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.



31 thoughts on “The Swamps of Yonkers

  1. Good bit of research. Next article should be on the remedies that manufacturers have developed to counteract the moldy complications of building on swampy land?

  2. I grew up on Stillwell Ave and we had a creek running thru our back yard – it was piped under at Mile Sq Rd and ran toward what is now CCC. It frequently overflowed and flooded our basement.
    I’m old enough to remember when CCC was built and the south parking lot was swamp even south of Vredenburg Rd. You can still see how the hillside next to what was Wanamakers would drain downward to the west. Our neighbor on the west side of Stillwell, Mr Branstetter would walk to the CCC construction area everyday with a wheelbarrow and bring back fill dirt for his swampy yard.
    It seems there were always seagulls around and I assumed they were attracted by garbage from both the track and Wonderland, the A&P. Also, its a short flight to the reservoir.

    • Great info Kathleen! Your right that there are many things that they could be attracted to but to see them standing in the parking lot still to this day is pretty cool considering the history.

  3. It was a swamp. My father was born in Yonkers in 1912 and he said it was a swamp before they built Cross County. As a child I remember the swamp. B. A.

    • Cool! I am not doubting it and especially now with all of the feedback such as yours that I am getting that is supporting the fact.

  4. My dad built a house on Stillwell Ave #58, in 1949. I was 4 at the time. It was a dead end dirt road and the sewers had not yet been installed. My brothers & friends played in the swamp (got our shoes wet every day and got scolded). A couple years later as CCC was being built (Gimbels, Wanamakers, & the hospital were the first to go up), we pulled our home made wagons over there and retrieved the soda & beer bottles the construction workers left behind and brought them to Hovenaks deli on Winfred St for the deposit. Later, when Wonderland was built, we played baseball in the parking lot. Some of the neighbors I remember were Zito, Devany, Branstetter, Sagarese, Murden, Lindo, Hoffman and back on Byron Ave were Kelly, Commaro and Spallin. After going to PS #4 for my 2 years I walked to Yonkers Ave and took the #7 trolley to St Casimirs School. It was the last year for the trolley and then the green bus took over the route. We sold the house in 1957 when I was 12. Much later as I worked for the telephone company in Yonkers, I actually worked in the loading dock tunnell under CCC where the wire terminals were located. Yes, It WAS a swamp.

  5. Gary – I remember your family! We were at #16 between Wandrish and Waldie.Across from Pam Devany’s side yard Later the Bauers moved into Wandrish’s house and the Peppitones into Waldies. We moved into our house in 1951 when I was 2
    Its good to hear that someone else remembers Hovie’s and Eddie Hoffman and watched CCC be built. I only went to PS 4 for kindergarden – then we went to St John’s

  6. And I am Kathleen’s sister! I remember playing in the swamp at the end of our street (Stillwell Ave) Seemed anywhere there wasn’t a building – there was swampy land. Gary I remember your family name also. Do you have a sister named Betty Ann?

  7. the reason the seagulls are there is because of humans. THey goto BK or the pizza place and do not know how to throw away their garbage properly. They throw it on the floor. Birds are attracted to the free food.

    • No, Libitina; there are people all over who leave food wherever they may, with not a seagull in sight! It’s the close proximity to water is why the gulls are on the sight.

  8. i used to work for a store in cross county and we received deliveries through the service tunnel. I will be another added to the list that will confirm that there were always puddles….sometimes deep puddles in that tunnel.

    Yonkers Resident

    • Hey Thanks Amanda! Seems like the jury is out on the swamps…not that it was ever really a debate other than in my own mind since nowadays, it is difficult at best to picture a swamp there.

      • Use your imaginiation, Joshman. This swamp obsession is getting tedious! How many people need to tell you it was swampland, already?

  9. My mother worked in Cross County for 31 years in the office running the place. her 1st boss, Mr Alexander, the original head of the center said there was a river underneath, probally just a stream. also he said the center was all swamp before that. i don’t know about the raceway or Yonkers Ave. area but yes the center was. i worked in maintenace & security, also a couple stores plus the A&P near Wonderland. And 7 or 8 jobs in the Carpenter Union. the tunnel floods, rats EVERYWHERE, leeky basements and the whole place is sinking! there is 4+ feet of asphalt covering the parking lots cause the whole Center is sinking, slowly since the early 50’s! With all the work the new owners did in the past couple years, their in for a BIG, BIG surprise, say about 10-15 years from now, ahh!

  10. I was a kid when they built Cross County. They drove telephone poles down 2 and 3 lengths deep as piling for the buildings. The pounding of the pile drivers went on for at least a year.
    To enter Gimbles now Macy’s coming from the center promenade . You had to walk up 2 or 3 steps to enter the store. Now it is level with the promenade. It has sunk that much!

  11. I grew up on Murray Avenue, and my friends and I frequently played in the swamp that is now CCC. Does anyone remember the crane that sank into the mud in the area behind what became Gimbels? They couldn’t get it out, so it sank into the swamp, and they paved over it! It’s weird to realize that it’s still under there….

    • WOW!!!!!!!!! Vinny if what you are saying is true then that is by far the most amazing story about the Swamps of Yonkers! Great job recalling that and I will definitely be there the day the land is dug up and the crane is unearthed…if that ever happens!

    • Hey Vinny, I think I remember you! You had a thick head of dark hair, right? (My nickname was “Dale.”)And I sure remember the crane! That’s a vivid memory that’s hard to forget. They tried and tried to pull it out as it was sinking, but it just kept getting worse, so they were forced to let it go.

      Do you remember when the dead brush caught fire (early 40s)? It took off FAST, everyone disappeared, and it seemed like the fire engines were wailing almost immediately!


  12. I worked at Cross County for a while in the early 1980’s and remember no matter which direction you came from, to get to Cross County you came down hill.

  13. This is true-I swear! My grandmother’s family owned the swampland that became CCC. They probably sold it for nothing never thinking it had much worth. All I know is I never saw any money! Lol

  14. They developed CC here because the land was super cheap and nobody wanted it or could develop it for residential use. I’ve been researching the developers and the men who made CC happen.

  15. Came to Yonkers on Rigby St a few blocks from X county cntr. in 1955 at 6 yrs old. My grandfather and father started building it in the early 40s and they told me x county was a swamp. When you came up Rigby from Kimball (dirt and huge rocks) it was uphill. When I walked to x cnty when you crossed Kimball to go down Vredenburgh it was downhill. Not sure if the upper parking lots are still there but it’s easy to see how it was a swamp.

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