Jerome Park Reservoir and the History of the Croton Waterworks

A. The Early Water Supply of New York City

Because the lower Hudson River is an estuary, the water is salty all around Manhattan Island and for many miles upstream, and is not suitable for drinking. The early European settlers found adequate supplies of potable water from other sources. Public wells and pumps existed in New York City from the 17th century, and a major source of water was a pond called the Collect, where Foley Square is today. The Collect, along with many of the wells, was hopelessly polluted by the end of the 18th century. The accelerating growth of the cityís population combined with the failing water supply and the engineering difficulty of providing an adequate public water supply system, caused decades of debate. The profession of civil engineering was in its infancy in the United States, and there were no precedents in North America for the type or scale of construction that would be required to divert a river of pure water to the city.

In 1798 the city adopted a plan for a municipal water supply system, an ingenious scheme by Dr. Joseph Browne to divert the water of the Bronx River from a dam, near where the Bronx Zoo is today, through a canal to the Harlem River, where a water wheel would pump the water through a cast iron pipe to a reservoir on Manhattan Island . (This plan was never executed.)

The enabling legislation of 1799 created the Manhattan Water Company, which was led by Aaron Burr. Using this as a maneuver to obtain a bank charter, Burr spent as little effort as possible providing water. The company (which eventually became the Chase Manhattan Bank) abandoned the Bronx River plan in favor of creating a well and small reservoir, holding only a fraction of the cityís daily need. The system was deficient in many ways: it used hollow logs rather than iron pipes, served only the areas where service was profitable, and did not provide water for street cleaning or fire fighting.

The city continued to be plagued by fires that consumed whole blocks, and epidemics of yellow fever and other diseases that fed on poor sanitation. A terrible cholera epidemic in 1832 spurred the city to take immediate steps to create a true municipal water system. There was disagreement on whether to use the Croton River, the Bronx River, or another source for the cityís water. At the urging of Alderman Myndert Van Shaick, a proponent of the Croton River, the Common Council commissioned a study by civil engineer Colonel DeWitt Clinton, Jr., the son of Governor Clinton, who concluded that the Croton would be the best source, and developed a comprehensive plan.

B. The Old Croton Aqueduct

In 1833, a Board of Water Commisioners was appointed to plan a water supply system. One of their engineers, Major David Bates Douglass, a hero of the War of 1812 and a West Point engineering professor, sided with Colonel Clinton in favor of using the Croton River. Douglass became the chief engineer of the project, overseeing the planing and design of the Old Croton Aqueduct. The Commisioners replaced Douglass in 1836 with John B. Jervis, an engineer with experience in canal and railroad construction. Jervis revised and completed the design, and oversaw the construction of the Aqueduct. He, more than anyone else, is credited with the final design of the Croton Aqueduct. Also involved as “ engineer and supervising architect,” in design and production of drawings was the young James Renwick, Jr., later the architect of St. Patrickís Cathedral in Manhattan, and the Riverdale Presbyterian Church and the Greyston villa in the Bronx.

The great fire of 1835 created pressure to complete the work. Construction of the Old Croton Aqueduct began in 1837, and it was ready to go into service within five years, an unprecedented feat of organization. When it was complete, the masonry aqueduct wound its way for more than 40 miles through forests, villages and cities from a dam on the Croton River to two high-walled, rectangular reservoirs in Manhattan, the Receiving Reservoir at Yorkhill (where the Great Lawn now is in Central Park) and the Distributing Reservoir on Murray Hill (where the 42nd Street Public Library is today).

Like the aqueducts of ancient Rome, the Old Croton Aqueduct was designed to rely on gravity, and was built with a constant slope, which it maintains while the terrain around it undulates. Because it was designed to be constructed by the cut and cover method wherever possible, the aqueduct follows a course where the natural contours are the closest to its gradient. Typically, the aqueduct is partially buried, borne on a stone foundation, with a telltale mound running over it. With an earthen top and banked stone-faced or sod-covered walls, this mound is the characteristic aqueduct berm (Illustrations 7 and 8). The conduit itself is a horseshoe-arch-shaped stone and brick tunnel. The aqueduct was built mostly by Irish immigrant laborers. The Croton Aqueduct Trailway runs on top of the tunnel for most of its length, and is used today for recreation and as a pedestrian facility.

Where the aqueduct crosses valleys it is carried on massive stone and earth embankments. Streams and roads penetrate the embankment through vaulted culverts (Illustration 9); larger rivers were spanned by dramatic arched bridges. The most famous, the High Bridge over the Harlem River was completed 1848, six years after the aqueduct itself (Illustration 10). Other above – ground stone structures picturesque tapered ventilator shafts (Illustration 11), intended to keep the water fresh, and weir buildings (Illustration 12), structures that allowed water to waste and enabled the aqueduct to be drained.

Although a triumph of engineering and architecture, and a blessing for the city, the construction of the new water system had a human toll as well. On January 8, 1841, a heavy snow storm followed by days of torrential rain made the waters of the Croton swell, setting off a collapse of the incomplete Croton Dam and sending a wall of water and masses of ice crashing through the Croton Valley for three miles to the Hudson River. The disaster took three lives, and destroyed numerous houses, mills, factories, roads and bridges. The engineers reconstructed the dam with a larger spillway, but did not restore the economic life of the Croton River below the dam, which, due to flood damage, was no longer deep enough to be navigable by commercial vessels.

The pure, abundant water from the Croton Reservoir finally flowed into the mains of New York City on the Fourth of July, 1842. A great celebration was mounted, with jubilant throngs, the ringing of church bells, firing of cannon, and a five-mile-long parade. ìStanding in front of the City Hall, with the fountain sending plumes of Croton water fifty feet into the air, Governor Seward and Mayor Morris addressed the crowd. Members of the New York Sacred Music Society stood by the fountain and sang an ode written for the occasion.î The Croton system was hailed around the world as an engineering masterpiece and the promenade along the parapet of the Murray Hill Distributing Reservoir became a major tourist attraction, especially when the Crystal Palace was located next door on the site of the present Bryant Park. With a world-class water system at last in place, the city was equipped to become a modern metropolis.

