Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

19th Century Improvements to East Chester Creek (Also Known as the Hutchinson River)

In 1894, the Government Printing Office released a "Report of the Secretary of War Being Part of the Message and Documents Communicated to the Two Houses of Congress at the Beginning of the Third Session of the Fifty-Third Congress". In that report, the Secretary of War included a Report of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army detailing the history of improvements to "East Chester Creek" along the border of Pelham. Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting provides the text of that report.

"D 19.

East Chester Creek, called also Hutchinson River, is a small stream which, as a tidal inlet for the last 4 miles of its course, traverses marshes of one-quarter to 1 mile in width, and empties into East Chester or Pelham Bay, a large bay on the northwest shore of Long Island Sound, just east of Throgs Neck, and 20 miles by water from the Battery, New York City. The width of the creek varies from 25 feet to half a mile at high water, but the channel is narrow everywhere.

Pelham bridge, a highway bridge, crosses the creek near its mouth. A short distance above is the bridge and trestle of the Harlem River branch of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, and at Lockwood, about 2 1/4 miles above its mouth, the stream is crossed by the Boston road. All three bridges are drawbridges.

The mean rise of tide at the mouth of the creek is 7.1 feet.

For half a mile up the creek there was originally a channel from 4 to 9 feet deep at low water, but the depth decreased farther up, and at Town Dock, the principal landing, about 1 1/2 miles from the mouth, the available depth at high water was only about equal to the rise of the tide. Above Town Dock the stream was narrow and crooked, and the depth about the same as just below.

The commerce at Town Dock was principally in coal and building materials for East Chester and Mount Vernon; the latter is a rapidly growing place with a present population of about 15,000. The main business part of the city of Mount Vernon is about 2 miles from Town Dock. It is understood to be mainly for the benefit of prospective Mount Vernon commerce that the improvement of East Chester Creek is desired.


In 1871 a survey of East Chester Creek was ordered by Congress. It was made in the same year, and in the report, dated January 19, 1872, and printed in the Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers for 1872, p. 812, three plans of improvement were outlined, viz:

For making and maintaining, by means of a tidal basin and a system of dikes, a channel 9 feet deep at mean low water, estimated to cost $1,646,000.

For making and maintaining in the same way a channel 11 feet deep at mean high water (about 4 feet at low water), estimated to cost $731,000.

For securing 7 feet depth at slack-water navigation by means of a lock above Goose Island (about half a mile from the mouth of the creek), estimated to cost $300,000.

No recommendation as to the worthiness of improvement accompanied these estimates. March 25, 1872, the House of Representatives passed a resolution inquiring the cost of removing obstructions between tide gauges No. 1 and No. 2, so as 'to afford the same depth of water above Station No. 1 as now prevails below it.'

In reply to this resolution, a report was submitted April 3, 1872 (see Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers for 1872, p. 814), containing the following estimates:

Basin, purchase of site, 18 acres, at $150 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $2,700
Excavation to level of mean low water, 200,000 cubic yards at 40 cents. . . . . . 80,000
Excavation of cut, 60,000 cubic yards, at 40 cents. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24,000
Diking and revetting banks of cut. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12,000
Engineering and contingencies. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17,805

Total. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136,505

This plan contemplated (as appears from maps on file) straightening the channel at Lockwood and, as it was necessary in any case to replace the old arch bridge of the Boston road by a drawbridge, changing the location of such bridge to a point about 700 feet eastward, so as to give a straighter and cheaper channel for the stream.

In 1873 $25,000 was appropriated for improving East Chester Creek. It was designed to expend it in accordance with the above estimates, which were then considered an adopted project, but no means had been provided for acquiring the land needed for the proposed cut at Lockwood, so no work was done at that time.

In 1875 it became apparent that the proposed change of location of the drawbridge at Lockwood could not be made. The old bridge lay on the boundary between the towns of East Chester and Pelham and was supported by the towns jointly. Under the proposed change of location the new bridge would lie within the town of Pelham, which town would then have to support it; therefore the town of Pelham would not consent to the chang, and the old bridge was replaced by an iron drawbridge in the same location. The proposed location of the cut had, therefore, to be altered to bring it to the drawbridge. This necessitated excavating a considerable amount of rock at an increased cost of $10,000. (See General Newton's letter to the Chief of Engineers, September 24, 1875.)

In 1875 $12,000 more was appropriated for this improvement, but it was not until 1877 that a commission, appointed by the State of New York, finally obtained the land for the proposed cut. After this right of way was secured, in 1877, a contract was entered into for making a cut 9 feet deep at mean high water (2 feet at low water), with a width of 100 feet at high-water level; this contract included about 3,149 cubic yards of rock excavation, 1,210 linear feet of pile dike, and 140 linear feet of crib dike. It was completed in 1878, and in that year and in 1879, under an appropriation of $10,000 made June 18, 1878, dredging was done by hired labor, removing a shoal of bowlders [sic] just outside of Pelham bridge, and making a channel about 125 feet wide and 9 feet deep at high water on the west side of Goose Island, being an extension of the original project.

