It is almost impossible to understand Croton’s intractable planning and retailing problems without first understanding its retailing history. Croton has five separate and non-contiguous retailing areas, best described as “nodes.” The five areas, in the order of their creation, are (1) North Riverside Avenue, (2) Grand Street, (3) Harmon, (4) the lower end of Route 129, and (5) the retailing complex below Croton Point Avenue. The first three of these developed to serve the basic needs of their surrounding residential neighborhoods.
River travel antedated road travel in the Hudson Valley. Two “landings” (i.e., docks) at the foot of Grand Street and Brook Street attracted settlement. Successively called Collabaugh Landing, Cortlandt Town and Croton Landing, the area later became known as Croton’s “Lower Village.” This first phase of Croton’s development thrived first on market sloops, then on steamboat commerce on the Hudson, augmented by railroad passenger and freight service after 1849 centered on what later would become Croton North station. Long before the Expressway opened in 1967, condemnation and construction essentially destroyed the Lower Village, leaving only an anemic remnant on the east side of North Riverside Avenue.
Another settlement, later called the Upper Village, came into being after stagecoach and mail service began on the Albany Post Road. It eventually became a regular stage stop, complete with inn and stables for horses. Residences and retail shops clustered nearby to supply basic goods. This marked the second phase of Croton’s development. two steep roads, Upper Landing Road (now Brook Street) and Lower Landing Road (now Grand Street) connected The Upper Village to the Lower Village.
The third phase came after 1903, when real estate developer Clifford B. Harmon bought from the surviving Van Cortlandt heirs the land that became Harmon-on-Hudson, the original name of the new community he platted on the steep hills. Using advertising campaigns in New York City newspapers, he began selling building lots in 1907. Because Harmon was not within easy walking distance of Croton’s two original shopping areas, shops opened along South Riverside Avenue to supply basic amenities to new arrivals who built homes in the growing community.
Similarly, the Chapel of the Good Shepherd opened to take care the religious needs of Harmon’s Catholic residents. Although Harmon was absorbed by Croton in 1932, the Post Office Department continued to maintain a post office there until the mid-1960s. So insular is Harmon, a few die-hard old-timers still insist that they live in Harmon, not Croton. (To be continued)
— Robert Scott