You are on page 1of 29

Ridgewood Reservoir

State and National Registers Nomination

Submitted by NYC H2O


Lead author Dr. Jeffrey Kroessler PhD

February 7, 2017
Ridgewood Reservoir Chronology

1842 New York Citys Croton Water System was completed.

1851 The Common Council of the City of Brooklyn appointed a Committee on Water; in
January 1852, they reported that an ample supply of good water could be obtained from sources
on Long Island.

1856 Construction of system commenced, including the two basins of the Ridgewood
Reservoir, dredging the ponds in Hempstead, Valley Stream and Jamaica, the conduit from Long
Island to the reservoir, the pumping station below the reservoir, and water mains under the
streets of Brooklyn.

1858 Construction of the system was completed, and water began flowing into the new water
mains under Brooklyns streets.

1859 The City of Brooklyn Water Works was formally opened with a parade and festivities on
April 28.

1891 With the original reservoir at near capacity, a third basin was constructed, increasing
capacity by over 50 percent.

1891 The New York State legislature authorized Brooklyn to issue $500,000 in bonds
($100,000 a year for five years) to fund a new park adjacent to the reservoir; this became
Highland Park.

1898 Greater New York was created, consolidating New York City (Manhattan and the lower
Bronx), the City of Brooklyn (Kings County), Long Island City and the western towns of Queens
County, Richmond County, and towns in southern Westchester (the Bronx). Control of
Brooklyns water system was transferred to the new city.

1907 New York City began construction of the Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskills and an
aqueduct to bring the water into the city.

1917 The Catskill water system was completed, and gradually homes and businesses in
Brooklyn and Queens were connected the New York Citys expanded water system.

1920s The water supply ponds on Long Island were transferred to the Long Island State Parks
Commission, Robert Moses chairman.

1951 New York Citys Delaware water system was completed.

1959 Ridgewood Reservoir was no longer needed to store water for the system. Basins 1 and 2
were drained, but Basin 3 remained as a source of back-up supply for emergencies.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 1


1989 Ridgewood Reservoir officially decommissioned; Basins 1 & 3 drained

2000 In response to the threat of West Nile Virus, the NYC Department of Environmental
Protection (NYC DEP) drained 5 feet of water out of Basin 2. Community opposition convinced
the DEP to cease draining the reservoir and instead stock the remaining 3.5 feet of water with
Gambusia fish to eat mosquito larvae.

2004 Control of the Reservoir was transferred from NYC DEP to the Department of Parks.

2007 Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe announced plans to retain two basins in their natural
state. The third would be made over into a recreational facility, with a running track and
ballfields covered with artificial turf at an estimated cost of $50 million. Community Board 5 in
Queens had been advocating for the entire site to become a nature preserve. The plan was
eventually scuttled.

2011 The Parks Department announced a project to decommission the Class C High Hazard
Dam at Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park, intending to breach the wall in three places and
build a construction access road across the floor of Basin 3 at a cost estimated at between $3
million and $10 million. After opposition from local Community Boards and elected officials,
the Reservoir was reclassified as a Class A Negligible or Low Hazard and the plan abandoned.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 2


Narrative Description of the Property

The Ridgewood Reservoir stands as the most significant unprotected piece of nineteenth
century urban infrastructure extant in New York City. It is a site of great historic, social, and
environmental importance that embraces the citys water infrastructure systems and evolving
ecology.

Image via Google Maps, January 24, 2017

Area of detail. Courtesy of DCAP Architecture

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 3


The 3-basin reservoir is located in Highland Park, which straddles the boundary between
the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens in the City of New York. The two basins of the original
reservoir constructed in the 1850s are entirely within Queens; a section of Basin 3, completed in
1891, is in Brooklyn. Today the site is bounded on the north by the Jackie Robinson Parkway
(originally the Interboro Parkway, parallel to Cypress Avenue, which in the 1850s was the
Cypress Hill Plank Road); to the west by Vermont Place and the Cemetery of the Evergreens; to
the east by Cypress Hills Street and Cypress Hills National Cemetery; and to the south by
Highland Boulevard. The site sits on the ridge of the terminal moraine, the line of hills running
the length of Long Island that marks the southern extent of the last ice age. The outwash plain,
flat land created by runoff from the melting glaciers, stretches southward toward Jamaica Bay.

