Posts Tagged ‘Croton Aqueduct’

An 1835 fire burns a quarter of New York City

January 25, 2013

GreatfirebynicolinocalyoIt started on the frigid night of December 16. Flames broke out inside a warehouse on Pearl Street, the center of New York’s dry-goods district.

“The city’s undermanned volunteer fire brigades rushed to the scene, but what little water could be pumped from the nearby hydrants turned to ice in the frigid night air, and the crews—exhausted from fighting a blaze the night before—were soon completely overwhelmed,” wrote Ric Burns and James Sanders in New York: An Illustrated History.

[Above: the fire as seen from Williamsburg, by Nicolino Calyo]

With help from strong winds, flames leaped from shops to warehouses to the majestic Merchants Exchange (below, in a 1909 illustration).

Within hours, 20 blocks and 600 buildings bounded by South, Broad, and Wall Streets and Coenties Slip, were ablaze.

Greatfiremerchantsexchange

New York had experienced devastating fires before, particularly in 1776. This fire was something else though—so intense, it could reportedly be seen from Philadelphia.

The cold made it tough to get under control. “Whiskey was poured into boots to prevent [firefighters'] toes from icing up,” states Paul Hashagen in Fire Department, City of New York.

GreatfireCUNYmap“By the time the flames were out, a quarter of the city’s business district had been destroyed, including every one of the stone Dutch houses that had survived the fires of the Revolution,” wrote Burns and Sanders.

Hundreds of businesses were ruined. Most of the city’s insurance companies went bankrupt. Amazingly, only two people perished.

As horrific as it was, the Great Fire of 1835 had a few upsides. It forced the city, which rebuilt within a year, to organize a professional fire department and shore up building codes.

And it showed the need for a modern water-supply system, resulting in the opening of the Croton Aqueduct and reservoir on 42nd Street seven years later.

[Map of the destroyed area: CUNY]

New York’s most decorative manhole covers

May 23, 2011

Usually they’re simply engraved with “Con Edison” or, strangely enough, “NYC Sewer—Made in India.” But sometimes you can spot one that a 19th century iron works company decided to make a little lovelier.

Like this one, with images of stars and fancy “DPW” lettering, found underfoot on a sidewalk at Fifth Avenue and about 100th Street.

“Croton Water” references the old Croton Aqueduct, completed in 1842, which brought clean water to the city from Westchester’s Croton River.

Even more decorative is this fleur-de-lis cover on the sidewalk on Charlton Street off of Sixth Avenue.

It hides a coal hole, into which coal deliverers dumped their wares. This way, coal could reach a building’s basement, where the furnace was, without mucking up a home or office.

Manhole covers that have something to say

April 7, 2010

You walk and ride over them constantly—but have you ever stopped to read the inscriptions on city manhole covers? Some are pretty unique.

Like this one that reads “Croton Aqueduct DPT 1862.” It’s in Jefferson Park on First Avenue and 112th Street and refers to the engineering marvel that brought fresh water from upstate to Manhattan.

The water was stored in a massive reservoir at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, where the New York Public Library is today.

This next cover is a bit of a mystery. It seems to read “Sewer B of B” for borough of Brooklyn or borough of the Bronx. Except I found it in Harlem near 125th Street.

Another personalized manhole cover is in West Chelsea, marking the lovely General Theological Seminary on Tenth Avenue.

When New York’s water came from 42nd Street

June 14, 2009

This photo, of what looks like a pretty ordinary day in 1875, captures the corner of  Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Hey, what happened to the main branch of the New York Public Library?

Before that Beaux-Arts gem was built, the city’s first distributing reservoir took up the site. This reservoir held New York City’s first fresh, clean supply of water, which originated in Westchester’s Croton River.

Crotonreservoir

The reservoir, built in 1842, is pretty impressive. Walls 50 feet high and 25 feet thick were topped by a promenade; it could hold 20,000,000 gallons.

Once the Croton River became a dam, the city didn’t need a reservoir on 42nd Street anymore. It was demolished in 1899 to make way for the iconic library building that greets New Yorkers today.

A view across the High Bridge

June 3, 2008

Closed to all traffic since the 1960s, the majestic High Bridge is slated to be renovated and then reopened to pedestrians in 2011. It’s one of the city’s small treasures, connecting Washington Heights’ Highbridge Park across the Harlem River to tiny Highbridge Park in the Bronx. Built in 1848, it’s also the oldest bridge linking two boroughs.

If you peered through the iron bars that block off the walkway on the Bronx side, this is what you’d see. The grass growing through it gives it a High Line kind of feel.

In the distance is the High Bridge Water Tower, constructed in 1872. Like the bridge itself, the tower was part of the Old Croton Aqueduct, an engineering marvel that brought fresh water from Westchester to New York City from 1842 until 1958. Think it would be cool to explore? You’re in luck; the Parks Department is opening the tower to the public on June 22.

Here’s the bridge circa 1890. The original stone arches were largely replaced by a steel arch in the 1920s.


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