The Lost Village of Kensico

The truth behind the dam’s namesake, an abandoned factory, and a guy named Farragut.



Q: Can you tell me a little bit about Kensico? Is it a town or just a dam? And is it true that there is a steeple you can see under water at the reservoir?
—Bruce Valentin, White Plains

A: Bruce, picture it: it’s 1890, you’ve finished your long voyage from Anytown Europe, and you’re looking for a nice place to settle in the New World. You find a quaint little town nestled between two rivers and near a small man-made earthen lake, and you make your home there. It’s a comfy place—it has its own train station, even a hotel. And it’s surrounded by hills and a stone quarry that make it feel like you’re in your own little fish bowl. But there’s trouble a-brewin’ to the south. The big city dwellers are thirsty, and you’re sitting right between them and the water they want from upstate—water that needs to be collected from multiple sources and stored, someplace bowl-like. Well, Bruce, you and your 200 neighbors just got “Punk’d” 1900s-style.

Completed in 1917, the Kensico Dam “replaced” Kensico Village, which was burned down and then flooded. The dam took 1,500 workers, one million cubic feet of masonry (as much masonry as the Egyptians used to build some of the pyramids), and four years to construct at a cost of $15 million (roughly $250 million in today’s currency). It blocks about 30 billion gallons of water.

But the name lives on. There’s still a Kensico School, Library, and even a Little League team.

Q: There is this abandoned factory/greenhouse-type building at the very top of Executive Boulevard in Yonkers (up the street/hill from News 12’s studios). It’s been that way, un-touched, with no visible signs of restoring or destroying it. What’s the deal? It’s like prime real estate in the corner of a Mack-Cali office park. Is it some historic landmark? If so, why is it in such disrepair?
—Sam Berlin, Mount Vernon

A: We’ll start with your last question, “Why is it in such disrepair?” The answer, which I’m sure will surprise absolutely no one, is “burdensome taxes”—at least according to historians at Cornell University’s Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research. And why does their opinion matter? Because the building to which you refer once housed the institute, which moved to Ithaca in 1978. (And we believe them. It must be the taxes, because, come on, have you seen Ithaca?)

William Boyce Thompson, a turn-of-the-century mining financier, became very concerned, after returning from a trip to then malnourished Russia, “that agriculture, food supply, and social justice are linked.” So he built an institute to study the issue. And, not wanting to deal with any sort of commute, he did so across the street from his Yonkers mansion, better known as Adler Manor. For more than 50 years, scientists there studied pesticides, air quality, food production, and even how to clean up the Hudson River.

So what of it now? Well, Adler Manor has been restored by Tara Circle, Inc., an Irish social club that uses the space for cultural and social events.

Q: Just who was this Farragut guy from Hastings, and why does he deserve both a road and a parkway named after him in the same small village?
—Timothy Bertucci, Hastings-on-Hudson

A: Because when you’re the guy who, during the Civil War, heroically shouted, “Damn the torpedoes—full speed ahead!” in order to convince your crew to sail into a bomb-filled harbor, you get a road and a parkway. Now, it’s true no one’s sure he actually said it, or at least said it as intrepidly. And it’s no “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” But David Glasgow Farragut was a pretty cool guy. He moved to Hastings-on-Hudson in 1860 because he thought Virginia’s move to secede from the Union was treasonous. During the war, he earned the title of admiral and also a lifetime appointment to the Navy. But, most important, Tom Petty used part of his famous quotation as the title for one of his albums. And you only gave him a road and a parkway.

Top of Page: Admiral David Farragut, famous Hastings resident and frequently quoted Civil War hero

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