During the 1830s New York City was in dire need of a fresh water supply to combat the steady rise of disease and to fight numerous fires that often engulfed large tracts of businesses and homes. After numerous proposals and an abandoned plan two years into its production, construction of an unprecedented magnitude began in 1837 under the expertise of John Bloomfield Jervis. The proposed plan called for a 41 mile aqueduct and dam to be built in order to run water from the Croton River to New York City. Three to four thousand workers, mostly Irish immigrants earning up to $1.00 per day, completed the masonry marvel in just five years. In 1842 water flowed into above ground reservoirs located at the present sites of the New York Public Library and the Great Lawn of Central Park. Throngs of people attended the formal celebration held on October 14th and celebrated with "Croton cocktails" - a mix of Croton water and lemonade.
This 19th century architectural achievement cost New York City approximately 13 million dollars and was believed able to provide New Yorkers with fresh water for centuries to come. The population spiraled upward at a dizzying rate, however, and the Croton Aqueduct, which was capable of carrying 100 million gallons per day, could no longer meet New York City’s needs by the early 1880s. Construction of the New Croton Aqueduct began in 1885 and water began to flow by 1890. Although no longer the sole supplier of fresh water, the Old Croton Aqueduct continued to provide water to New York City until 1965.
In 1968, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation purchased 26.2 miles of the original 41 mile aqueduct from New York City. Presently, Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park is a linear park which runs from Van Cortlandt Park at the Bronx County/City of Yonkers border to the Croton Dam in Cortlandt. In 1987 a section was reopened to supply the Town of Ossining and in 1992 the Old Croton Aqueduct was awarded National Historic Landmark Status. The scenic path over the underground aqueduct winds through urban centers and small communities. It passes near numerous historic sites, preserves, a museum highlighting the construction of the Aqueduct, and many homes. The Aqueduct’s grassy ceiling provides abundant recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. While primarily for walking and running, parts of the trail are suitable for horseback riding, biking (except during “mud season”), bird watching, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing.
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The Friends of Old Croton Aqueduct offer a detailed map and brochure to help visitors use the Aqueduct Trail to connect to numerous destinations in Westchester County. To purchase a brochure, please visit http://www.aqueduct.org/. Funds raised from the brochure help the Friends offer tours, programming and improvements for the park.
The Aqueduct was built to help supply water to New York City, owing in part to its inadequate water supply. Major David B. Douglass, a West Point engineering professor, was the project's first chief engineer. He was succeeded in 1836 by John B. Jervis of Rome, New York, whose experience was in canal and railroad building. Construction, begun in 1837, was carried out largely by Irish immigrant labor.
An elliptical tube 8 ½ feet high by 7 ½ feet wide, the Aqueduct is brick-lined for most of its length, with a coating of hydraulic cement at bridge crossings and outer walls of hammered stone. Designed on principles dating from Roman times, the gravity-fed tube, dropping gently 13 inches per mile, challenged its builders to maintain this steady gradient through a varied terrain.
To do so the Aqueduct was cut into hillsides, set level on the ground, tunneled through rock and carried over valleys and streams on massive stone and earth embankments and – at Sing Sing Kill, the Nepperhan (Saw Mill) River and Harlem River – across arched bridges. Typically it is partly buried, with a telltale mound encasing it. As one learns to read the "clues," an understanding of how the tunnel engages the landscape deepens the trail experience.
Croton water first entered the Aqueduct at 5 a.m. on June 22, 1842 (followed by a dauntless crew in a small boat, the Croton Maid) and emerged at the Harlem River 22 hours later. The water eventually filled two above-ground reservoirs – on the present sites of the Great Lawn in Central Park and the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue – to great civic rejoicing.
Built to meet the city's needs for 100 years, its capacity was soon exceeded by the spiraling population growth to which is contributed. The New Croton Aqueduct, triple the size, was started in 1885 a few miles to the east and began service in 1890. The Old Aqueduct supplied decreasing amounts of water until 1955. (The northernmost portion reopened in 1989 and continues to supply water to the Town of Ossining.)
While the state trailway designation ends at the New York City line, the Aqueduct continues for six to seven miles through the Bronx. There its green corridor, managed by New York City Parks & Recreation, follows a southward route through Van Cortlandt Park, past the east edge of Jerome Park Reservoir and along Aqueduct and University avenues to the famed High Bridge, which carried the water in iron pipes across the Harlem River to Manhattan to serve a growing metropolis.