C. Croton Waterworks Extension

New York’s population grew persistently faster than expected in the second half of the 19th century, and the flow of Croton water that seemed so abundant in 1842 appeared insufficient only a few years later. The problem was twofold: one issue was the capacity of the aqueduct conduit; the other issue was the quantity and quality of water available from the Croton River itself, particularly in years of drought.

In 1849, the year after the High Bridge went into service, the Croton Aqueduct Department was created. Its broad responsibilities extended to the building of sewers and paving of streets, but its central purpose was to operate and maintain the waterworks. To solve the first part of the water supply problem, they could accommodate increased demand for quite a few years simply by increasing the flow of water in the aqueduct, which had been designed with substantial overcapacity. The other part of the problem, controlling the volume and quality of the river water itself, required a strategy to increase storage capacity throughout the system. All of the changes required to improve the system, and to allow it to evolve to meet new demands and to incorporate improvements and new components, came to be categorized as the Croton Waterworks Extension.

In 1857 and 1858 a topographical survey of Croton Valley in northern Westchester and Putnam Counties was performed to identify suitable points for storage reservoirs along the three branches of the Croton River. This watershed covered an area ranging nearly from the Hudson River to the Connecticut border, and upstream from the Old Croton Dam for close to fifty miles.

The storage reservoirs were to be artificial lakes formed by damming the Croton River and its tributaries at strategic locations. This technique had been used to create the Old Croton Reservoir. The 1850’s plan, which envisioned fourteen storage reservoirs, designated A through O, was carried out nearly as planned between 1866 and 1911. This system, with its picturesque highland lake landscapes, and majestic stone and earth dams, is still operating today.

This plan was a marriage of engineering and ecology. It eventually created a controlled water chain along the Crotonís three main branches and principal tributaries, with storage reservoirs controlling the flow of water through spillways in the dams back into the river to maximize storage capacity and supplement the volume in drought conditions. There were also several natural lakes whose water could be drawn if needed. At the Croton Reservoir, the final lake in the upstate system, water would enter the aqueduct to the city. The Croton Aqueduct Department and successor agencies took great pride in maintaining the cleanliness and ecological health of the Croton Watershed, and were roundly criticized when critics felt that they were neglecting this task.

The New Central Park Receiving Reservoir at Yorkhill, built from 1858 to 1863, was the first major project of the Croton Waterworks Extension. Unlike the original Receiving Reservoir, it was planned with the knowledge that the park was being developed:

“Its curvilinear shape is largely due to the persuasiveness of the man who was then the engineer of the new Park, Anton Viele. Viele argued that the new reservoir should not be rectangular like the old one but should have a more graceful and natural form. In spite of this aesthetic gesture, the Reservoir posed problems for the designers Olmsted and Vaux. It filled so much of the Park from side to side that it was a virtual barrier to north-south traffic.”

The naturalistic form of the New Central Park Reservoir is reminiscent of artificial lakes such as the original Croton Reservoir and the new storage reservoirs that were being planned in the Croton Valley. Begun only fifteen years after the completion of the earlier reservoirs, it represented a change in design philosophy. Unlike the earlier rectangular reservoirs that had been intended to fill city blocks, new urban reservoirs could be integrated into park landscaping, and be enjoyed for scenic views and recreation:

“According to the contemporary historian Clarence Cook, the pedestrian walkway around the Reservoir provided an ëadmirable constitutionalí in the early days of the Park. It afforded a fine breeze, dancing waves and a setting for beautiful sunsets. Three cast iron bridges…were built to carry pedestrians over the Bridle Trail to the walkway.”

The second major project of the Croton Waterworks Extension, starting in 1861, was the addition of a large wrought iron main to the High Bridge to upgrade its capacity. The height of the walls and cornice was increased, and the bridge was roofed with a brick vault for its entire length. This work was completed in 1863.

The following year iron railings were installed on the bridge and Bronx High Bridge park was terraced and landscaped. From the start the system had been viewed as a scenic attraction by the public, and the High Bridge continued to rank among the cityís top tourist attractions.

Plans for commencing other major new projects were delayed by the Civil War. The High Bridge Reservoir and Tower (Illustration 13) were constructed from 1866 to 1873 to serve the growing population of upper Manhattanís heights, known as Carmansville, and nearby areas that were above the head of the existing aqueduct and reservoirs. The steam-powered pumping engines of that day were not reliable and the reservoir and tower were required to make service continuous. The tower had essentially the same function as the reservoir, but served a higher elevation. The High Bridge Reservoir was the last of the rectangular reservoirs of the Croton System.

The Croton Aqueduct Department was taken over by the Department of Public Works in 1870. The significance of the water supply system, along with the road-paving and sewer operations, was immediately recognized by the first Commissioner of Public Works, William Marcy Tweed, who harnessed it for his bold schemes of malfeasance and racketeering.

In the Department of Public Works Annual Report of 1870/71 Commissioner Tweed wrote that, ìThe very large amount of labor which has fallen to the charge of the Chief Engineer of the Croton Aqueduct is apparent upon reference to his voluminous report.î In fact, the ìvoluminous reportî written by Chief Engineer Edward H. Tracey had only about ten pages that vaguely described the works currently underway along with twenty-nine pages of filler, which consisted of a thirty-year-old description of the system written by Jervis. This filler was inserted abruptly and awkwardly in Traceyís text, most likely at the insistence of Tweed. While the Annual Report looks like a normal, orderly bureaucratic document, it glosses over a binge of spending that drew the city to the verge of insolvency.

Tweed relied on the reputation of the Croton Aqueduct Department and its engineering feats. For example, he recalled their 1869 work on the regrading of 5th Avenue in Manhattan, where they lowered two 36-inch iron mains four feet into a rock-cut while water was flowing through them, to avoid interrupting service.

The corrupt administration of the Croton Waterworks under Tweed fundamentally shook the faith of the public; this damage has never been fully erased. It ended an era of innocence during which there had been absolute confidence in the motives and honesty of the administrators and engineers of the system, who were entrusted with decisions concerning the vast works and huge outlays of public money that are inherent to the supply of water for great cities. It also began a schism between the engineers of the former Croton Aqueduct Department and their new masters, whose primary interest was in controlling the flow of money rather than water.