This 1852 map shows the extent of urban growth in Kings and Queens Counties prior to
construction of the Brooklyn Water Works. The location of the future site of the Ridgewood

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 4


Reservoir is marked in red. Map of Kings and Queens Counties, Matthew Dripps, 1852
(Courtesy of New York Public Library).

In 1851, the City of Brooklyn began planning a municipal water system that would bring
water from ponds and streams on the south side of Long Island into that city. The water flowed
through a conduit to a pumping station at the base of the terminal moraine. A steam engine then
lifted the water through force tubes to the Ridgewood Reservoir, constructed in a natural basin
164 feet above (the surface of the water in the filled basins was 170 feet above sea level).
Construction of the Ridgewood Reservoir began in 1856, and in 1858 the two basins began
filling. Water began flowing through the distribution system under the streets of Brooklyn in
early 1859. A distributing reservoir and pump station were built at Mount Prospect (today the
site of the Central Library of the Brooklyn Public Library and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden,
adjacent to the Brooklyn Museum), and from there water flowed into pipes under the streets of
the city. Basin 3 was completed in 1891, increasing capacity by over 50 percent. At the same
time the state legislature authorized Brooklyn to issue $500,000 in bonds - $100,000 a year for
five years - to fund development of Highland Park adjacent to the reservoir.

Water from ponds and wells on the south side of Long Island was channelled through a
conduit to a pumping station at the base of the terminal moraine. There steam-powered pumps
forced the water up to the Ridgewood Reservoir; gravity then brought the water into the water
mains under the streets of Brooklyn and into homes, businesses, and fire hydrants. This system
served the citizens of Brooklyn for more than a century.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 5


This 1873 map shows the extent of the growth of the City of Brooklyn after the construction of
the Brooklyn Water Works. The Ridgewood Reservoir is located just to the north of New Lots.
Atlas of Long Island NY. From Recent And Actual Surveys and Records, Frederick W. Beers,
1873 (Courtesy of New York Public Library).

Brooklyn became part of Greater New York in 1898. One reason for consolidation was
that Brooklyns water system had reached its limit: as the population continued to grow
shortages would have been inevitable. In 1907, New York began construction on new reservoirs
in the Catskills. Ten years later the Ashokan Reservoir and aqueduct system was completed and
water from that source began flowing into the city. Gradually more and more sections of

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 6


Brooklyn were connected to New Yorks abundant water system and the need to use water from
sources on Long Island diminished. In the 1920s, several of the ponds used as reservoirs, such as
Valley Stream and Hempstead, were transferred to the Long Island State Parks Commission,
which was controlled by Robert Moses. In 1951, the citys Delaware water system was brought
online, and the Ridgewood Reservoir was no longer needed as a primary storage facility. In 1959
the reservoir was relegated to reserve status. Basins 1 and 2 were drained, but Basin 3 remained
as a reserve supply to be used for supplying water for fire hydrants or for emergencies, as
happened during a drought the next year.

The Ridgewood Reservoir was finally decommissioned in 1989; Basin 3 was drained and
it too was gradually overgrown with vegetation. About three feet of water remained in the center
basin however that gradually evolved into a thriving wetland. Today, the Ridgewood Reservoir
offers a unique case study in ecological succession. Over 100 native plants are found there, and
nearly 140 bird species have been counted, not to mention the too numerous to count species of
insects. This evolving site, with eight distinct ecological zones, has become an important
freshwater oasis on the Atlantic Flyway due to its proximity to nearby Jamaica Bay. This
ecological evolution is a crucial aspect of the history of the site. This is the only instance where
nature has been permitted to take its course in a decommissioned reservoir within the City of
New York.

Since its final decommissioning, local residents have hoped that the site would be
preserved as an unique environmental and historical resource. Community Board 5 in Queens
has consistently lobbied for such an outcome. Community Board 5 in Brooklyn has consistently
requested funds for the renovation of the recreational facilities in Highland Park and has also
supported the preservation of the basins as an ecological resource. The two community boards
represent neighborhoods that are quite different in terms of racial, ethnic, and economic
demographics, but the Ridgewood Reservoir and Highland Park stand as a unifying resource. As
the population of East New York immediately to the southwest grows, the natural environment
of the Ridgewood Reservoir and the recreational facilities in Highland Park will become ever
more important as a resource for local residents.