The park was created in 1968 and encompasses the Westchester County section of the Old Croton Aqueduct, between Croton Gorge County Park and the Yonkers-New York City line. This 26.2-mile portion of the total 41-mile Aqueduct route became Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park, a recreational and cultural resource that appeals to a wide range of visitors. Tree-lined and grassy, traversing local villages and varied landscapes, the trail offers glimpses of historic and architectural treasures along the way. Now a National Historic Landmark, the Aqueduct is one of the great engineering achievements of the 19th century.
Easy 1-mile hike along the beautiful New Croton Dam. Meet near the restrooms at the parking lot at Croton Gorge Park, Rte. 129, Cortlandt 10567. The leader of the hike will discuss the history and construction of the Old Croton Aqueduct and the features of the Croton Dam. The Aqueduct was completed in 1842 to supply water to New York City. The trailhead for the Aqueduct Trail is at the dam and proceeds south. You may wish to bring a lunch to eat at the picnic area in Croton Gorge Park. Inquiries: Tom Tarnowsky, email@example.com or call 914-862-4207.
Take the 9:04 am peak train from the Dobbs Ferry Metro-North Station. Washington Heights near the High Bridge deserves more attention, especially now that the gleaming bridge beckons day trippers once more. Let's take a long walk that will cross the Harlem River via the High Bridge, hear the tale of the Old Croton Aqueduct, then wind back to the gorgeous Jumel Terrace Historic District and to hidden Audubon Terrace. Along the way, we will pay homage to Paul Robeson, jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Lena Horne, the indomitable Eliza Jumel and to NY baseball. The guide can accompany walkers from Westchester on the Metro-North to the subway transfer to the #1 train at Marble Hill. Be prepared for many, many stairs and 3 hours of hilly walking (2+ miles), plus elevated subway-train transfers. Westchester walkers can return the same way they came. Group size is limited and attendance is by reservation only. Please notify your guide of cancellations! Contact: Lesley Walter, 914-671-7112.
Continuous tours between 10 am and 4 pm. As part of the Ossining Village Fair, descend into the Weir in Ossining, explore the original 1842 brick water tunnel and learn its history. You may wish to visit on your own the nearby Sing Sing Kill Greenway – a new walkway under the Aqueduct Arch. Meet at the Weir at the north end of the Double Arch Bridge near the Joseph Caputo Community Center at 95 Broadway, Ossining, NY 10562, just west of Rte. 9/Highland Ave. at the junction of Croton Ave. (Rte. 133) (from Metro-North Ossining train station by taxi or 15-minute uphill walk). Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org or 646-303-1448.
Co-sponsored by the Dobbs Ferry Historical Society. As part of the PATH THROUGH HISTORY WEEKEND, walk along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail from Mercy College to the newly restored Keepers House on the Aqueduct Trail and then to the Dobbs Ferry Historical Society's Mead House. Meet at the Mercy College NE parking lot at the border of Dobbs Ferry and Irvington at Broadway (Rt. 9), a short walking distance SE of the Ardsley-on-Hudson station on Metro-North's Hudson Line. Bring a lunch. We will discuss the engineering of the Old Croton Aqueduct, constructed from 1837-42 to bring water to a thirsty NYC, as we view old Aqueduct structures along the trail. Our first stop is a tour inside the newly restored Keepers House! We will continue on to the Dobbs Ferry Historical Society's Mead house to view "Mother's Handiwork: A Display of Handmade Children's Clothing, 1880's-1920's." Pastry and teacakes will be served on the veranda. Inquiries: email@example.com or 646-303-1448.
Join our continuing efforts to remove invasive plants and vines from the northern section of the Aqueduct Trail. Hosted by the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct and led by the AmeriCorps members of the NY-NJ Trail Conference's Invasive Strike Force. A four-person crew of experts in removing invasive plants will provide leadership and work alongside us during the day. Meet us on the Aqueduct Trail at the Croton Gorge Unique Area sign under the green and white striped canopy. (Although located in the Town of Cortlandt, our official address for use by GPS and other navigational systems is 124 Quaker Bridge Road, Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520.) Parking: The Town of Cortlandt has given volunteers permission to park on Quaker Bridge Road, so watch for the "Park Here" signs on the west side of the road between houses #125 and #99. Bring a lunch if you plan to stay for the full day and consider wearing long pants, sturdy shoes, a long-sleeved shirt and a hat. Snacks, water, tools and gloves will be provided. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or all 914-941-8536 to let us know if you are planning to attend or for questions.