State demanding costly dam repair

In 1987, when Marie-Louise Best and her family first toured the house they would buy on Aqueduct Road in Continental Village, they noted the view of Sylvan Pond from the windows.

Eight years later, neighbors and a crew from the Philipstown Highway Department worked together to pull mattresses, hardened bags of cement, a cash register and other debris from the water. 

In a paean Best wrote for the Putnam Reporter Dispatch after the cleanup, she quoted Henry David Thoreau, who described a lake as “a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”

“It is such a pretty view,” Best said on Wednesday (March 27). “In the fall it’s beautiful, with the leaves reflecting off the pond.” 

The view could be gone by as early as summer 2025 because Putnam County plans to drain Sylvan Pond and eliminate what has been a spot for contemplation and recreation for residents on Aqueduct, Ridge Road and Lake Court. 

Sylvan Pond in Continental Village may soon be gone.
Sylvan Pond in Continental Village may soon be gone. (Photo by L. Sparks)

While information on the history of Sylvan Pond and how Putnam came to own it is scant, Neal Tomann, a Philipstown resident who is interim manager of the county’s Soil & Water Conservation District, said the state Department of Environmental Conservation has issued an ultimatum: fortify the earthen dam or drain the water. 

The agency’s concern, Tomann told the Town Board on March 20, is that a storm could fill the shallow pond and send floodwaters toward downstream properties along Sprout Brook Road. 

He described the dam, which has a channel that drains pond water to an unknown destination, as “highly improvised” and designated by the DEC as Class B, meaning there is the potential for severe damage to nearby properties if it fails. Rebuilding the dam to reduce that risk would cost an estimated $750,000 — an amount Tomann said is more than the county’s annual budget for dams. 

Putnam owns nine dams, Tomann said, acquiring many of them through tax liens. He does not know how Sylvan Pond became one of them; online property records do not list a previous owner. 

A history of Continental Village published in 1972 and written by Carlton Scofield, a former Peekskill historian, includes a map identifying Sylvan Pond. Best and another resident, Kendra Parker, recalled it as a spot for fishing, ice-skating, swimming and other activities. 

Parker and several other Continental Village residents who attended the Town Board meeting asked Tomann about alternatives. She worries about losing habitat for ducks, snapping turtles and other wildlife. “We don’t want to live around a swamp,” she said.

Tomann said that even if residents bought the property, they would still have to repair the dam or drain the pond. 

In her 1995 column for the Putnam Reporter Dispatch, Best described how her young daughter and son fed ducks and skipped rocks in warm weather and skated with their father when the pond iced over in the winter.

A neighbor named Justine Bruno, armed with a wheelbarrow, launched the 1995 cleanup effort when she began clearing overgrowth around Sylvan Pond because her daughters had returned with rashes after feeding the ducks, said Best.

Justine Bruno
Justine Bruno is shown with her children at Sylvan Pond in 1995 in a photo by Marie-Louise Best that accompanied Best’s story about the cleanup.

Other neighbors joined in and soon after, the Philipstown Highway Department brought a backhoe, wood chipper, dump truck and “elbow grease” to their aid, she said. 

Now, a faded green sign inscribed, “Please Keep Pond Clean, By Troop 2280” juts from the ground a short walk from a part of the shore where two rocks protrude into the water. 

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a kid sitting on those rocks thinking, and young families taking their kids down there,” said Best. “It’s really nice.”

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

The Peekskill resident is a former reporter for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, where he covered Sullivan County and later Newburgh. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Morgan State University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: General.

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1 Comment

  1. As one of the many people whose house would be flooded if the dam breached, I can’t wait for the pond to be drained or the dam fixed. [via Facebook]

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