In 2004, the property was transferred from the Department of Environmental Protection
(which had authority over water sources) to the Department of Parks. In 2007, Parks
Commissioner Adrian Benepe announced new plans for the site. The city intended to retain
Basin 2 in its natural state with the other basins made over into a 60-acre recreational facility,
with a running track and ballfields covered with artificial turf. The cost was estimated at an
astounding $50 million. This sparked significant opposition from CB 5, the Audubon Society,
and historic preservationists. They argued that rather than destroy this historic site, the Parks
Department should restore the ballfields in Highland Park, where the recreational facilities had
suffered from poor maintenance and were in bad repair. After much public outcry, and a
downturn in the economy, the Parks Department shelved the proposal and invested in restoring
the fields in Highland Park.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 7


Downy Woodpecker, November 2016. NYC H2O Baltimore Oriole, April 2016. NYC H2O

Asters, October 2016. NYC H2O Fall foliage, 2014. NYC H2O

In 2011, the Parks Department announced a project to decommission the Class C High
Hazard Dam at Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park. A plan was proposed to breach the wall
of the reservoir (the dam) in three places and build a construction access road across the floor
of Basin 3. The cost was estimated at between $3 million and $10 million. This plan was in
response to the contention of New York States Department of Environmental Conservation that
a storm of unprecedented magnitude could fill the reservoir in so short a time as to cause a
breach that would result in the flooding of surrounding neighborhoods. A united phalanx of
local, state, and federal elected officials expressed their disapproval and demanded that the
historic integrity of the reservoir be respected. As it is, the decommissioned reservoirs and
surrounding parklands absorb a significant amount of rainfall that otherwise would end up in the
citys sewer system.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 8


In response, the Department of Environmental Conservation lowered the reservoirs
classification to Class A Negligible or No Hazard, thereby eliminating the necessity of breaching
the reservoirs stone-faced basins and trampling the ecosystem that had evolved there. Finally, it
seems, the city accepted that the best future for the Ridgewood Reservoir is to maintain it in its
current state, restoring the historic features and managing the wetlands and woods that have
evolved on the floor of each basin.

The historic site consists of three basins faced with stone, a brick gatehouse, fencing, and
stairs and walkways. A portion of the original cast-iron fencing remains between Basins 1 and 2.
That fencing, produced at the Hecla Iron Works in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is identical to
fencing installed at the same period around the Central Park Reservoir.

The three basins comprise the most important feature of the site. The two original basins
were built between 1856 and 1858 in a natural depression on the moraine. A steam engine
pumped the water up to the reservoir 164 feet above. Basins 1 and 2 cover 25.5 acres (11.85
acres and 13.73 acres) and reach a depth of 20 feet, with a capacity of 161 million gallons
(74,439,062 in one and 86,651,382 in the other). The third basin, covering about 21.17 acres and
with a capacity of about 132 million gallons, was completed in 1891.

Following page: View of the Brooklyn City Water Works (Ridgewood Reservoir),
looking south. The pumping station is on the top right. Cypress Hills National Cemetery is to the
left. Copy of lithograph print by G. Kraetzer, 1859. Courtesy of the Greater Astoria Historical
Society.

Below is an image of the pumping station built in 1858 for comparison with the image on
the next page. The Engine-House, for Raising the Water into the Reservoir at Ridgewood. 1859.
(Courtesy of New York Public Library.)

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 9


NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 10
Engineering drawing of the original Ridgewood Reservoir basins. The Brooklyn Waterworks and
Sewers, D. Van Nostrand, 1867

Image of Basin 2 looking southwest with gatehouse on the left and pond on the right. The pond
was developed into Basin 3 in 1891. George Brainard ca. 1872. Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 11


Two brick gatehouses stand at the north edge of the site, one between Basins 1 and 2
(1858), the other at Basin 3 (1891). They are in a simple industrial style, with arched doorways
and windows, and painted red, but otherwise unornamented; one section has a wood pitched
roof, with a flat roof over the other. Two iron control valves rise from the stone in front of
gatehouse at Basin 3 that controlled the flow of water from the reservoir into the distributing
pipes in Brooklyn. Below grade, reaching to the floor of the basin, is a stone foundation with
four rusted iron gates, two situated close to the floor of the basin and two about five feet above.
Through these gates would flow the water into the distribution system under the streets of
Brooklyn. Today both gatehouses are sealed and fenced off, and are in considerable disrepair.

