The (North Of) Manhattan Project

Last year, UK Energy Secretary Amber Rudd set out to make nuclear energy beautiful. Her idea was simple: If nuclear power stations inspired beautiful design, public support would follow. It was a philosophy Indian Point Park had already followed for decades.

Long before Con Edison built Indian Point Energy Center in 1961, the Hudson overlook was the preeminent park for New Yorkers escaping city crowds. Thousands docked each weekend at the bucolic Indian Point Park’s dance hall, beer garden, swimming pool, and roller coasters. 

The property’s history dates back to 1683, when New York’s retired mayor, Stephanus Van Cortlandt, bought 1,000 acres from the Kitchawank tribe in the area now known as Northern Westchester. After tending the estate for centuries, the Van Cortlandt family sold the property in 1836 and cashed in on industrialization. Alexander Buchanan, who was later honored by the naming of the village of Buchanan, founded a tannery and oilcloth factory there called Standard Coated Products. Hundreds of Westchesterites manned its machines. 

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In the 1920s, a new business opportunity emerged. The Hudson River Day Line had been chartering boats up the valley from Manhattan. Management realized a funfair would boost profits. When several hundred waterfront acres in Buchanan went up for sale, the Hudson River Day Line purchased the land and renamed it Indian Point Park, after the Kitchawank trading grounds. 

At the time, manufacturing had transformed downtown New York into a tangle of tenements. Unions were demanding labor reform, and businessmen like Henry Ford were promoting weekend automobile trips—an odd alliance that helped establish the 40-hour workweek. Workers in Westchester now had leisure time that farmers never did.

The new park was a virtual Tivoli Gardens-on-Hudson. For a few cents, you could dive into the Olympic-size swimming pool. For a bit more, you could rent a boat to drift along the Hudson. On the beach, boys wooed girls wearing one-piece latex suits, chasing them through the picnic areas and walking trails. The site was even wheelchair accessible. 

After WWII, the middle class began buying cars in earnest, moving to the suburbs, and expanding their destinations beyond Indian Point Park. The Hudson River Line shut down its steam engines and the ferries connecting New York City and the park. Businessman Emanuel Kelmans purchased the land and transformed Indian Point Park into a Rye Playland of the north. Soon, it had fireworks, roller-skating, mini-golf, and amusement rides like “The Jumping Jack” and “The Double Looper.” 

By the 1950s, Con Edison needed a new plant for a society hooked on glossy Bakelite appliances. President Eisenhower had just launched the Atoms for Peace program, pledging to put “the miraculous inventiveness of man” to good use. Indian Point had easy access to water and a central location. Con Ed not only offered to buy the land but also to pay 70 percent of district school taxes, to rebuild the sewer system and to install new streetlights.

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In 1962, Indian Point 1 opened its doors. Indian Points 2 and 3 followed a decade later. Con Edison launched its plans to build additional reactors on Davids Island in New Rochelle, but those plans were eventually scrapped, and in 1974, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission closed Indian Point 1. 

Today, the site’s remaining two reactors push out 2,000 megawatts of clean electricity, supporting two million homes. Entergy, Indian Point’s current owner, estimates that the plant generates $240 million annually for the community and provides a quarter of all power used in the area. 

Yet, outside today’s hum of turbines and fuel rods, Indian Point Park is still home to oaks, maples, and a Hudson River beach—a natural sight that Secretary Rudd would likely find, well, beautiful.  

Dan Robbins majored in history and American studies at Cornell University and remains an unabashed history buff, particularly when it comes to his own backyard.


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