One of my favorite sources for Bronx trivia over the years have been the brothers Buddy and Richie Stein, formerly of Riverdale Press, which was founded by their parents. Buddy was my professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and Richie was my copy editor at The Jewish Star. As natives of Riverdale, they remember a childhood that preceded the arrival of high-rise apartments, when all of Riverdale appeared as a southern extension of the Hudson Valley rather than the northern tip of New York City. The Steins remember by name some of its hidden waterways, including Alder Brook.
It’s an obscure stream hidden behind dense vegetation and the neighborhood’s most exclusive properties.
A look back
In the 1873 survey of the western Bronx commissioned by the Parks Department, Alder Brook descends from its headwaters on the Delafield estate down to the Hudson River. Very few structures appear on this landscape.
The Delafields were a prominent New York family in the 19th century whose members contributed greatly towards the city’s political, scientific and social scenes. When Major Joseph Delafield built his 257-acre estate at Fieldston in 1829, the area was part of Westchester County and resembled other Hudson Valley communities with its countryside mansions, river views and sparse population. Following the death of Delafield in 1875, his heirs subdivided portions of the estate with winding streets that respected the topography.
In the 1921 G. W. Bromley survey, the estates had shrunken in size and more homes appeared in the vicinity of the stream. Manhattan’s street grid had been extended north, but owing to the topography, the streets are crooked and many numbers in the sequence are missing. The course of Alder Brook is followed by West 246th Street, but at the time it was a paper street, not yet built.
Looking through Google Street View, the corner of Palisade Avenue and Spaulding Lane crosses over a ravine that sometimes has water, depending on the season. This is Alder Brook looking east, or uphill.
At the Sokolow residence, Two Spaulding Lane, a bridge crosses the brook to enter the property.
The Namesake Property
Spaulding Lane takes its name from wool merchant Henry Foster Spaulding, who purchased land along this street in 1856, along with three other businessmen—Henry L. Atherton, William Kent, and financier Levi P. Morton, who later served as a Vice President).
Spaulding Lane ends at Independence Avenue, a route comprised of three segments between Mount St. Vincent and Spuyten Duyvil. At this turn is the entrance to the Alderbrook property, which contains a historic mansion that is a designated city landmark. The home was completed around 1858-1859 and is still used as a private residence. Its name is believed to have been inspired by a collection of popular stories by Fanny Forester published in 1847.
The mansion was built at the same time as similar homes were constructed along the Hudson River between Albany and upper Manhattan, collectively giving the Hudson Valley its image. It is presently owned by Jonathan M. Rudman.
The Alderbrook Pool
On the subdivided estate is a pool that has the appearance of a pond and couldn’t feel more distant from the city. The Alderbrook Pool is a private club used by members for swimming during the summer season. It sits atop the course of the brook that shares its name. Within the subdivided estate, the private Alderbrook Road also reminds visitors of the little-known stream.
Although the Alderbrook property is private, nearby is Wave Hill. This former estate has been operated by the city as a cultural center and garden since 1960.
In the News:
- The Nation magazine has a long-form article on gentrification fears connected to the revival of Los Angeles River.
- Harmless green dye was released into the Chicago River in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, an annual tradition in Chicago.
- Abandoned boats are being removed from Brooklyn’s Shell Bank Creek.
- Have you seen the “wondrous” 1926 pictorial map of Manhattan?
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