Gatehouse for Basins 1 and 2, built 1856-1858. Courtesy of Untapped Cities.

Gatehouse for Basin 3, built 1891. Courtesy of DCAP Architects.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 12


Valve inside Basin 3 gatehouse, May 2016. Courtesy of DCAP Architects.

Keepers House The Brooklyn Waterworks and Sewers, D. Van Nostrand, 1867.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 13


Gatehouse gates (1891) with the Keepers House in the background. The keepers house was
demolished decades ago. Ignatius M. Da Verona, The History and Description of the Water
Supply of the City of Brooklyn, 1896.

Same location in 2007. Courtesy of Rob Jett.

In addition to the gatehouse, significant elements of the engineering infrastructure remain


in Basin 3, as it was the last to remain in use. A section of original 6-foot diameter iron pipe is in
place on the floor; the stone-lined sluiceway through which water was pumped from below
flowed remains at the southern edge.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 14


Sluiceway, April 2016. Courtesy of RAFT Landscape Architects.

Isometric Projection of the Influx (sluiceway). Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1891.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 15


Iron pipes (now sealed) that brought the water into the reservoir from the pumping station below,
2010. Courtesy of The East New York Project.

This circa 1905 postcard image shows Basin 3 with the gatehouse, built in 1891 and still extant
in the center, with the Engineers House to its left, now demolished (see drawing below). On the
left is the Keepers House, now demolished. Reservoir, Highland Park, Commercial Art Post
Card Co. Courtesy of The East New York Project.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 16


Engineers House. The Brooklyn Waterworks and Sewers, D. Van Nostrand, 1867.

After more than 150 years, this site retains much of its historical integrity despite decades
of somewhat benign neglect. Within this historic complex arose an ecological system of
surprising complexity that has become a case study in ecological succession. Today, elements of
the water system are clearly in evidence in basins and provide an opportunity to appreciate this
great creation of the City of Brooklyn. Again, the Ridgewood Reservoir is the most significant
unprotected piece of nineteenth century urban infrastructure extant in New York City.

Narrative Description of Historic, Social and Ecological Significance

The Ridgewood Reservoir is the only tangible site remaining from the first great
infrastructure project undertaken by the City of Brooklyn the building of a water supply system
from the south side of Long Island to the homes and businesses of her citizens. Its physical
presence alone marks the site as significant. The three stone-faced basins provided water for the
entire City of Brooklyn. Further, this is the last remnant of a water system that stretched from
ponds and streams in Massapequa on Long Island to a distributing reservoir overlooking
Prospect Park.

Today, little else of the original system remains. The conduit is gone, although the place
names of Conduit Avenue and Aqueduct Racetrack reference their origins. The Ridgewood
Pumping Station that pushed the water up the terminal moraine to the reservoir basins was
demolished 75 years ago. The stone water tower and distributing reservoir on Mount Prospect
adjacent to Prospect Park are no more. In sum, nothing remains of the great citys water system
except the Ridgewood Reservoir. The site stands as a landmark in engineering history, urban
history, and environmental history, and demonstrates how those histories are intertwined.

In 1842, the City of New York completed the Croton Water System. Previously, the only
supply came from wells, and as Manhattans population grew those wells became increasingly
polluted. Had the city not built the Croton system, its economic growth would have been
seriously hampered. Brooklyn, too, relied on well water, and the limits of that supply were clear.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 17


This 1903 map shows the extent of Brooklyns
water system, from the ponds on the right to the
urban grid to the left. The Ridgewood Reservoir
is located where the blue lines of the Brooklyn
grid start on the left. Map Showing the
Waterworks System of Long Island, New York.
A.C. Veatch, 1903.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 18


In 1851, the Brooklyn Common Council initiated the legal and financial actions
necessary to build its citys system. They first had to contend with a private company that had
acquired rights to water sources the city needed. It is important to note that the city was
consistent in pushing for public ownership and control. The experience of other cities which
have been supplied by private companies, the Water Committee reported, has been generally
unsatisfactory, and that sooner or later the public sentiment has demanded that the work should
be under public control. In terms of urban history, this represents an important step in the rise of
the modern city; municipal investment and ownership of essential services as opposed to
contracting with and relying upon private entities.

