What’s in a Name? Or Who’s the Golden in Goldens Bridge?

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the hamlet of Goldens Bridge was named for a resident of Stephentown, aka Somers? Maybe it’s no stranger than the fact that the town of Somers is named for a Naval lieutenant from New Jersey who died in the Battle of Tripoli in 1804, but I digress. A recent query to my office asked about the location of the original Goldens bridge. Trying to determine that location brought to mind thoughts on the origin of the name of the westernmost hamlet in our town, which led me to revisit the theories behind the naming of Goldens Bridge. This has been debated for centuries now. A second question often tags along – when was the apostrophe in the name dropped? Again, the who, where, why or when is up for speculation.

Let’s address location first. Again, a mystery. Too many years and too much water has flowed under the wooden planks that first spanned the Croton River separating Lower Salem from Stephentown. Newcomers might ask where is the Croton River? Most of it is submerged below the reservoir that we see as we travel along I 684 and Rtes. 35 and 100. You can see its remains along Route 22 traveling towards Brewster. But in the times of the first inhabitants thousands of years ago it was an important travelway, and during Revolutionary times the river was an obstruction to travel east to west, hence the importance of a crossing both for military and commercial reasons for farmers getting their goods to market. This road connected with the Patent Road from Sing Sing [Ossining] to Dover Plains. From Sing Sing farmers’ products went by sloop to New York City. Most likely, judging from early maps of Westchester County, the original bridge [and its replacements] were just north of today’s Rte. 138 highway bridge across the reservoir. The early bridge may even have been a toll bridge.

Now, the name. We have several choices: James Golden, Abraham Goldings/Golden, and Cadwallader Colden. To start with the least logical of the possibilities, Mr. Colden – he was a surveyor in the New York Province and had scouted the Indian territories of the area in the early 18th century. Robert Erskine, mapmaker and geographer for George Washington during the Revolutionary War, marked the crossing of the Croton River in the area Coldens Bridge on his map of the area. Perhaps the Mr. Colden had a fondness for the vicinity and named the bridge after himself as he packed up his transit and gear, and in the years that followed the name Coldens morphed into Goldens. However, I think there are other more logical explanations based on these other individuals.

James Golden comes into our next scenario. Supposedly, a James Golden lived on the east shore of the Croton River, on a ford, and it is assumed that he built a bridge across the river at the ford. James was married to Theodotia Mead of Greenwich, but that is all we know about him or his family, or where exactly he lived other than the general Goldens Bridge area. He does not appear in the census records, but he might have moved prior to the first census in 1790. Theodotia may be somehow related to other Meads of our town. Solomon Mead, the first pastor of the South Salem White Church had Greenwich roots, as did his kin. Enoch Mead, a Greenwich area relative of Solomon, was the original settler of Mead Street in Waccabuc. Obviously, the importance of a bridge on a river crossing was something to be noted, especially since they were few and far between. The closest crossing to the bridge in question was Pines Bridge, several miles to the south. Some sources credit James as the origin of the name. We are not going to deny that he might have a valid claim to this part of our town’s history.

But, we haven’t explored Abraham Golding’s part of the story. Abraham Golding’s family lived in the North Castle area at the time of the Revolution. What makes Mr. Golding’s story interesting is that he most likely was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War and escaped with many other Loyalists from Westchester County to New Brunswick, Canada. In 1786 he was repatriated and settled in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. But, by 1794, he owned property and was living on the western shore of the Croton River, probably not far from James Golden, just across the river. Both men were said to be handy with a hammer, being farmers and carpenters.

By the 1790s, Abraham Golding was a respected citizen of Stephentown and a founding member of Mount Zion Methodist Episcopal Church in 1794. He died in 1810 and is buried in the Mount Zion graveyard. At some point, and for unknown reasons, the Golding name was changed to Golden, at least by some members of the family. Abraham seems to have been an enterprising gentleman, investing in property as the Van Cortlandt years were coming to a close. He left his mark and name in the Somers history books, and it appears that he may just be the man behind the naming of our Lewisboro hamlet.

A glance at the Town Records tells us, “At an Annual Town Meeting held at the Meeting House in the Town of Salem on tuesday the Sixth day of april one thousand Seven Hundred and ninety by the freeholders and Inhabitants of the Said Town voted that there Shall be raised by Tax in the Said Town the Sums of Forty pounds to Build a Bridge over Croton River near where the Bridge Called Goldens Bridge formerly Stood provided the Inhabitants of Stephen Town Shall by way of Tax Raise as charge a same Sum and the Collector to pay the Monies unto Abijah Gilbert and the Said Gilbert to pay the Monies unto Isaac Frost and Edward Mead Chosen trustees to Superintend the Building thereof.” So, in 1790, there was a bridge, with or without an apostrophe, to be rebuilt. We assume the towns raised the necessary tax and a new bridge was constructed.

For now, we will go with the idea that Abraham Golding is the name behind the bridge and the hamlet, but the subject is open to discussion for sure.

And about that dastardly apostrophe…Since the area we now call Goldens Bridge was part of the Van Cortlandt Manor until 1788, there is nothing noted about bridges in the early town records so we don’t know if the apostrophe existed then. On the 1867 Beers Atlas map the hamlet is written Goldens Bridge. The apostrophe appears in advertisements and articles through the years, but when Metro North was building the new station and parking lots a few years ago, they contacted me about the proper spelling and we went with Goldens Bridge – no apostrophe.

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