Located in what is now known as Valhalla, New York (a few miles from Buckout Road in White Plains
NY)…there once was a town with a population of 200 known as Kensico which is now beneath Kensico Lake
Kensico was named in 1849 for a Siwanoy Indian chief, Cokenseko, who had sold most of the land
surrounding White Plains to English settlers in the 1600s. The village of Kensico was surrounded by hills
that came to a natural v-shape and there was a nearby stone quarry on Silver Lake in North Castle, making
the town a logical site for the new dam. Kensico had houses, stores, churches, hotels and a railroad station.
In the late 1800s there was a need for a reservoir that would contain waters from the various reservoirs
and act as a holding tank that could easily provide needed water to nearby New York City.
By 1905, legislation was passed by New York State to allow money to be raised for the building of the
Kensico Dam and the next year final planning by the state was approved and preliminary surveys were
begun. Seventeen miles of railroad track were privately built to carry materials from quarries at nearby
Cranberry and Silver lakes to the dam site; this spur railroad and a highway network had to be built to move
supplies into place. A camp for 1,500 workers and their families was constructed along with facilities such
as a school for the children and a night school for the non-English speaking adults. Many of these families
had immigrated from Italy and Germany.
In preparation for this huge enterprise, individual lots of land were condemned and families had to move to
such surrounding towns as Valhalla, Armonk and White Plains. Workers had to be brought to the area of the
new dam and housing and other facilities had to be built for them. The actual construction of the dam began
in 1913 and was concluded three years ahead of schedule in 1917 at a cost of more than $15,000,000. The
dam is 1,825 feet long. It stands 307 feet above its foundation and contains 1,000,000 cubic feet of masonry,
as much masonry as the Egyptians used to build some of the pyramids. In one month, 2.5 million cubic yards
of concrete were poured into blocks which had to cure for three months before being swung onto the
rising hyperbolic pile of the dam. The dam is able to hold back about 30 billion gallons of water. Many
Westchester communities, as well as over eight million City residents, rely on the Kensico Reservoir for
their drinking water. It was acquired as parkland in 1963 from the New York City Watershed Commission and
remains the property of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection
There is a nearby millstone with a plaque which reads “near this site stood Reuben Wright’s Mills
headquarters of General Washington from July 20th to July 25th 1778. Also occupied by other Revolutionary
War Generals. The mills were in Old Kensico Village, now inundated by the waters of Kensico Lake.
Kensico Dam in modern day 2013 is a popular spot for sunbathers and bike riders on nice sunny days and is
also the site of cultural festivals and concerts. After 9/11 cars are no longer able to drive across the dam.