Brooklyn looked east to the citys natural hinterland, Long Island. The south side of the
island, the outwash plain below the terminal moraine which marked the limit of the last glacier,
indeed offered great promise. The drainage basin to be tapped for Brooklyns water covered 60
square miles. Engineer George Brainard wrote, Layers of fine, uniform-grained sand, beds of
pebbles and gravel, and occasionally local deposits of clay in thin strata, characterized the
ground to great depths. Through this porous material the waters flow toward the ocean, bursting
forth at various points in springs, forming streams of singular clearness and purity. The rainfall
of many centuries saturated the sand, and from the extreme slowness with which the water finds
its way through the water-bearing stratum, that the flow from the springs deriving their water
from it is not perceptibly affected either by storm or drought.

The Ridgewood Reservoir, together with the conduit feeding into it and the mains under
the streets of Brooklyn, was an inspiring engineering feat, accomplished in just two and a half
years. Freshwater ponds in Jamaica and Hempstead had to be drained and the accumulated muck
at the bottom removed to reveal the base of sand and clay. Hundreds of thousands of cubic yards
of debris were removed. Pipes were laid to connect the ponds and streams into a main conduit.

Laying a water main from Ridgewood Reservoir. Reproduced from Henry Stiles, A History of
the City of Brooklyn, 1867.
NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 19
On July 1, 1856, Brooklyn Mayor George Hall thrust the first shovel into the ground at
the groundbreaking ceremony for the Ridgewood Reservoir. A minister told the assembled
crowd, This day our Mayor, like Moses in the wilderness, strikes the desert spot, and the
gladdened stream is to come forth and bless the people. The Ridgewood Reservoir began filling
on November 18, 1858, and in December water was flowing into the citys newly installed water
mains. In January the fire hydrants were functioning and homeowners who had tapped into the
system could enjoy fresh water in their homes. On April 28, 1859, the justifiably proud city
staged a massive celebration: a five-mile long parade with thousands of participants, including
elected officials, fire companies, military regiments, and tradesmen; speeches by Peter Cooper,
Governor Edwin D. Morgan, and officials from Philadelphia, Boston, Buffalo, Richmond,
Baltimore, and Hartford; a triumphal arch; and fireworks. An ornamental fountain in front of
City Hall demonstrated the accomplishment in grand fashion, as the water pressure pushed the
spout high above the crowd.

Without question, the water system facilitated Brooklyns growth. From a population of
266,661 in 1860, the city grew to 806,343 in 1890, a three-fold increase. Water may not have
caused all this growth, but it would have been impossible without it. Industry, too, consumed
enormous quantities of water. Sugar refineries and breweries used hundreds of thousands of
gallons a day. By the 1880s, Brooklyn was the fourth largest manufacturing center in the nation.
The age of steam was also the age of water. In terms of the traditional concerns of urban history,
it becomes impossible to understand political and economic issues without considering the
impact of an efficient system supplying clean, and ample, water.

Between 1862 and 1871, average daily consumption increased from about 5 million
gallons to 19 million gallons, the maximum capacity of the original works. Civil Engineer
Augustus Kurth concluded that we can point out with certainty the time, near at hand, when our
conduit, which has been constructed with a capacity to deliver 40,000,000 gallons in 24 hours,
will not be sufficient to supply the needed want of water. In 1882, demand had reached nearly
35 million gallons a day (mgd). To keep up with increasing demand, the city added a third basin.
Completed in 1891, the new basin increased the capacity of the Ridgewood Reservoir from 161
million gallons to about 293 million gallons.

