revolutionary War in history class, we might not have learned about Cortlandt’s important role in the legendary battles.

For most of the war, the British controlled the state of New York, but Cortlandt played a valuable role in turning those tides. Nearby Kings Ferry, a major crossing point of the Hudson River, served a strategic role for the revolutionaries. The ferry connecting Stony Point to Verplanck’s Point, was located here in Cortlandt, New York. Art history buffs might even recall a very famous portrait of George Washington at Verplanck’s point from the talented John Trumball.

French and American armies used the vital crossing to transport supplies, deliver important communications, and successfully march to Yorktown in 1781, just two years before the conclusion of the war and the colonists’ victory.

Historic Sites in Cortlandt

Several historical landmarks exist in Cortlandt, including many that are part of the National Register of Historic Places. Here’s a closer look at some notable destinations within Cortlandt:

Old Croton Dam

Though it now lies beneath the waters of the new Croton Reservoir, the Old Croton Dam represents the first large-scale masonry dam in the United States. Built between 1837 and 1842, the gravity dam measured an impressive 57 feet tall and 670 feet long. The dam was instrumental in the original New York water supply system.

Bear Mountain Bridge Road and Toll House

Bear Mountain Bridge Road is a 3-mile road that ends at Cortlandt’s Bear Mountain Toll House. Sometimes called the “Goat Trail” by residents, the winding road leads to an old Tudor Revival-style toll house. Though the original toll house is no longer in use, visitors can still check out the gift shop and informational center to learn more about the significance of the old road and house.

Old St. Peter’s Church

Frequented by George Washington during the Revolutionary days, Old St. Peter’s Church and Cemetery represent some of Cortland’s most resplendent history. It’s a historic Episcopal church built in 1776. Some might be surprised at the Church’s small stature. Its wood frame measures only 28 by 36 feet.

John Jones Homestead

You can also visit the John Jones Homestead, a historic home in Van Cortlandtville. This home, with its impressive rubble stone foundation and timber frame, is an 18th-century residence. It’s 1.5 stories tall and features Federal-style detailing, three large chimneys made of stone, and a gambrel roof, which is a roof with two symmetrical sides. Each side features a shallow slope near the roof’s point and has a steeper slope at the lower half of the roof. The roof style is also sometimes called a “Dutch roof.”

Significant Cortlandt Dates and Events

Because of Cortlandt’s prominence in the Revolutionary War, many important dates stand out during that time period. Here’s a closer look at some events that mark Cortlandt’s exciting and consequential history:

July 15 and 16, 1779

At midnight on July 15, 1779, the rebels of the Revolutionary War executed their bid for control of Stony Point. The American Light Infantry’s brave assault at Stony Point was the last major battle in the North, and the victory changed the course of North American history forever.

Shortly following the Americans’ destruction of the formerly British-occupied fort, however, Washington abandoned the peninsula, and the British reclaimed it. It wouldn’t be enough, though. As the war expanded, the British eventually abandoned Stony Point, moving their forces South and ultimately losing the war. After that, Kings Ferry went back to being the preferred Hudson crossing place.

Sept. 20, 1780

Another important event in Cortlandt’s history is the capture of Major John Andre, the adjunct general to Sir Henry Clinton, a British army officer. Clinton had been the one to move against Stony Point before the Continental Army marched North from New Jersey to West Point to defend it. Andre’s capture followed his meeting with Benedict Arnold, another infamous name in U.S. history. George Washington presented medals to Andre’s captors on Sept. 20, 1780 at the Post Hannock House.

Today, you can still see the house opposite the Cortlandt Yacht Club. The house also served as the headquarters for Colonel James Livingston. Livingston had opened fire on The Vulture, the British ship that Benedict Arnold and John Andre sought refuge on after attempting to sell West Point to the British in a traitorous move against the American rebels.

Important People From Cortlandt

Cortlandt isn’t just known for its famous places and history, there are some notable people who call Cortlandt home as well. One of the most notable was Aaron Copland. Copland was an American composer. He was born in Brooklyn in 1900 but spent his last 30 years in Cortlandt, New York. His music, so open and evocative of the Pioneer spirit, would define American composition in a new and stunning way. Famous works of Copland’s include “Appalachian Spring,” “Billy the Kid,” and “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

Van Cortlandtville Historical Society

If you have further interest in the area’s rich history, consider exploring the efforts of the Van Cortlandtville Historical Society. They host events, publish information about the area and its history, and even have a photo gallery on their website you can browse. It’s a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the exciting history of our little part of New York.

Do you know a fun historical fact about Cortlandt we forgot to mention? Let us know. There are so many incredible reasons to call Cortlandt home, and rich and fascinating history is one of them. We’d love to know more about all the incredible history this town offers.

Photo Credit: The Mighty Hudson by Marcela is licensed with CC BY 2.0

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