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The Croton Water System

By the mid-nineteenth century, the Town of
Southeast was a prospering upstate New York
community. The Borden Milk Factory was the
cornerstone of a thriving dairy industry. Small
factories, the railroad and local iron mines
employed hundreds of local residents.
However, by the turn of the twentieth century,
the economic and physical landscape of
Southeast would be dramatically altered when
the upper reaches of the Croton River were
dammed to supply water for New York City.
Croton Falls Dam Today
Farmlands were flooded and many businesses and homes were condemned for the
construction of the Croton Water System.

With a burgeoning population of 30,000, at the end of the 18th century New York City
needed a source of fresh water. The City had no sewage system and most of is wells
were polluted. Outbreaks of cholera, typhoid and yellow fever were commonplace. Water
supplies for fire fighting were inadequate and fires raged unchecked destroying entire
city blocks.

The New York City Common Council decided to create a large reservoir on the Croton
River and to bring the water into the city via an aqueduct system. The Town of Southeast
was dramatically affected as eventually four reservoirs were built within its boundaries:
East Branch Reservoir, Middle Branch Reservoir, Bog Brook Reservoir and Diverting

The Croton River originates in Southern Dutchess County. It flows through Putnam and
Westchester Counties, entering the Hudson River at Croton-on-Hudson. Its watershed
covers 360 square miles and produces approximately 400 million gallons daily.
In 1837, under
the direction Dam
of engineer Construction
John Jervis', Begins
work began
on the
of the Croton
Dam, six
from where
the Croton
enters the
River. The
measured 50
feet high by
270 feet long
producing a
reservoir with
a holding
capacity of 36 3/28/2007
Croton Reservoir Page 2 of 4

gallons. Four
acres of
farms and
homes were
and farmers
sought legal
redress, but
the State of
New York
that as long
were fairly
New York City
had the right
to condemn
property in
order to
ensure an
adequate and
clean water
The water was transported to Manhattan by a 41-½ mile long aqueduct measuring 8 ½
feet high by 7 ½ feet wide. Twelve tunnels and numerous bridges were constructed
including a 100-foot high bridge that crossed over the Harlem River. Large pipes
conveyed the water to the Yorkville Reservoir in Manhattan (today's Central Park Great
Lawn) before diverting the water to the 42nd Street Reservoir. The latter reservoir was
later eliminated for the construction of the New York Public Library. On June 23, 1842,
water flowed from the Croton Aqueduct into New York City for the first time. The project
had cost over 12 million dollars.

The Croton Dam and Aqueduct system was intended to meet New York City's need for
centuries, but quickly proved to be inadequate for the city's rapidly expanding business
and residential areas. As the city's water requirements grew, new dams, reservoirs and
tunnels were added to the Croton Reservoir System.

Second Phase Dam Construction
Following severe droughts of 1880-81, New
York City commissioners determined that a
new aqueduct system was required and in 1885
work on the New Croton Aqueduct
commenced. The system was partially
operational by 1890. Between 1837 and 1911,
ten additional dams were built on the Croton
River so that a sufficient amount of water could
be impounded to feed the new aqueduct.
Croton Falls Dam c. 1910

Most of the New Croton Aqueduct system was tunneled through bedrock. It is more than
three times the size of the Old Croton Aqueduct and follows a different route. The Old
Aqueduct served New York City for a little over a century. It closed in 1955, but still
serves the town of Ossining. In 1976, the New York State Legislature pronounced the 3/28/2007
Croton Reservoir Page 3 of 4

Old Croton Aqueduct a Scenic and Historic Corridor. Today, it serves as a public park
with trails for walking and horseback riding.

The Old Croton Aqueduct was constructed primarily by an immigrant Irish labor force
numbering close to four thousand the workers. Salaries ranged from 75 cents to one
dollar per day. Discontent at wages and conditions were prevalent and insurrections
occurred in 1838 and 1840. Italian immigrant laborers constructed later dams of the
1880s and 1890s. These workers often lived in nearby tent camps or frame house

A Changing Economic and Physical
All of this extensive reservoir construction
caused flooding of prime farmland. Properties
adjacent to the reservoirs were also condemned
in order to prevent construction on these lands
and thereby protect the purity of the water
running into the Croton Water System. Water
powered industries were particularly targeted as
sources of pollution. The early industrial areas of
Southeast and many towns on the Croton River
were condemned by the Department of Water
Croton Falls Dam
Churches, stores and homes were either moved or destroyed. In the Town of Southeast
alone, two hundred and three buildings were auctioned and moved. Most of Southeast
Center, the original center of the Town, was flooded by the East Branch Reservoir. The
loss of farmland and the destruction of important industries contributed to a abrupt drop
in Southeast's population in the late 1880s.

The Borden Condensery, located in Southeast, was not considered a possible source of
water pollution, as it was known to be a scrupulously clean factory. However, the
factory's production was severely reduced as local farms were flooded and the supply of
milk diminished. In 1915, this condensery closed.

Another local industry that was adversely affected by the construction of the Croton
Reservoir System, was the Tilly Foster Mine, an important source of magnetic iron ore in
the eastern United States. In 1897, the mine flooded and the owners blamed the nearby
Middle Branch Reservoir. The courts ordered the reservoir drained but, the flooding
continued and ultimately a local underground spring was named the culprit.
Consequently, the Tilly Foster Mine closed. Today, the former hamlet of Tilly Foster
where the mineworkers had lived, lies under the Middle Branch Reservoir.

Eventually, the recreational aspect of the reservoirs built for the Croton Reservoir System
began to be appreciated. Once a year, on the second Saturday of April, Southeast is in
the sports pages of many New York newspapers with the announcement of the opening
day of trout season. By 6am, the East Branch of the Croton River is usually crowded with
hundreds of fishermen.

By 1911, the Croton Water System had achieved its maximum potential. Yet, the needs of
New York City's population continued growing. The Esopus Watershed in the Catskills
was developed creating a water system of unprecedented magnitude. The Ashokan
Reservoir holds 130 billion gallons of water. One hundred and twenty six miles of
aqueduct carry water 1,100 feet under the Hudson River to the Kensico Reservoir in
Mount Kisco.

Another water system, the Delaware System, includes reservoirs on the Rondout and the 3/28/2007
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Neversink. It is the world's longest aqueduct. Passing under the Hudson River to the
West Branch Reservoir in Carmel and then to the Kensico Dam, this system brings 324
billion gallons of water to New York City.
and Water

Today, the
less than
percent of
New York
City's water,
but its
and tunnels
also deliver
water from
the Catskill
Yet, even
with a 550
billion gallon
system, New
York City is
not immune
to drought.
Once again,
the city has
turned to the
seeking to
improve its
output with
at the
The impact of the Croton Reservoir System on Putnam and Westchester communities
has been tremendous. In times of drought, when the reservoirs are low, foundations of
factories, bridges, farmhouses, and barns can be seen: silent witnesses to uprooted
lives and lost villages.

Page designed by: 3/28/2007