A second pumping station was built in 1891 to pump the additional water for the new basin
(Basin 3). Photo, circa 1905, courtesy of the Greater Astoria Historical Society.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 20


Aerial photo of the Ridgewood Reservoir, 1924. Image via NYC GIS.

Even after this expansion, supply barely kept up with demand. In January 1896,
Commissioner of City Works Alfred Treadway White issued a report on the prospects for future
supply for a system nearing capacity. The water system had a daily capacity of 94 million
gallons; by 1899 daily use by the almost 1.2 million residents had reached 92 mgd. With its
population steadily growing and no additional supply on the horizon, Brooklyn would have faced
a severe crisis. When the original system reached its limit of 19 mgd, Brooklyn could acquire
additional ponds further east and dig wells. Such an option was no longer available by 1900. By
1961, the 4.5 million inhabitants of Brooklyn and Queens, together with local industries,
particularly the breweries, consumed 640 mgd.

As a monument to urban engineering and municipal infrastructure, the Ridgewood


Reservoir is undoubtedly significant. But it also provides entre into the history of municipal
politics and the story of how Brooklyn became one of the five boroughs of the City of New
York. In the years leading up to consolidation in 1898, debate over the proposed merger of
Brooklyn, western Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx (then part of Westchester) with
Manhattan was focussed on political corruption and the influence of Tammany Hall; conditions
in the overcrowded, dangerous, and disease-ridden immigrant slums; the necessity of bringing all
existing and potential port facilities under a single municipal authority; and an intangible
Brooklyns looming loss of independence and identity. But the water question was perhaps the
most important issue of all, for it was clear that Brooklyns system was at the limit of its
capacity, and no additional sources of supply were available (the state legislature had passed a
law making it all but impossible for Brooklyn to extend its water system into Suffolk County).
The only viable solution was for Brooklyn to connect to New Yorks system. That was finally
accomplished after 1917, when new reservoirs in the Catskills came on line. Supply was further
augmented when the Delaware Water System was completed in 1951. That expansion rendered
the Long Island water sources redundant.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 21


The Ridgewood Reservoir is also significant with regard to environmental history, an
angle only recently incorporated into historical research. What has happened since the reservoir
was decommissioned in 1989 is of course worthy of protection. It would be incorrect to say that
the basins were reverting to their natural state, because there never was such an environment in
place. The woodland and wetland that has evolved in the last fifty years is a new environment,
but it has given the opportunity for many native species of flora and fauna to flourish (and not a
few invasive species as well). The basins house eight distinct ecologies: savanna (locust,
mugwort), northern bog (grey birch, haircap moss forest), mature upland forest, open grassy
area, woodlands, swamp (birch, maple), coastal swamp forest (sweetgum, red maple, grey birch,
black cherry), and standing water wetlands. The Ridgewood Reservoir has thus become a
laboratory for the study of nature and ecological succession in an urban context.

Lush vegetation with native and invasive species in Basin 2 with gatehouse, October 2016.
Basin 3, July 2016. Courtesy of NYC H2O. Courtesy of NYC H2O.

Ringneck Ducks, October 2017. Hooded Merganser, September 2017.


Courtesy of NYC H2O. Courtesy of NYC H2O.

But the sites significance for the field of environmental history goes further. By studying
the Ridgewood Reservoir, we can ask questions about the use and integrity of the aquifer on
Long Island. With so much water flowing from Long Island into Brooklyns taps, how did
farmers cope with a sinking water table? How did the ecology of the bays change as the flow of
fresh water decreased? What happened to the water sources after Brooklyn shut them down?
NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 22
How did Brooklyns appropriation of Long Islands water affect the water table out there, and
what happened to the water table in Queens and Brooklyn when water was no longer pumped
from wells? The reservoir is important because it leads to these and other questions about the
impact of urban infrastructure on the environment, and how it may even transform the local
environment and create new ecological conditions.