Boyd’s Corners Reservoir (Reservoir E) was the first of the storage reservoirs to be constructed in the watershed. Located in Putnam County it was built between 1866 and 1874 on the West Branch of the Croton River near Fahnstock State Park. It was in the midst of this project that the Department of Public Works took over the Croton Waterworks.

The distaste for the new regime was often expressed subtly, as in the statement by J.J.R. Croes, the Resident Engineer for the construction of Boyd’s Corners Reservoir, criticizing the workmanship of an embankment, ” ‘It was built by contract, and not rolled or thoroughly rammed, but merely carted over.’ …In stating ‘it was built by contract,’ Croes is alluding to the fact that…the cityís engineers had little or no discretionary power over contractors to insure good work. Under Tweed rule, contracts were awarded subject to stipulated kickbacks or commissions; contractors could slight their work with impunity…”

The Middle Branch Reservoir (Reservoir G) (Illustration 15), also in Putnam County, was the next to be constructed, from 1874 to 1879. Twenty years after the initial storage reservoir plan, only two of the reservoirs along the Croton River had been completed, and both of those had relatively small watersheds. Still, it was the aqueduct conduit itself that became the critical bottleneck in the system. By the mid-1870’s it was clear that the Old Croton Aqueduct could not continue for long to provide a sufficient water supply for the rapidly growing city.

The Old Croton Aqueduct was already operating well beyond its planned capacity. The aqueduct was modified in 1875 to allow a higher water level by the addition of one or more rings of brick over the top arch. Tests of the aqueduct at 103 million gallons per day (mgd) had ìdisastrous resultsî and it was decided that 95 mgd was the maximum allowable capacity. It was felt that conservation measures to curtail waste, such as metering, would only postpone the inevitable. Additional supply would be required as the aqueduct had finally reached its limit.

Debate over the future of the water supply system was vigorous in the late-1870’s and early 1880’s. Benjamin S. Church, who had been in charge of the Old Croton Aqueduct since 1861, presented a paper before the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in 1876. He pointed out design flaws in the Old Croton Aqueduct that were leading to settlement of stone foundations, structural failures and leaking at the embankments (sloping stone-clad earthworks that braced the aqueduct at valley crossings and hillsides) of which there were about five miles total. While he had great admiration for the work of Jervis and Douglass, Church believed that the aqueduct had yet to be perfected, and that, with no other large scale source of water, shutdowns for repair work would inevitably become disastrous interruptions of the cityís water supply.

At the ASCE meeting, one of Jervis’s former students questioned Church’s structural analysis and staunchly defended the original design, but there was no disputing Church’s records and observations. In his many years at the helm, Church had overseen a huge volume of work in maintaining and restoring the Old Croton Aqueduct. Routine, minor leaks were remedied with a mixture of sawdust, sand and clay that was poured into the water upstream of the leak, and flowed down and plugged the leak from the inside. There were also many conditions that required substantial masonry repairs. In 1866 alone, for example, Church supervised the reconstruction of an arched culvert over a roadway north of Tarrytown and the repair of more than 4,800 feet of fissures in stone retaining walls.

There had also been a nearly catastrophic breach of the aqueduct in Fordham, approximately two miles north of the High Bridge in what was then southern Westchester, and some sections of berm washed out near Ossining in storms.

One of Church’s concerns was that every time repairs were necessary, the water supply had to be shut off at the dam at Croton Lake, and the whole length of the aqueduct drained, because the original valve system in the weir buildings did not allow the flow of the aqueduct to be diverted at an individual weir. The weirs as originally built could only drain the water passively through side openings, a design that some critics in the 1870’s denounced as short-sighted and even perceived as the Achillesí heel of Jervisís design. The draining and refilling of the whole aqueduct added about 48 hours to the time required for repairs, so that even a small amount of masonry work inside the conduit would impact service. This was especially true because, by the late 1870’s, only the top few feet of water in the cityís reservoirs had sufficient head to provide adequate pressure to the increasing stock of taller buildings.

Church planned improvements in the design of the Old Croton Aqueduct. One was the provision of cross-valves at each of the waste weirs to divert water so that individual divisions of the aqueduct could be drained for repairs without shutting down and refilling the whole system. Starting in 1881, the waste weirs were modified (it may have surprised the neighbors to realize that the quiet streams in their back yards could be transformed instantly into 95 mgd torrents). The waste weir in Ossining was reconstructed at a new location, rather than being modified like the others, so that the water could drain more directly into the Sing-Sing Kill. The Ossining weir retained the architectural style of the existing weirs of the Old Croton Aqueduct.

Another issue was providing a water supply for the 23rd and 24th Wards of New York City, territory annexed from Westchester in 1874 that would later become part of the Borough of the Bronx. Under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Parks, Frederick Law Olmsted and J. J. R. Croes were retained to create a comprehensive city plan for the new wards. While some groups felt that water from the Bronx River should be tapped for the new wards, reserving the Croton water for Manhattan, the Common Council passed an act, in May, 1875, calling for the distribution of Croton water in the areas to be developed in the newly acquired territory. Within a year mains were being laid from the Croton Aqueduct in the new wards. This was the same year that it was first decided that a reservoir should be constructed at Jerome Park at the junction of the Old Croton Aqueduct and a new aqueduct. Work on this project was postponed indefinitely due to the condition of the city’s finances, which had been weakened by the spending spree of Tweed and his cronies.

In 1879 work began on a new aqueduct, unrelated to the Croton: the Bronx and Byram water system. In 1884 the Bronx River Pipeline went into service, and the new Williams Bridge Reservoir in the Bronx was completed in 1889.

The Bronx and Byram water system is reported to have been a product of ongoing Tammany Hall influence, constructed by the Department of Public Works under a revived Tweed Act. The project was attacked repeatedly by the Union League Club (of which Church and Olmsted were members). An 1882 report stated that if a new aqueduct was required, “…one from the Croton would doubtless have been selected in lieu of the one from the Bronx. The selection of the latter must now be regarded as an official mistake not likely to have been made by a body of intelligent Commissioners.”

