The Croton and Catskill Systems: Meeting the Demand for Water in New York City

Our earlier blog post illustrated the attempts city and private officials made to supply Manhattan with water, culminating in the successful flow of water from Westchester County to the city via the Croton Aqueduct in 1842 (hereafter called the Old Croton Aqueduct). This remarkable feat of civil engineering was unable to keep pace with New York’s rapid population growth, however, and was strained to capacity only 30 years after its completion.

Today New York City gets its water from the Croton, Catskill, and Delaware Systems, the first two of which are featured in this blog.  The images are part of a photograph album made from 1913-1917 when the donor, William Williams (1862-1947), was Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Water Supply, Gas, and Electricity under Mayor John Purroy Mitchel.

Croton System

What seemed to New Yorkers an abundant flow of water from the Old Croton Aqueduct in 1842 was deemed inadequate just a few years later. The city experienced an unanticipated population boom in the second half of the 19th century, due largely to a rise in immigration: in 1840, the population was 312,710; thirty years later in 1870 the population had more than tripled to 942,292. To satisfy demand, the flow of water was increased in the aqueduct. But another issue had emerged: the quality and quantity of water available was variable and vulnerable to droughts and landslides. The solution to this problem required improvements to the entire system and the project came to be known as the Croton Waterworks Extension.

Increasing storage capacity was one of the most important tasks for the Croton Waterworks Extension. The photograph below shows the first major component, constructed from 1858-1862 in what was later to become Central Park.

Photographer unknown. New Central Park Reservoir and North Gate Houses Croton System. ca. 1880-1900. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.113

Photographer unknown. New Central Park Reservoir and North Gate Houses Croton System. ca. 1880-1895. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.113

A few projects were delayed several years because of the Civil War. Manhattan’s ever-increasing population was moving further north, beyond the areas serviced by the Old Croton Aqueduct. To deliver water to this growing community, known as Carmansville, the High Bridge Reservoir and Tower were built from 1866-1873.

Photographer unknown. High Bridge Reservoir and Tower Croton System. ca. 1880-1895. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.106

Photographer unknown. High Bridge Reservoir and Tower [Croton System.] ca. 1880-1895. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.106

Although the Croton Waterworks Extension had successfully augmented water storage, the Old Croton Aqueduct was nearing its maximum capacity. Construction of the New Croton Aqueduct began in 1885, as shown in the pictures below.

Photographer unknown. New Croton Aqueduct - Typical Horseshoe Section in Open Cut Croton System. 1885-1893. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.101

Photographer unknown. New Croton Aqueduct – Typical Horseshoe Section in Open Cut [Croton System.] 1885-1893. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.101

Photographer unknown. New Croton Aqueduct - Cast-Iron Section Lining Croton System. 1885-1893. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.102

Photographer unknown. New Croton Aqueduct – Cast-Iron Section Lining [Croton System.] 1885-1893. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.102

Enough work had been accomplished by July 15, 1890 to allow water to flow to the Central Park reservoir via the New Croton Aqueduct. But the Croton System was far from complete; additional water storage was needed. Below is the Titicus Reservoir in Westchester County, completed in 1895.

Photographer unknown. Titicus Reservoir - Spillway and Waste Channel Croton System. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.86

Photographer unknown. Titicus Reservoir – Spillway and Waste Channel [Croton System.] ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.86

The New Croton Dam near the village of Croton-on-Hudson in Westchester County was built from 1892-1906, and was the tallest dam at the time of its construction.

Photographer unknown. New Croton Reservoir - Waste Channel and Bridge Croton System. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.95

Photographer unknown. New Croton Reservoir – Waste Channel and Bridge [Croton System.] ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.95

The Croton System was completed in 1911. Today it supplies about 10 percent of the city’s water.

Catskill System

In 1898 the consolidation of Kings, Queens, Richmond, and parts of Westchester counties into New York City increased the population to 3.5 million, up from 1.5 million in 1890. The disparate waterworks of these regions now fell under the city’s domain, and it was obvious more water was needed to sustain New York. A 1900 report focused on the southern Catskill region for obtaining new sources of water. In 1907 construction of the Catskill Aqueduct commenced, documented in the photographs below.

Photographer unknown. Bucket Used to Lower Men and Materials During Sinking of Tunnel Shafts Catskill System. ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.32

Photographer unknown. Bucket Used to Lower Men and Materials During Sinking of Tunnel Shafts [Catskill System.] ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.32

Photographer unknown. Typical Pressure Tunnel Construction Shaft Catskill System. ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.54

Photographer unknown. Typical Pressure Tunnel Construction Shaft [Catskill System.] ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.54

Photographer unknown. Tunnel Drills Working on Bench After Drilling Heading Catskill System. ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.33

Photographer unknown. Tunnel Drills Working on Bench After Drilling Heading [Catskill System.] ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.33

Photographer unknown. Drilling and Mucking Bench of Lower Half of Tunnel Catskill System. ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.34

Photographer unknown. Drilling and Mucking Bench [of] Lower Half of Tunnel [Catskill System.] ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.34

Photographer unknown. Rondout Pressure Tunnel Showing Partial and Total Concrete Lining Catskill System. ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.35

Photographer unknown. Rondout Pressure Tunnel Showing Partial and Total Concrete Lining Catskill System. ca. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. 42.172.35

The Catskill Aqueduct was completed in 1915, and the remainder of the Catskill System was finished in 1928. The Catskill System supplies over 40 percent of New York City’s Water.

Click here to see the entire photograph album.

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