Then & Now
The making of the Kensico Dam.
By Marisa Iallonardo
Who knew Westchester once had a town called Kensico where the massive dam now stands? Last century, in a case of eminent domain that makes the takeover of Port Chester’s waterfront seem puny in comparison, New York City took over thousands of acres all over Westchester County to build dams and create reservoirs to provide water for its residents. Some villages, like Katonah, painstakingly moved its houses and buildings. Others took the money and headed for higher, drier grounds.
In 1885, the Kensico Dam was a simple earth dam with a small spillway (as seen in the photo below) that formed a lake from the waters of the Bronx and Byram Rivers, just south of Kensico, a 200-person farming town. As New York City expanded, so did its thirst for Westchester water.
In 1906, plans were drawn up to erect a larger dam, which would effectively drown the entire town. The New York City government paid the townspeople a decent fee for their property. (One account says it paid $21,000 for the Methodist Church alone.) Construction on the new dam, which currently holds back 30 billion gallons of water, began in 1913 and was completed in 1917—three years ahead of schedule—at a cost of more than $15 million. Today, Kensico Dam Plaza comprises 98 acres of property, much of which is used for outdoor activities such as bicycling, picnicking, and in-line skating.