It is the meandering nature of the Bronx River Parkway (the nation’s oldest Parkway) that keeps the Kensico Dam hidden from view until one is right upon it. The dam itself is quite a dramatic site and its sudden appearance to an uninitiated northbound traveler along the Parkway is quite electrifying.
Kensico Dam Plaza is a 98 acre public park is situated at the base of the Kensico Dam. The turn-of-the-century dam dominates the landscape of the park and is in and of itself, a major landmark of Westchester County.
For most Westchester residents it is a focal point for yearly ethnic celebrations, summer concerts, and a fantastic outdoor antique show once a year. During the winter months it is the ideal spot for a peaceful walk or for building the odd snowman! Dogs are welcome and are among the park’s most frequent and popular visitors, but must be properly leashed. The day I took these pictures, I was walking two of my dogs who mixed it up with several other canine visitors. An additional advantage of walking there is that it lies contiguous with the Bronx River Parkway Reservation which is an 800 acre park that lies adjacent to the Bronx River Parkway. It is a very picturesque linear park, ideal for walking, biking and running. During the summer months, the Bronx River Parkway is closed to vehicular traffic for several hours every Sunday to provide for the very popular “Bike & Skate Sundays” program.
The dam and reservoir behind it was part of the Catskill water system which was designed at the turn of the last century to help supply water to the growing population of New York City. The Kensico Dam took three years to build and cost $15 million – a fortune in its day; it is 1825 feet long and 307 feet high. The Kensico Reservoir receives water from a variety of sources including all six reservoirs in the Catskills and the Croton Dam Reservoir and is still responsible for a small percentage of the New York City water supply.
The story of the Kensico Dam’s construction is an interesting one. During the Westchester County Tricentennial in 1983 my late mother wrote a series of articles for Gannett Westchester Newspapers. Throughout that year she, interviewed many senior citizens about their early days growing up in Westchester County. One such interview with Mr. Edward Greenop, recalled the construction of the Kensico Dam and the use of the area as a movie set prior to flooding it with water.
Prior to the construction of the dam, the village of Kensico sat on the site that contains the reservoir. The village had to be destroyed to make room for the water. Stores, homes, churches – all were either torn down, dismantled or burned as were bushes and trees. The result is that the condemned area looked more like a prairie town in the Wild West than a village in the northeast. Hollywood took advantage of the opportunity and used the site as a movie set for a couple of silent Westerns. Cowboys, many of whom were veterans of the Buffalo Bill Show, were imported from the west. They came complete with their horses and guns – much to the displeasure of the local police. John Barrymore himself shot a few scenes of a movie on the site.
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