Granite remains of the 1842 Croton reservoir

It’s always a treat to see bits of New York’s past hidden within the contemporary city.

Case in point: sections of a granite wall once part of the four-acre receiving reservoir at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue, filled in 1842 and lasting through the Gilded Age.


These walls are visible along a staircase in the south wing of the main branch of the New York Public Library, which took the reservoir’s place on that stretch of Fifth Avenue and opened in 1911.

Granitereservoir4Imagine what the city was like in the 1840s, when the Croton Aqueduct was completed, and the growing metropolis finally had a ready supply of fresh upstate water.

“Chosen for its location at the highest point of Murray Hill to increase water pressure to densely populated downtown districts, the reservoir was an odd symbol of urban accomplishment,” wrote David Soll in Empire of Water.

“When completed in 1841, it had few neighbors and towered over the handful of scattered structures in the surrounding area.

Across Fifth Avenue lay ‘an open field, upon which stood a single country house.'”


By the 1860s, New York’s elite promenaded on the reservoir’s walkway, and Fifth Avenue became prime real estate.

In 20 years, calls for the reservoir’s destruction appeared and grew louder; it was obsolete, critics charged, and its Egyptian revival architectural style an eyesore, even after the city planted ivy to cover the Fifth Avenue side.


By 1898, the wrecking ball came. The granite walls in the library are all that remain.

[Third image: the reservoir in 1850; fourth image: in the 1880s; NYPL Digital Collection]

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5 Responses to “Granite remains of the 1842 Croton reservoir”

  1. Fran Says:

    Fascinating history!

  2. Margot Jacqz Says:

    I read somewhere that debris was used in the construction of S Paul the Apostle.

  3. trilby1895 Says:

    Agreed! Fascinating History! Something Kelly Choi could feature on her “Secrets of New York”. I love seeing obscure bits of this magical city’s history!

  4. Rocky remains of Central Park’s 1842 reservoir | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] The ghostly, granite remains of the 42nd Street Distributing Reservoir can be seen on a lower wall of the New York Public Library. […]

  5. Loveliness in turn of the century Bryant Park | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Bryant Park in 1913, just a few years after the New York Public Library building opened on the site where the Croton distributing reservoir once stood (hence the park’s […]

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