Construction of the Bronx and Byram system was ordered by Commissioner of Public Works Allan Campbell, whom the Union League Club report called an unqualified “party politician” whose confirmation to office allegedly had been secured by payments from construction interests in anticipation of lucrative city contracts. According to Campbell, his decision was based on estimated costs for the Bronx and Byram system of $3 million as compared to $12 million for a new aqueduct from the Croton. In the end, the Bronx and Byram project cost about $5 million and contributed a meager 15 mgd.

The Old Croton Aqueduct, which was originally intended to have a capacity of 72 mgd, was operating at its maximum of 95 mgd. The New Croton Aqueduct, when complete, could operate at a maximum of 300 mgd.

D. Works of the Aqueduct Commissioners

Even before the small contribution of the Bronx River Pipe Line of the Bronx and Byram system was brought on-line, it was obvious that plans for a new aqueduct from the Croton could not be delayed for long. What was less clear was who would design and build it, the Department of Public Works or a new organization, perhaps guided by an old Croton hand such as Benjamin S. Church.

In April, 1881, Isaac Newton, Chief Engineer of Water Works for the Department of Public Works, presented a special report to the Commissioner of Public Works, Hubert O. Thompson, supporting the case for an additional aqueduct from the Croton River.

Cynicism prevailed among the city’s elite, and it was said of the proposed New Croton Aqueduct that, “…such a work would greatly exceed the expense of the one we have, and besides that its construction would not be controlled by the faithful engineers who were on the work originally, and still remain with it, but it would come into modern hands. The present aqueduct was built long before frauds were common in city affairs.” Groups such as the Union League Club lobbied to limit the authority of the Department of Public Works, and to have the new works planned comprehensively, designed and constructed by a newly formed commission appointed by the Governor.

Several years of severe drought spurred action on a comprehensive plan. Criticism was leveled at the choice of storage reservoirs constructed to date in the Croton Valley, and the pace of the program. More than twenty years after the 1858 plan, only two storage reservoirs had been constructed in the watershed. It was felt that the East Branch and Bog Brook (Double Reservoir I) should be started immediately. Advocates of an additional aqueduct from the Croton River cited the tremendous volume of water passing over the Croton Dam unused.

In 1883 the Aqueduct Commissioners were appointed, and they immediately undertook the design and construction of the new aqueduct and other additions to the Croton system. Church was appointed as Chief Engineer. With his immense knowledge of the existing system, he was the mastermind of the New Croton Aqueduct. This link partly explains the family resemblance between the structures of the two Croton Aqueducts.

The Aqueduct Commissionersí plan generally called for additional storage reservoirs and dams in the watershed, a new Croton Dam that would raise the water level, increasing the size and capacity of the Croton Reservoir, a new receiving and distributing reservoir located along the Old Croton Aqueduct in northern New York City (Jerome Park), and a new aqueduct conduit from the existing Croton Reservoir more-or-less due south to Jerome Park and then on to Central Park. This differed from Newtonís proposed plan: Newton also proposed a new dam, but the proposed new aqueduct would start at the new dam and parallel the route of the Old Croton Aqueduct near the Hudson River. Also, the Newton plan did not include additional new storage reservoirs outside of the enlarged Croton Reservoir.

Department of Public Works Commissioner Thompson, an ex officio Aqueduct Commissioner, supported the building of Newtonís version, and wrote that the plan, ìwas submitted for examination to Mr. John B. Jervis, the designer and builder of the Croton Aqueduct…(who) examined the whole subject for himself and approved of the plans proposed by the Department as the best system.î Thompson was critical of the concepts put forward by reformers, and stated that construction of the East Branch/Bog Brook Reservoir, a rallying point of DPW critics, would be unnecessary if the new Croton Dam were built.

Thompson also claimed that a new design was not necessary for the East Branch dam, because it was almost a facsimile of the Middle Branch dam, and went on to point out that the construction of Reservoir I was recommended by the department many years earlier (this reference to the 1858 survey fails to distinguish that it had been performed prior to the takeover by the Department of Public Works). It is clear that Thompson was not pleased to have control of the work taken away from his department.

Many issues were discussed at public hearings, including whether to follow the Hudson or the inland route, where land acquisition costs would be lower, as Church wanted. Another subject was whether to run the New Croton Aqueduct across the High Bridge, a new bridge or bridges, or through a tunnel. In most matters Church prevailed, and his vision shaped the future of the Croton system, although he apparently compromised his position in respects to achieve consensus. For example, he agreed that the East Branch Reservoir was not necessary immediately if the New Croton Dam was to be built.

After his many years of faithful service as Resident Engineer of the Old Croton Aqueduct, Churchís career and renown surged. In 1886, for example, when the offices of the Aqueduct Commissioners were closed, ì…in honor of the celebration of the inauguration and unveiling of the Bartholdi Statue of Liberty…the Chief Engineer was directed to extend to the engineers, artists and guests from France attending the inauguration…an invitation to examine the plans and visit the works of the New Croton Aqueduct.î

The New Croton Aqueduct began construction in 1885 and went into service in 1890 (Illustration 16). It is a remarkable structure, a vintage stone and brick masonry aqueduct, still intact, and fully operational today. The New Croton Aqueduct is similar to the old in many respects, and its design can be seen as Churchís perfection of the technology of the Old Croton Aqueduct. It is a masonry conduit with a horseshoe-shaped section, although it has about three times the area and capacity of the Old Croton Aqueduct (Illustration 17). It is a gravity tunnel for approximately twenty-four miles from the Croton Lake Gate House, which is adjacent to the Old Croton Dam, to Gate House No. 1 of the Jerome Park Reservoir, which is located a short distance north of the reservoir in Van Cortlandt Park.

Although the Jerome Park Reservoir was indicated as ìproposedî on the 1887 map of the system, it was part of the original design and the New Croton Aqueduct was configured to anticipate its construction. South of Gate House No. 1, the New Croton Aqueduct drops beneath the Jerome Park Reservoir and continues as a round masonry tunnel under pressure beneath the Harlem River (Illustration 18) to the Terminal Gate House at 135th Street in Manhattan.

To maximize the amount of water available to the system, the designers included weep holes in portions of the horseshoe tunnel to allow ground water to enter the system. The holes, termed ìweepersî were 4 inch x 8 inch openings through the brick tunnel wall, spaced 20 feet on center. At the time, the ìweepersî provided an additional 4 mgd to the water flowing from the Croton Lake Gate House.

