Deep inside the upscale Riverdale section of the Bronx is a private subdivision with two ponds that recall its former landowner. The ponds can be viewed by traveling downhill on West 246th Street to the west of Independence Avenue.
Here, the street curves and descends downhill towards the Hudson River. Delafield Way branches off to the left with the ponds located behind a guard booth at the entrance to the Delafield Estates development.
About These Ponds
Guard booths, “no trespassing” signs and doormen provide little deterrence to urban explorers who have the confidence to stroll past as if they own the place.
The entrance to the 10-acre estate lies between the two ponds, with the larger pond on the right of the above image. Tamed by its owners, its shoreline is lined with paving stones and a fountain spouts from the center of the pond. At the end of this driveway used to be the Delafield mansion, which unfortunately burned down in 1991.
The ponds’ namesake is Major Joseph Delafield, a veteran of the War of 1812 who was a practicing attorney and president of the New York Lyceum of Natural History. 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 Delafield established his 257-acre estate in 1829, the area was part of Westchester County and resembled other Hudson Valley communities with its countryside mansions, river views and sparse population.
In the early 20th century, most of the estate was subdivided into the Fieldston development, which contains Indian Pond.
In 1965, banker Edward Delafield donated the remaining 10 acres of the estate to Columbia University, where graduate students adopted Nim Chimpsky, the monkey who was taught sign language and raised as a human. His name was a pun on linguist/political activist Noam Chomsky, who believed in the opposite theory- that only humans have the capabilities for language. This monkey was the estate’s most famous resident since Joseph Delafield.
Columbia sold the estate to a developer in 1984. It took time for the project to become realized, with its dozen homes around a private traffic circle. Seventy percent of the property is open space including the ponds, preserving the bucolic setting that was familiar to Delafield.
On the left side of Delafield Lane, one sees a brook flowing into the pond. I wanted to walk on its rocks towards its source, but it lies in someone’s backyard and I did not want to invite trouble.
I followed Delafield Way to the left knowing that the brook flows behind the houses. In a clearing I found the other pond on the property, which contains an isle inside it. It was tempting to run down this slope to the water’s edge, but the slope is someone’s property. I stood on the street with my camera as a resident passed by in his car. “May I help you? Are you lost?” This was his way of defending the privately owned turf. I calmly kept walking as if I was living here.
I took another shot of Delafield Ponds from within the estate before leaving for good.
As with all ponds in the city, I was curious to learn whether it was part of a larger waterway. A few yards downhill from the Delafield Estate, I passed by a mansion that has a brook flowing across its front yard. I wasn’t sure if this water came from the ponds or its own source bubbling from the ground.
W. 246th Street makes a sharp turn left at this mansion, becoming Douglas Avenue. On a winter day when vegetation is thin one can see a ravine with a brook descending to the Hudson River.
This ravine is also on private property so I wisely kept off these rocks.
In the background are the Palisades, a cliff face formed during the Triassic period that follows the Hudson River between Nyack and Jersey City.
The cliff provides for excellent hiking and climbing in close proximity to the city with excellent views of Manhattan and the Bronx. While the Bronx side of the Hudson River is comprised of a slope, it also provides for ideal hiking terrain without leaving the city’s borders.
If one wishes to hike the hills of Riverdale overlooking the Hudson, there is Riverdale Park, a sliver of forest along the Hudson River between W. 232 Street and W. 254th Street. At Spaulding Lane, I revisited Alder Brook, which I documented earlier. It appeared dry on a late September afternoon, as did the brook flowing from the former Delafield property. Unlike many of the city’s waterfront parks, this one does not have a highway running through it, but before one runs towards the water’s edge, there is one final barrier…
The Hudson River Line that carries Metro-North and Amtrak trains along the river from Manhattan to Albany. There are plans to provide public access to the thin sliver of land between the tracks and the water, so that the Bronx would have its own Hudson River Greenway, linking to the existing ones in Manhattan and Yonkers. Click on the map below for better resolution.
As the project involves multiple agencies, it will not happen so quickly but even from this vantage point, one feels very “out of town” near the confluence of the brook flowing out of Delafield Ponds into the Hudson River.
Also in Riverdale
While visiting Delafield Ponds, here are a few other hidden waterways in the northwest corner of the Bronx: