Photos by Ken Gabrielsen
One of the county’s most iconic landmarks, Kensico Dam Plaza is unique in its ability to bring Westchesterites together for outdoor fun.
By Nick Brandi, Christina Ferrari, Brianna Gadaleta, and Julia Mallon, with research assistance by Natalie Todaro
Here, Mount Vernon resident Teodoro Valentin celebrates summer by enjoying the radiant weekend with family and friends at Kensico Dam. The retired dad says he loves spending time with his two sons, Timothy and his younger brother, Aaron. Also on hand this sunny Saturday is a loved one of the four-legged variety, Penny. The captured moment from this fun-filled day stems from a standing date between Valentin’s family and longtime friend Charles Esenwa (in blue, with sunglasses), with various members of both clans congregating for the festivities. The two families have been in each other’s lives for more than a decade and say they cherish this weekend ritual at this picturesque spot in Valhalla.
Did You Know?
The Kensico Dam is more than 100 years old! Construction began in 1911, but brainstorming and planning had been ongoing since 1902. The project was finally completed in 1917, four years ahead of schedule.
They say it’s your birthday! When you think about it, what better place to gather with good friends to celebrate the anniversary of your birth on a warm summer day than the verdant, manicured lawns of Kensico Dam Plaza. Here, the celebrant can be seen smiling sentimentally at the handmade card one of her friends created for her. But for many, the best part of the classic American birthday ritual is the cake itself, and by the looks of it, this group found itself a prime specimen to commemorate the occasion.
Andrea Sore has been coming to the dam since she was a kid in Thornwood. Just a 10-minute drive from her home, Kensico is where she amassed countless memories of watching fireworks, catching drive-in movies, or simply spending some quality time with family. These days, the dam remains her go-to place to birdwatch, trail-run up stairs (with her 50-lb backpacking gear), or play lacrosse with friends in the wide-open space. On this particular sunny June afternoon, she crossed sticks with Alex Moeser, a Colorado resident visiting family in Westchester. Although they’d only met once before, the two spent time chatting, passing the ball, and snacking on cherries in front of the dam. “It’s definitely a great place to meet people and bond,” Sore admits. Right around the corner is another one of her favorite places, Cranberry Lake Preserve, where stone for the dam was excavated.
Did you know?
The dam is 307 feet in height and 1,843 feet in width — that’s more than 5 football fields long! The massive proportions of this project were nearly enough to rival the construction of the Panama Canal.
Seeing double? You’re not imagining things. These twin brothers come to Kensico Plaza to hang every chance they get. Previously, they would arrive on the scene early in the morning and go for pastoral walks together — but that was before they discovered roller skates! Nowadays, these sanguine siblings glide around the plaza, exchanging smiles and joy with everyone they meet along the way.
Kensico offers so many reasons to spend time there, including its status as a prime destination for people-watching under the comfort of a shade tree. It is also a hotspot for a variety of public events, including the county’s annual cultural heritage festivals, Fourth of July fireworks show, Winter Wonderland, and WM’s own Burger & Beer Blast and Grand Tastings Village, to be held this year on Sept 23 and 25, respectively.
Though he hasn’t spewed water from here in quite some time, the mighty Poseidon still presides majestically over the the plaza. Though a 2015 initiative proposed to resurrect the reflecting pool and cascade fountains, a county budget deficit annulled the project.
Did you know?
The stone used for the dam was taken from the quarry in nearby Cranberry Lake Preserve. A massive crushing plant was built to break the stone, and an accompanying railroad was created solely to transport debris from the construction site to landfills. Today, you can visit the quarry and see old tracks, barrels, and ruins from the time of construction.
Westchesterites Edgar Ceron and Silvia Pineda pause during their leisurely bike ride this Saturday afternoon to visit The Rising, Kensico Plaza’s memorial to the Westchester victims of 9/11, who died 20 years ago this month. The 80-foot vertical structure, designed by architect Frederic Schwartz, consists of 109 intertwined steel rods, with each rod representing one county resident lost to the world on that tragic day. The rods are literally bound together to symbolize the strength and unity of the Westchester community and to the familes who lost loved ones as a result of the terrorist attack.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, this canine Westchesterite could write a novel to rival Tolstoy based on the ear-to-ear smile painted all over his face. But there’s no war here, only peace, as this pretty pit bull enjoys a spirited romp in the sun, playing with his favorite toy and his favorite human companion.
Attorneys Raya Salter and Elena Carter-Jeffrey met nearly 20 years ago, when their daughters attended Hudson Country school together in New Rochelle. Now, they walk around Kensico Dam, usually accompanied by Carter-Jeffrey’s shih-tzu/Cavalier King Charles spaniel mix, Thor. The women say they appreciate the dam’s central location, flat surface, and beautiful architecture. Salter, a 20-year NewRo resident, is a climate-justice consultant and serves on the New York State Climate Action Council. A professional park-goer, Salter has always spent a lot of time outdoors, appreciating the natural world. Her favorite part of Kensico is walking up the steps and admiring the view and the water. Carter-Jeffrey, a Yonkers resident for 16 years, is a medical-malpractice attorney because of the rigorous analytics and the opportunity to help others. In the future, the two say they are determined to learn how to roller-skate at what Carter-Jeffrey describes as the “must-see dam.”
Twice weekly, 20-year friends and fitness instructors Mary Tarricone (front row, wearing sunglasses) and Gina Capicotta bring the New York Sports Club to the Kensico Dam. Tarricone and Capicotta are sweat enthusiasts who love to teach classes, like the one above, because of the personal connections they make with their clients. Their obsession with exercise trickled down to their clients, who had begun requesting outdoor classes when sports clubs shut down due to COVID-19. The two friends listened, and their workout group, “Spring in Fitness With Mary and Gina,” on Facebook, was the result. They teach at Kensico because of its centrality and spaciousness, making it great for social distancing. The kickboxing and total-body conditioning classes are open to anyone for $15 a session.
Kevin Andrew, an Eastchester resident for more than 20 years, and his cosplayer compadres planned this Fantastic Four photo shoot four months in advance. The stone background and friendly atmosphere made Kensico Dam the ideal location for this (sometime Avengers) group to assemble. Andrew, an Instagram celebrity with more than 30,000 followers (@kofitnessnycosplay), has created an alliance between fitness and cosplay and speaks at panels where he encourages and teaches others to do the same. When Andrew isn’t working at his finance job, he is training and “leveling up” in the fitness world the way his favorite heroic protagonists do with their techniques. He started with 5K races and now runs the Yonkers Marathon, highly motivated by the people who told him he’d never be able to do it.
Dog days of summer. Though this isn’t what the ancient Romans had in mind when they coined the phrase (referring to the annual heliacal rising of Sirius, the Dog Star), it applies equally well to this quintessential slice of American life. After all, what could be better on a sundrenched day in June than a World Famous Nathan’s hot dog and an ice-cold soda to wash it down? We don’t know either, but you can rest assured that these two happy patrons are in no great rush to find out. Just mustard and kraut, please!