Whereas the Old Croton Aqueduct had been built predominantly at grade by the cut and cover method, with tunnels or tall embankments used where necessary to maintain the required gradient, the New Croton Aqueduct was tunneled for most of its length, giving it much greater protection from frost damage and other sources of weathering and damage. At those areas where the hydraulic grade met the surface grade, such as Pocantico, Ardsley, and South Yonkers, the Aqueduct Commissioners designed blow-off and waste weir structures reminiscent of those of the Old Croton Aqueduct (Illustration 19). At the Harlem river an impressive complex was created at Shaft No. 25, on the Manhattan side of the aqueduct tunnel, overlooking the Speedway (now the Harlem River Drive), a few hundred yards north of the High Bridge. Still remaining at Shaft No. 25 is a monumental retaining wall and stair, with a symbolic horseshoe-arched portal (Illustration 20).

Aqueduct Commissioners Reports were issued covering the periods from 1883 to 1887, 1887 to 1895, and 1895 to 1907. The reports were lavishly illustrated by the Draughting Bureau. Under the direction of Frederick S. Cook, C.E., Assistant Engineer, the Drafting Bureau designed and produced working drawings for the New Croton Aqueduct, the storage reservoirs and dams, the New Croton Dam, and the Jerome Park Reservoir. Cook has been attributed as designer of the Terminal Gate House at 135th Street, a New York City Landmark, by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. He was equally the designer of the other works of the Aqueduct Commissioners.

The drawings included in the 1887 and 1895 reports were of exceptional quality , and were signed by the delineators. The finest were by Charles Gustafson, Charles Manning, and Giuseppe Bonanno, draftsmen, and Jean Genthon, topographical draftsman. These draftsman were also the designers of the system, under the direction of the Chief Engineer, Consulting Engineers and F. S. Cook.

Church, as Chief Engineer, wrote in 1887, “Mr. F. S. Cook, Special Assistant, in charge of the draughting bureau, has not only directed the execution of accurate drawing for the dams and contract plans for the Aqueduct and designs for the Gate House Superstructures, but he supervised the numerous detailed working plans required with marked ability.”

Work from 1883 to 1887 consisted largely of the top priority item, creating the new aqueduct and its ancillary structures. Storage reservoirs in the watershed were designed, but not yet constructed. Two large, complex projects, the New Croton Dam and the Jerome Park Reservoir, were planned at this time, but were not constructed. The dam was bogged down from the start in a myriad of hearings and special commissions, and the reservoir had not yet been funded.

Both the dam and Jerome Park were suited for construction after the New Croton Aqueduct was in service, because they both involved reconstructing and realigning portions of the Old Croton Aqueduct. At the New Croton Dam, the Old Croton Aqueduct would be realigned to pass through Gate House No. 1 of the new dam. At Jerome Park, the Old Croton Aqueduct would be incorporated into the original dividing wall, which is now the east basin wall along Goulden Avenue, and the principal gate houses.

Church’s star began to fade during the construction of the New Croton Aqueduct. In 1886 he was charged with improprieties by a construction inspector. A panel acquitted him on all counts. It seems that Church was making spontaneous field decisions to expedite the project rather than engaging in corruption. It also appears that he was overwhelmed by the unprecedented scale of the project, and the lack of honest and qualified inspectors. He was also unprepared for the brazen deceptiveness of the contractors, who did such things as concealing giant voids behind false walls before inspectors arrived. In 1888 rumors of extensive defective work proved true and caused major headlines. Church resigned as Chief Engineer.

Church was replaced by Alphonse Fteley, who had been Consulting Engineer. Church assumed the title of Consulting Engineer until 1889, when that position was abolished. Church, by this time had lost the support of reformist critics as well, and a group called the Committee of Twenty-One from the Union League Club railed against him for having signed on to Newtonís Quaker Bridge (New Croton Dam) plan at the expense of building the East Branch storage reservoir. They also ridiculed the endorsement of Jervis (then in his late 80’s) and others, pointing out that they had no experience with high masonry dams.
The work of the period from 1887 to 1895 included completion of the new aqueduct, which went into service in 1890, and accelerated design and construction of dams and storage reservoirs in the watershed. Construction began on the East Branch dam in 1888 (Illustration 23), followed soon by the Carmel, Amawalk and Titicus (Illustration 24) dams. The Titicus was a precursor of the New Croton Dam. Design work on the New Croton Dam and Jerome Park Reservoir were intensive during this period.

Construction began on the New Croton Dam in the early 1890’s. It would be ready to go into service in 1906 (Illustration 25 and 26), more than thirty years after the initial proposal. The dam was the largest masonry dam in the world when it was built. It had undergone a long design process for both social and technical reasons. An expert panel, consisting of J. J. R. Croes, J. P. Davis and William F. Shunk, was assembled in 1888 to study the size, shape and location of the dam. Local activism challenged the original siting of the dam at Quaker Bridge.

Numerous dam sites were studied , and the Cornell site further upstream was finally selected in 1891. Technical issues also lengthened the design time for the enormous dam, particularly as the deadly collapse of the first Croton Dam in 1841 was still within living memory. Completed sections of masonry-core earthen dam (the type of construction that had failed in 1841) were removed and replaced with solid masonry, partly to reassure local communities. Sections of porous masonry and improper work, which made local headlines, were also replaced.

The New Croton Dam and the Jerome Park Reservoir were both subject to labor disputes, and work on both projects ground to a halt during a union-led strike in 1900. There had been labor unrest during the construction of both aqueducts, but this strike caused great concern. According to local lore in Croton, Teddy Roosevelt, who was then Governor of New York, led his Rough Riders to Croton. The Cavalry was established at the dam site in ìCamp Rooseveltî. Fifteen hundred National Guardsman of the 7th Regiment commanded by Major General Charles Roe rode to Croton Station by train and marched to the dam.

In spite of all the delays and struggles, the works of the Aqueduct Commissioners are distinctive in appearance. The dams of the Croton Watershed and the New Croton Dam, along with the the Jerome Park Reservoir and the New Croton Aqueduct, are architectural siblings. In 1846, Schramke had called the Old Croton Aqueduct, ì…that noble monument of hydraulic architecture,î and the works of the Aqueduct Commissioners continued and built on that tradition.

