The Croton Aqueduct: How New York got its drinking water
Above: The Croton Reservoir in 1850, in what would soon become Central Park. (NYPL)
We take water for granted today. But before the 1830s, citizens relied on cisterns to collect rainwater, a series of city wells drilled down to bubbling, underground springs, and, of course, the infamously polluted Collect Pond. But these sources were spreading disease and clearly inadequate for a city whose international profile was raising thanks to the Erie Canal.
The solution lay miles north of the city in the Croton River. New York engineers embarked on one of the most ambitious projects in the city’s history — to tame the Croton, funnelling millions of gallons of waters through an aqueduct down to Manhattan, where it would be collected and stored in grand, Egyptian-style reservoirs to serve the city’s needs.
This is the story of both the old and new Croton Aqueducts, and of the many landmarks that are still with us — from New York’s oldest surviving bridge to a former Bronx racetrack that was turned into a gigantic reservoir.