In 1879 $3,500 was appropriated for continuing the improvement, and $3,500 in 1880. These appropriations were not expended until 1884.

In the Annual Report for 1879 it was stated as necessary to complete the improvement from Pelham bridge to Lockwood 'to construct dikes from the lower end of the cut to Goose Island, a distance of 5,800 feet.' In 1880 these dikes were estimated to cost $40,000.

The appropriations were not large enough to warrant beginning the cut above Lockwood, or the above-mentioned dikes, and these proposed works were apparently abandoned for the time being. In 1881 General Newton, U.S. Engineers, then in charge, reported that --

Furthermore, until it is proved that a depth of 9 or 10 feet * * * can not be maintained under the scale of improvement already completed, it will be unnecessary to inaugurate new works. The amount of funds available, $7,372.14, will be quite sufficient for the present wants of the case.

This money was expended in 1884 in dredging just below Town Dock, a work not included in the original estimate.

August 5, 1886, $10,000 was appropriated for this improvement, which was mostly expended in 1888 and 1889 in dredging between Town Dock and Lockwood to remove shoals from the previously dredged channel.

In 1887 an estimate was made of the cost of the several proposed extensions of project, from which it appears that $84,000 have been either expended or estimated for works not included in the first estimate, and that estimate, therefore, should be increased to $221,000 if it is proposed to carry out the original plan with these extensions.

It was proposed to expend the appropriation of $5,000, made August 11, 1888, in dredging a cut above Lockwood, and in January, 1889, the line of cut was staked out and a description given to the State commissioners for securing right of way. They were asked to obtain permission to deposit the material on the marsh lands adjacent to the cut, which could be done cheaply as compared with the cost of carrying it out into Long Island Sound. The commissioners reported that this consent could not be obtained, and as the available funds were not sufficient to begin work under any other plan for disposing of dredged materials, work was postponed until larger appropriations should be made.

In 1892, owing to certain changes of ownership, it was found that the requisite permission to deposit dredgings on the banks of the creek could be secured, and by authority of the Chief of Engineers an offer of the Mount Vernon Suburban Land Company to dredge and deposit material upon adjacent banks at the rate of 22 cents per cubic yards of mud were dredged and deposited on the west side of the cut, making a channel 9 feet deep at high water, 60 feet wide at bottom, with side slopes of 1 upon 1, extending northward 1,300 feet above the Lockwood drawbridge.

A sketch of East Chester Creek was printed in the Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers for 1893, p. 968.


No work was done by the United States. Private parties dredged a slip into the marshes of the west bank just above Lockwood, and have utilized the dredged channels by establishing a propeller freight line, making regular trips three times per week between Mount Vernon and New York City.


There is a channel of 9 feet depth at mean high water (2 feet at low water) from the bay to a point 1,300 feet above Lockwood, with a width of 100 feet or over to a point 1,000 feet above Town Dock; thence to Lockwood from 50 to 75 feet wide, and above Lockwood 60 feet wide.

The dikes on the east side of the channel below Lockwood are in fair condition.


With future appropriations it is proposed to widen the channel below Lockwood and to widen and deepen it above Lockwood, as provided in the modified project. The estimated cost of this work, as submitted in the Annual Report for 1891, is $55,000.

The dikes below Town Dock, at one time proposed, do not seem to be necessary at present as a means of improving or maintaining the channel.

Appropriations for improving East Chester Creek have been made as follows:

East Chester Creek is in the collection district of New York.

The nearest light-house is on the 'Stepping Stones,' 3 miles southeast of the mouth of the creek.

The nearest work of defense is Fort Schuyler, Throgs Neck, about 3 1/2 miles south.

Money statement.

July 1, 1893, balance unexpended. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$15.33
June 30, 1894, amount expended during fiscal year. . . 15.33

Amount (estimated) required for completion of existing project. . . . 55,000.00
Amount that can be profitably expended in fiscal year ending June 30, 1896 55,000.00
Submitted in compliance with requirements of sections 2 of river and harbor acts of 1866 and 1867 and sundry civil act of March 3, 1893.



The above figures show an increase of tonnage over that reported for 1892 (the last received) of 8,875 tons.

Since July 1, 1893, a freight steamer line has been established, making triweekly trips between New York City and Lockwoods.

The year 1893 was a fair average year for commerce by water, but with the improvement of the river the commerce will very greatly increase.

MOUNT VERNON, N. Y., May 7, 1894."

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