Confluence of bustling d'towns & natural splendor
Its natural beauty is evident, from George's Island and Croton Point Park along the Hudson River to its 31 parks, playgrounds and recreation areas, and the bucolic Blue Mountain Reservation, a 1,500-acre county park.
At the same time, Cortlandt is home to the villages of Buchanan and Croton-on-Hudson and the busy hamlets of Crugers, Verplanck, Montrose and shopping-rich Mohegan Lake.
But it is the parallel between its bustling downtowns and its natural splendor that lends Cortlandt its unique suburban character.
So does its rich history, as detailed on the town's Web site.
In 1609, Henry Hudson sailed up the river that would one day bear his name and anchored at Verplanck's Point. Decades later, the Van Cortlandt family began purchasing land here, building an estate that stretched all the way to Connecticut. In 1788, Cortlandt became one of 20 townships in Westchester; Philip Van Cortlandt was its first supervisor.
The railroad brought industry in the 1800s, though Cortlandt remained mostly farms by the turn of the past century. But bungalow colonies were becoming summertime destinations for denizens of New York City.
At 34.5 square miles, the town is one of the largest in Westchester; its nearly 30,000 residents make it one of the most populous. Just 6 percent of the town is zoned for industrial or commercial development. By contrast, twice that — 13 percent — is open space. The rest is residential.
Besides the town government and the three main school districts, major employers in Cortlandt are Hudson Valley Hospital Center and the FDR Campus of the VA Hudson Valley Healthcare System in Montrose. Wal-Mart, The Home Depot and the 43 other stores that comprise the 763,000-square-foot Cortlandt Town Center make the shopping area the largest employer in town.
Today, Cortlandt is a suburban community, with many of its residents commuting to jobs elsewhere. Notably, the town tax rate hasn't changed much since Supervisor Linda Puglisi took office 14 years ago.
The town increased its stock of open space in the past decade from 2,729 acres to 4,502 acres. To further that progress, residents concerned about open space formed a Cortlandt chapter of the West-chester Land Trust in 2005.
Cortlandt also has expanded its access to residents with a treasure trove of data and maps through a system known as Geographic Information Systems. Now residents can log onto the Internet and quickly view an aerial map of their neighborhood or see where the nearest fire hydrant is located.
That melding of 21st-century technology with detailed information about a town rich in history is just one more paradox that defines Cortlandt.
River, railroad bring life to village
What defines Croton-on-Hudson can be found in its name.
A new road opened on the Croton waterfront in 2004, making the Hudson River the village's true front yard. The road, named for former Mayor Robert Elliott, was completed as part of a larger initiative to close a grade crossing over the Metro-North Railroad tracks, another element in the goal to make the riverfront the village's star attraction. The conversion of a former industrial property into a park will be another step toward reclamation of the riverfront as a recreational and cultural asset.
Besides its gorgeous river setting, Croton offers a little bit of everything.
There's a little tavern, Honey's Restaurant, where Jackie Gleason used to tipple and Frank Sinatra plays on the juke box, and a top-flight golf course, Hudson National, that draws well-heeled sportsmen. The annual Clearwater music and environmental festival at Croton Point Park is a mecca for local progressive groups.
The village is home to many railroad workers and staffers associated with Metro-North and its Harmon yard repair shop, and the low hum of a big train engine has been the soundtrack of the lives of many Croton families. A big commuter contingent heads into the canyons of Manhattan every day as well. There are grand mansions and little bungalows, often within a short distance of each other.
The village once was the location of a thriving Indian community that feasted off the Hudson's bounty. Mounds of old oyster shells still can be found along the river's edge. Croton was an important manufacturer of bricks in its earlier days, and construction of the Croton Dam also figured prominently in the community's history.
The main controversy in Croton, generating a vast amount of debate and squabbling, involves an unpopular waste-transfer station near the train station. Efforts to close the facility, Metro Enviro, have proved costly, divisive and litigious. And hard feelings still exist over a measure to expand the school district's facilities, a measure that dragged on through the courts after it was narrowly approved by voters. As in any small town, local politics can be a rough-and-tumble affair.
The efforts of the village administration have been focused on attracting new businesses to Croton's retail district, improving the appearance of the village's entryways and creating a community center. The new focus on the waterfront also has paid dividends that the community hopes to reap in years to come.

By BRIAN J. HOWARD and ROBERT MERCHANT
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: October 30, 2005)
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