E. The Jerome Park Reservoir

The engineers, such as Church, who operated the Old Croton Aqueduct, had always known the topography of the entire route, and when they considered sites for a storage reservoir on the mainland near Manhattan Island, Jerome Park was an obvious choice. When that portion of southern Westchester was annexed to the city and became part of the 24th Ward, Jerome Park was clearly the most suitable site for a large new reservoir along the Old Croton Aqueduct, within the city limits, particularly in light of a second aqueduct conduit.

The Jerome Park Reservoir was first formally recommended in 1875, when Commissioner of Public Works Gen. Fitz John Porter ordered a survey. According to Edward Wegmann, ìTwo routes… were surveyed, commencing a quarter of a mile below the head of Croton Lake and terminating near Jerome Park, where it was proposed to construct a large receiving reservoir. Nothing more was done towards constructing this work.î (It was after this that the next Commissioner decided that the Bronx and Byram System should be constructed instead.)

The planning of the Jerome Park Reservoir began simultaneously with the comprehensive city plan of the 23rd and 24th Wards designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Landscape Architect and J. J. R Croes, Civil and Topographical Engineer, who performed this design work for the Department of Public Parks. Their street plans were adopted by the city in 1877 and 1878, and subsequently constructed in large part.

An Olmsted job number has been assigned to Jerome Park by the editors of the Frederick Law Olmsted Papers. There are also numerous sketches and studies of the 23rd and 24th Wards that may be relevant to the design of the reservoir and the surrounding community. The Jerome Park Conservancy is currently researching this data to determine if Olmsted actually created the schematic design of the reservoir in addition to designing the adjacent streets. We do not yet know what role Olmsted or Croes played in the design of the reservoir.

The plans of the reservoir (prepared by the Aqueduct Commissioners in the 1880’s and 90’s) show the unmistakable influence of Olmsted, and may have been based on a preliminary design by him. Olmsted and Croes were surely aware that a reservoir would eventually be built on the site.

Croes had an extensive engineering career in the Croton Aqueduct Department: he took over preparation of drawings for the New Central Park Receiving Reservoir in 1860, was Resident Engineer for the High Bridge improvements starting in 1862, and was in charge of construction of the Boydís Corners Reservoir and dam, which was completed in 1874.

Croes had recently overseen the completion of the Boydís Corners Reservoir when he and Olmsted began the surveys and studies for their comprehensive plan of the 23rd and 24th Wards. The start of their survey work was roughly contemporary with the water supply survey that identified Jerome Park as the intended reservoir location in 1875.

Church was a familiar figure to both Croes and Olmsted because of their work in Central Park. Olmsted and Church were club-mates at the Union League Club. Croes was a colleague and admirer of Churchís: the copy of Churchís Notes and Suggestions on the Croton Water Works and Supply for the Future, from 1876, in the collection of the New York Public Library, was donated by Croes, with a note, “With the compliments of J. James R. Croes, Civil and Topographical Engineer Department of Public Parks, NYC.” Croes would also go on to join a committee of experts to review the design issues of the New Croton Aqueduct, particularly with regard to design of the new dam.

The Olmsted and Croes 1877 plan of the Jerome Park Reservoir vicinity shows the race track but does not indicate the reservoir. Being an adopted plan for construction, it could not indicate proposed or future elements. However, the plan essentially blocks out territory for the reservoir, bounded by Sedgwick Avenue to the west, Kingsbridge Road to the south, Jerome Avenue to the East, and what would become Mosholu Parkway and Van Cortlandt Park to the north. They also removed the existing Old Boston Road from across the site. This open area is reflected in the Map of Location and Environs published by the Aqueduct Commissioners in 1895 (Illustration 28). The detailed design of the reservoir was produced by the Aqueduct Commissioners during the years that the Olmsted and Croes street plan was under construction all around it, and it is likely that their guidance was sought.

The Jerome Park Reservoir was not included in the recommendations for a new aqueduct in the report of Isaac Newton, Chief Engineer of the Croton Aqueduct (under the Department of Public Works) in 1882. Its necessity was supported in the report of W. E. Worthen, C. E., who was subpoenaed by the Aqueduct Commissioners to testify at a public hearing in early 1884. Worthen wrote that, “No provision has been made in the Quaker Bridge plans for additional storage reservoirs within the city limits…This is the fundamental error of the project.”

The decision to build the Jerome Park Reservoir was reached by the Aqueduct Commissioners in early 1884, soon after their appointment. It was not yet known when the site would be obtained or the funding approved. The first objective was the completion of the New Croton Aqueduct conduit.

The purpose in constructing the Jerome Park Reservoir was to create a storage and distributing reservoir along both the Old and New Aqueducts. It would provide water to the city if either or both of the Aqueducts had to be shut off for repairs. Also, it would provide local supply in the area of the 23rd and 24th Wards. According to Church, ì80 to 100 million gallons were reserved for the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Wards,î a more generous plan than the 15 million delivered by the Bronx River Pipe Line. An examination and surveys for a Receiving and Distributing Reservoir at Jerome Park were performed in 1885.

Church pushed for immediate construction of the Jerome Park Reservoir, believing that the cityís water supply was in danger of serious interruption until it was completed. The project was delayed due to the opinion of Newton that it would not be needed for at least ten years.

The schematic representation of the Jerome Park Reservoir shown in the system map of 1887 shows a curvilinear form reminiscent of the New Central Park Reservoir. The location and environs plan published by the Aqueduct Commissioners in the 1895 report (Illustration 28) has a similar but revised form, and is completely integrated with the Olmsted and Croes street plan, including two “Proposed New Avenues”, Reservoir Avenue (from Sedgwick Avenue east and south to Kingsbridge Road) and the Sedgwick Avenue North (from Van Cortlandt Avenue West northeast to Goulden Avenue).

