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.
Don't miss these popular destinations and attractions within or near this historic park
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.
Meet at the last Old Croton Aqueduct-fed water treatment plant and discover (in a plant manager-led tour) what happens to water before it arrives in our taps. Address: 25 Fowler Ave., Ossining 10562. Northbound drivers: From Rte. 9A exit at Shady Farm Rd., turn left and then make an immediate right onto Old Albany Post Rd. Drive about half a mile and turn right onto Fowler Ave. At the top of the hill, the chain link fence of the GE campus will be on your right. Drive straight across the Aqueduct trail and continue to the water treatment plant. Or, from Route 9/Highland Ave., turn right onto Old Albany Post Rd. (north of the Ossining Community Center) and proceed as above. Southbound drivers: from Rte. 9/Highland Ave. turn left onto Old Albany Post Rd. and proceed as above. Parking available. Inquiries: Carl Grimm, email@example.com or 914-271-5471.
Meet at the Joseph Caputo Community Center, view a short film about history of the Aqueduct, and walk to the nearby Weir at the north end of the Double Arch Bridge in Ossining. There you will descend into the original 1842 brick water tunnel and see this marvel of mid-19th Century engineering for yourself. You may wish to visit on your own the nearby new walkway along the Sing Sing Kill under the Aqueduct Arch. Parking is available near the Joseph Caputo Community Center. Address: 95 Broadway, Ossining, NY 10562, just west of Rte. 9/Highland Ave. at the junction of Croton Ave. (Rte. 133) (from Ossining Metro-North Train Station by taxi or 15-minute uphill walk). No reservations necessary. Inquiries: Jean Horkans, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet at Gerlach Park in Ossining, for a moderate 5-mile round trip from the Park to the historic Croton Dam. Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct trail to the Dam and return via small Croton River shoreline trail and the Aqueduct. Highlights include views of the scenic Croton River Gorge; and vistas of the Croton Reservoir from the top of the Dam and its unique spillway/natural waterfall. The leader will relate history of the Dam and the Aqueduct (completed in 1842 to bring water to New York City) and local lore along the route. Enjoy snacks (bring your own) in Croton Gorge Park at the foot of the Dam. Expected completion time is 12:30 pm. Gerlach Park is a short taxi ride from the Croton-Harmon Metro-North train station. Heavy rain cancels. Contact email@example.com to make reservations and receive detailed meet-up location.
Meet at 10 am at the top of the driveway of the Hudson River Museum. Walk along the Old Croton Aqueduct to the Untermyer Gardens. Learn the history of the famous gardens where Isadora Duncan once danced and Mahler played. Marvel at the newly restored Temple of Love. Starting address: 511 Warburton Ave., Yonkers, NY 10701 (free parking and a short walk from Metro-North Glenwood Train Station). Walk 4-5 miles north for scenic views of Hudson River and detour to Untermyer Park. Return by the same route or linger awhile at the Gardens for an optional longer self-guided tour. Inquiries: Sara Kelsey, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 646-303-1448.
Meet at the Joseph Caputo Community Center and walk to the nearby Weir at the north end of the Double Arch Bridge in Ossining. There you will descend into the original 1842 brick water tunnel and learn its history. You may wish to visit on your own the nearby new walkway along the Sing Sing Kill under the Aqueduct Arch. Parking is available near the Joseph Caputo Community Center. Address: 95 Broadway, Ossining, NY 10562, just west of Rte. 9/Highland Ave. at the junction of Croton Ave. (Rte. 133) (from Ossining Metro-North Train Station by taxi or 15-minute uphill walk). No reservations necessary. Inquiries: Sara Kelsey, email@example.com or call 646-303-1448.