Katonah is one of three hamlets within the township of Bedford, New York. Once populated by Native American tribes, the area began to be settled by Europeans in 1680. By 1812, some families were moving down the banks of the Cross River, just above its entrance into Croton River. Squire Wood and John Burr Whitlock set up a mill there and “Whitlockville” came into being.
Whitlockville was a thriving village in 1847, when the railroad pushed its tracks north and attracted business a scant mile to the east. In 1852, this new hamlet was named Katonah in honor of Chief Katonah from whom the land of Bedford had originally been bought by a group of English colonists. The community began to boom with the arrival of train transport. Up until this point, its people were predominantly farmers. With trains, villagers could send perishable produce to New York City. In the 1880’s, dairying grew enormously with two carloads of milk being shipped daily. Livestock waiting for delivery in pens at the railroad station were a common sight. The gristmill in Whitlockville became an iron foundry before becoming an optical factory. A silk mill in Katonah wove ribbons and commercial shirtmaking in the home moved every woman to demand a sewing-machine. A more enjoyable employment for the housewife was the entertaining of summer boarders. Even the well-to-do took in visitors and season after season, the countryside came alive with cycling parties, croquet games, hayrides, fishing, hunting, horseracing and boating.
New York City’s “thirst,” however, changed all of this. New York City purchased land for its reservoir system, planning to flood Whitlockville and Katonah villages to make way for the new Croton Dam. Instead of dispersing, these enterprising villagers in 1895 carefully planned a new village that combined residential and commercial areas. Some chose to bring their buildings with them, moving houses, barns and stores over a track made of long timbers and pulled by horses. All in all, 55 buildings were moved in 15 years.
With its new location, Katonah also had a new look. Dairying was no longer the primary industry as more farmers began to sell their land to New York City and White Plains residents for their “summer places.” The population of 312 that Whitlockville had in 1865 has grown to more than 1,600 today.
Katonah’s Historic District, listed in the National registers of Historic Places, encompasses the Bedford Road area, a section of the hamlet designed by landscape architects, G.S. and B.S. Olmstead. Many of the originally moved homes are found along the broad tree-lined residential street of Bedford Road, which parallels the business area of Katonah Avenue where two and three story Victorian buildings are now stores and offices.
Come explore Katonah’s fascinating past by taking the Katonah Village Improvement Society’s walking tour through the charming historic commercial and residential districts. Be sure along your walk to stop in the Katonah Village Library to view old photographs and artifacts.
For an excellent depiction of early Katonah, also check out Frances R. Duncombe’s Katonah: The History of a New York Village and its People available at Kelloggs & Lawrence and Charles Department Store.
Photos courtesy of the Katonah Village Library. All Text copyright Katonah Chamber of Commerce.