A more detailed plan published in 1895 (Illustration 29) reveals a design that had advanced remarkably, and had achieved a level of landscaping sophistication that did not exist previously in the Croton System. It can be seen that rather than being like the New Central Park Reservoir, the 1895 design of the Jerome Park Reservoir actually had more stylistic kinship with the Lake and the Pond in Central Park, smaller bodies of water designed by Olmsted. In scale, it resembled the picturesque artificial lakes of the storage reservoir system in the Croton Watershed.

The 1895 design of the Jerome Park Reservoir called for sloped earth embankments rather than a retaining wall around most of the reservoir. This design also had two islands and a peninsula. Jerome Park Clubhouse Island and Oak Ridge Clubhouse Island, one in each basin, were planned for existing highpoints where existing clubhouses from the race track would be preserved. The peninsula, at the northwest side of the reservoir, was the intended location of Shaft No. 21. The roadway on the dividing wall (the East Basin Wall along the Goulden Avenue side of the as-built Reservoir) jogged to provide access to both islands. The bridge from Gate House 5 to Shaft No. 21 would have allowed access to Gate House 5 from the peninsula, which projected from the area where Fort Independence Park is today.

Chief Engineer Alphonse Fteley wrote in 1895 that, “…it is expected that the new reservoir will add greatly to the attractiveness of the surrounding grounds.”

The designers were instructed in 1895 to revise the plan to allow for more water storage without increasing the footprint of the site, so the islands and peninsula were eliminated to allow for more excavation. In the final design, as reflected in the plan from the 1907 Commissioners Report , the jog in the wall remains though the islands have been eliminated, and the bridge from Gate House No. 5 to Shaft No. 21 remains. Also stone face walls were planned all around the reservoir rather than the earthen banks, except for a short strip along the northern side, where a sloped concrete bank was designed.

The construction of the reservoir aroused several controversies. The Merchantsí Association demanded a grand jury investigation into poor workmanship at the New Croton Dam and Jerome Park Reservoir. It was reported that the reservoirís walls were not watertight, that, “…the commissioners seldom visit the Jerome Park Reservoir and that the [New Croton] dam was like a sieve with water spouts gushing through cracks with such force to permit a man to walk under the arch of the streams without getting wet…”

To investigate the allegations concerning the reservoir, a Special Committee of Engineers was set up under William Burr and John Freeman. Their 1903 report, submitted to the Aqueduct Commissioners, contains an evaluation and remedial recommendations for the concrete floor of the reservoir, the workmanship of the stone walls, and the use of ìstone dustî from the site as aggregate for mortar. The report did not find major flaws, but called for more careful inspection. The mortar composition was approved.

According to Walter H. Sears, Chief Engineer in 1907, “Assistant Engineer F. S. Cook had charge of the Draughting Bureau of the Aqueduct Commissioners, where all the important works constructed by the Commissioners were designed, from January 23, 1884, to March 1, 1905, when he was promoted to the position of Division Engineer and placed in charge of the construction of the Jerome Park Reservoir.”

Designs for the gate house superstructures were not shown in the 1887, 1895 or 1907 reports. Preliminary designs were underway as of 1903 (and probably much earlier), and proposed designs, along with a model of Gate House No. 5 were publicly exhibited by Cook at the 1904 Lousiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Mo., in a joint display of the Aqueduct Commissioners and the Department of Water Supply, but they were never permitted to be published in the Reports to the Aqueduct Commissioners.

The substructures of Gate Houses Nos. 1 to 7 were completed in 1905. Trowbridge and Livingston, Architects were retained to prepare plans and specifications for the superstructures , and their design drawings were dated 1906. Trowbridge and Livingston, Architects were a well known New York firm whose work included the St. Regis Hotel, and the B. Altman Department Store on 34th Street. We do not known why a consultant was retained for this project, while the other works had been designed in-house by the Aqueduct Commissioners. It may be that the of the Aqueduct Commissionersí engineers wanted to impress upon a fickle city government the significance of the reservoir.

The proposed superstructure designs for the reservoir gate houses were not published in the 1907 Report to the Aqueduct Commissioners. It is peculiar that there was such a strict prohibition against publishing the proposed superstructures, whether or not they had been funded or approved, or if their construction was postponed. Other proposed or schematic works had been published, and these were omitted in 1895 as well. This may reflect an ongoing effort by the Department of Water Supply, inherited from the Department of Public Works, to minimize the scope and cost of the reservoir, and to delay or prevent its being built.

The 1907 report states that, “…the construction of the superstructures has been postponed at the request of the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity until it is decided whether a filter plant is to be built in the East Basin of the Jerome Park Reservoir.” This is a reference to the 1905 Burr-Hering-Freeman Commission recommendation to filter the water of the Croton through a slow sand filter in the East Basin of the Jerome Park Reservoir. Jerome Park had originally been intended to purify water by subsidence, with the idea that most of the water of the new aqueduct would pass through the reservoir to allow settlement. The Burr-Hering-Freeman Commission recommended filtration of the proposed Catskill system as well (land was purchased in Peekskill for the purpose, but the Peekskill filters never materialized).

The Bureau of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity requested the Aqueduct Commissioners to suspend construction of the East Basin of the Jerome Park Reservoir until it was decided whether to build the filter there. In 1907 the Bureau requested permission to, ìinstall an experimental filter station by the National Roche Filtering Company at the Jerome Park Reservoir.î In 1910 it was decided to add chemicals to the water, particularly chlorine, in the gate houses of the West Basin, and not to filter the water.

There were several structures of the Croton system designed by the Department of Water Supply personnel even after the Aqueduct Commissioners were given general design responsibility. The Amawalk dam and reservoir was designed by the Department of Water Supply. The Amawalk dam made visual reference back to the heritage of the Old Croton Aqueduct: the spillway had the sinusoidal curve of Jervisís Old Croton Dam, and the neo-Egyptian portal over the tunnel entrance is reminiscent of the original receiving and distributing reservoirs. Perhaps this reflects a nostolgia for the days before the Aqueduct Commissioners.

The High Pumping Station on Jerome Avenue (Illustration 32) was also designed by the Department of Water Supply, under George W. Birdsall, Consulting Engineer, and constructed from 1901 to 1906. While contemporary with, and connected to, the Jerome Park Reservoir, the pumping station is stylistically different, being Romanesque Revival, rather than the style of the Aqueduct Commissionerís work. Also, the High Pumping Station is constructed of brick, whereas the Jerome Park Reservoir structures, like all of the works of the Croton system, were of stone.