Finally, the Ridgewood Reservoir is significant because the surrounding communities


care about the site. Residents have watched its transformation over the decades, and have
actively lobbied the city to maintain it in its current, quasi-natural condition. They cheered when
the reservoir was transferred from the Department of Environmental Protection to the
Department of Parks in 2004, and expressed their profound disapproval three years later when
Parks proposed a $50 million transformation of the site into playing fields covered with artificial
turf. Residents of the surrounding communities, in both Brooklyn and Queens, understood and
appreciated the place, and fought the city to have their wishes respected. They argued that it was
possible to secure both the historic reservoir and rehabilitate playing fields in Highland Park. The
city seems finally to have relented and has seemingly abandoned plans to compromise the
historical integrity of the reservoir complex [N.B., the Parks proposed plan has not officially
been withdrawn]. See the 2013 NYC Parks plans for the Ridgewood Reservoir on the next page.

Basin 3, circa 1905. Courtesy of the Greater Astoria Historical Society.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 23


NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 24
For decades the Ridgewood Reservoir was all but invisible, if it is possible for three
stone-face basins in the middle of a public park covering over 50 acres to be invisible. It was
abandoned by the city, but even as it suffered from neglect the site became greatly appreciated
by local residents and bird watchers. This historic site is now poised to undergo what is hoped to
be a sympathetic restoration that will highlight the engineering elements still in place while
respecting the emerging natural landscape.

Fifth grade students on a field trip to the Ridgewood Reservoir, November 2016.
Courtesy of NYC H2O.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 25


Bibliography

Brainard, George B., The Water Works of Brooklyn: a historical and descriptive account of the
construction of the works, and the quantity, quality and cost of the supply. Brooklyn: 1873.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac, 1908.

Common Council of the City of Brooklyn, Documents and Plans submitted by the Water
Committee to the Common Council of the City of Brooklyn, 1854.

Department of City Works, City of Brooklyn, Report on Future Extensions of Water Supply for
the City of Brooklyn. Brooklyn: the Department, 31 January 1896.

Department of Parks, City of New York,


https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/highland-park/highlights/19651.

Department of Parks, City of New York, Queens: Report for the year ending 31st December,
1912.

Duke, Nathan, City plans to revamp old reservoir, Ridgewood Ledger, May 24, 2007.

Frank Leslies Illustrated Newspaper, May 14, 1859.

Hazelton, Henry Isham, The Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk,
Long Island, New York, 1609-1924. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1925.

Kegel, F.J., Old Brooklyn Landmarks, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1936.

Kroessler, Jeffrey A., Brooklyns Thirst, Long Islands Water: consolidation, local control, and
the aquifer, Long Island History Journal, Vol. 22-1, 2011.

NYC H2O, http://www.nych2o.org/.

Save Ridgewood Reservoir, http://ridgewoodreservoir.blogspot.com/.

Stiles, Henry, A History of the City of Brooklyn, Brooklyn, 1867-1870.

Thompson, William C., Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., A Wilderness, Lost in the City, op-ed,
New York Times, May 29, 2008.

Da Verona, Ignatius M., The History and Description of the Water Supply of the City of
Brooklyn, City of Brooklyn, Department of City Works, 1896.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 26


Newspapers

Brooklyn Eagle
Glendale Register
Long Island Star
Long Island Press
Newsday
New York Daily News
New York Times
Queens County Review
Ridgewood Ledger

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 27


Acknowledgements

NYC H2O would like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Jeffrey Kroessler as the lead author of this
New York State and National Historic Register nomination.

DCAP Architects and RAFT Landscape Architects made substantive contributions to the
architectural research, cartography, and photography used in the nomination. Rob Jett and Ricky
Gomes have lovingly documented the Ridgewood Reservoir for many years; their numerous
contributions are seen in this nomination. Dr. Elissa Sampson and Matt Malina made appreciable
editorial and research contributions in serving as reviewers and editors.

We also thank City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley for encouraging us to submit this
nomination and for her support of the Ridgewood Reservoir and Highland Park. We also are
grateful to Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski and Forest-Highland Park
Administrator Debbie Kuha from NYC Department of Parks and Recreation for their care of the
reservoir and park.

We thank Nancy Kandoian, Librarian at the Maps Division of the New York Public Library, for
assistance in locating the Matthew Dripps Map of 1852.

Lastly, we thank the New York Public Library, Queens Borough Public Library, Brooklyn Public
Library, and the Brooklyn Historical Society for making their collections available to us digitally
and by special request.

NYC H2O, Ridgewood Reservoir 28