While the High Pumping Station is a valuable historic structure in its own right, its stylistic and material differences from the architecture of the Aqueduct Commissioners can be interpreted as defiant or hostile. Brick is a less ìnobleî and more utilitarian material than stone. The High Pumping Station was constructed next to the Jerome Park Reservoir Keeperís House (Illustration 33), one of the finest of the architectural works designed in Cookís Draughting Bureau (the Keeperís House, which stood at the intersection of Jerome Avenue and Mosholu Parkway, was demolished in the late twentieth century to make way for Tracey Towers, a high-rise housing project).

Birdsall, who had been appointed Chief Engineer of the Water Works by Department of Public Works Commissioner Allan Campbell, had used stone for the nearby Williamsbridge Reservoir structures and Keepers House, part of the Bronx and Byram system completed in 1889. Birdsall was probably not appreciative of the public ridicule that the Bronx and Byram system had received at the hands of Churchís club-mates in the 1880’s, which had contributed to Churchís ascendancy to Chief Engineer of the Aqueduct Commissioners.

The Aqueduct Commissionerís work was descended from the Roman Revival work of the Old Croton Aqueduct with traces of Renaissance Revival, Italianate and Romanesque. The sub-structures of their work, such as the Jerome Park gate houses, tended to be pure, muscular Roman Revival. The style of their designs was consistent over the twenty-seven years that their works were under construction, while it also had an eclectic quality that enriched the system. The 135th Street Gatehouse and the New Croton Dam, for example, had a Romanesque flavor while maintaining the essential character of Croton system architecture. This consistency is appealing, because it gives the whole Croton system a coherence, even though it evolved in numerous campaigns in far-flung places over many decades.

The Aqueduct Commissioners prepared a new set of designs for the Gate House Superstructures at the Jerome Park Reservoir, that superseded the Trowbridge and Livingston designs. The new designs were produced by the Draughting Bureau while F. S. Cook had risen to the position of Acting Chief Engineer. They were completed in 1909, and were signed prominently by Cook . Contract Drawings and Specifications were prepared and approved by the Corporation Counsel of the Commissioners for bidding on September 21, 1909 for Gate Houses Noís 2,3,4,6 and 7, and on October 13, 1909 for Gate Houses Noís 1 (in Van Cortlandt Park) and 5.

The new design of the Gate House No. 5 superstructure included a tower nearly ninety feet tall with a red terra-cotta tile roof that would have projected a commanding presence across the expanse of the reservoir.

The Aqueduct Commissioners were gearing-up to complete the Jerome Park Reservoir, the gate house superstructures and the unfinished East Basin, as the final masterpiece of the Croton system.

The Aqueduct Commissioners were abolished on June 1, 1910, and their plans for Jerome Park were indefinitely shelved. In 1911, the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity constructed wooden frame sheds over the gate houses to shelter them until such time as superstructures might be constructed.

Because the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity had decided not to filter the water, they turned over the unfinished East Basin to other city agencies for their use. In 1912 construction began on the Eighth Coastal Artillery (Kingsbridge) Armory, in the south end of the East Basin. In the following years, a number of public schools and other city facilities were constructed in the East Basin.

The trail of urgency, money and political intrigue was now leading further north, into the Catskill Mountains. In the 1890’s, it had been known that a Catskill system would most likely be built, and a corporation called the Ramapo Water Company had been empowered by the state legislature in 1895 to acquire property and lay pipe in the Catskill Watershed. In 1899, a move was made by the water department to rush through legislation to purchase high-priced water from the Ramapo Water Company, based on a tour of the Catskill Mountains by President Holahan, Water Commissioner Dalton and Chief Engineer George Birdsall. Characterized as an, ìUnholy alliance of Boss Plattís Republican machine which controlled the legislature and Boss Crokerís Tamany Democrats who ruled the city,î the move caused a major scandal in the press, which led to the repeal of the Ramapo Water Companyís charter.

The Catskill system then followed a somewhat more orderly development, after a study was performed from John R. Freeman, followed by a detailed survey by Birdsall and a major study by the Burr-Hering-Freeman Commission. There was legislation in 1904 allowing the city to borrow $200 million to build the Catskill system, and in 1905, the creation of a State Water Commission. It was a project of an unprecedented scale, and after construction began in 1907, interest in the Croton System waned. By 1910, most portions of the Catskill Aqueduct were under construction, except the great Hudson River siphon. Uptake and downtake chamber superstructures with a close resemblance to the proposed Jerome Park gate house superstructures were constructed at the Hillview Reservoir in 1915 from drawings prepared by H. Lincoln Rogers, Architect.

Gate house superstructures were finally constructed at the Jerome Park Reservoir in 1938, after being on hold for forty years. They were built by the Design Unit of the Works Progress Administration, under the direction of T. Hochlerner, Division Engineer, and Patrick Quilty, Acting Chief Engineer of the Bureau of Water Supply. The gate house superstructures at the Jerome Park Reservoir were built a year after construction had begun on the Deleware Aqueduct system, whose buildings are principally made of brick masonry. The Jerome Park Reservoir gate houses were constructed of brick masonry with stone trim in a muted Art Deco style that was integrated with the architecture of the original stone gate houses. (The gate house superstructures are discussed further in Section III.C below.)

This 1938 work at Jerome Park was about the same time as other works at city reservoirs under the WPA, including the infilling of Williamsbridge Reservoir to make a park/playground, the conversion of High Bridge Reservoir to a public swimming pool, and the demolition of the original Yorkhill Receiving Reservoir in Central Park to create the Great Lawn.

Portions of the Jerome Park Reservoir property were stripped from the reservoir to create parks: Fort Independence Park (1915), Old Fort Four Park (1913, 1931, and 1934), and Harris Park (1940, known as Harris Field and Harris Park Annex). Original reservoir landscaping — stone walls, gate posts and wrought iron fences — remain at some of these parks. The walls of Fort Independence Park along Sedgwick Avenue, for example, suggest how the reservoir perimeter landscaping appeared before the current cyclone fencing and barbed wire were installed.

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