High Bridge Reservoir

Source: Equipe C'est N'est Pas Une Pipe as part of the Commons:Wikis Take Manhattan project on October 4, 2008

Site: High-Service Reservoir (High Bridge Reservoir)
Street Address/Location: 172nd to 174th Streets on Amsterdam Avenue
Town/City: New York City
County: New York
Owner: N/A

Architect/Engineer/Other Responsible Parties: A. W Craven, Engineer-in-Chief; William L. Dearborn, Engineer-in-Charge; George A. Cushing, Resident Engineer; Charles Birknor, Assistant; Roach & Jenkins, Contractors; Capt. Edick, Superintendent
Historic Use: Reservoir
Present Use: Swimming Pool and Recreation Center
Typology: Reservoir
Architectural Style: Earthen
Period(s) of Construction: 1866-1869
Date of Decommissioning: n/a
Date(s) of Demolition: 1934
Structural System/Materials: Earthen/ dirt, clay, stone
Significant Alterations: By 1922 a fence at the bottom and top of the embankment had been added.

Brief Architectural Description: Battered earthen embankments, rendered impervious to moisture with a thick wall of clay in the middle, provided enclosure for the high-service reservoir at High Bridge. The upper portion of the embankment was nine feet wide, of which eight feet was dressed with gravel and used as a walk. The outer side of the reservoir was grassed, while the interior was covered in stone laid in cement. The stone extended above the walkway creating a two foot tall wall and was capped with granite coping. On the southern side of the reservoir, stone steps, twelve feet in width, provided access to the upper walkway. As a means to purify the water, as well as provide amusement, a central fountain threw a stream of water 70 feet high.

Brief Statement of Historic Significance: Crossing the Harlem River at an elevation of 120 feet, Croton water was distributed to lower Manhattan by gravity. Higher portions of the Island – essentially the area above 135th Street – were excluded from the Croton system.  An Act was passed in 1863 which authorized the creation of a high-service works at High Bridge to supply water to northern Manhattan. The works consisted of a reservoir, two gate-houses, a tower, an engine and boiler house, as well as a wharf and coal shed on the Harlem River to receive coal and power the works. Sited on high ground to the west of High Bridge, the reservoir was 324 feet square and had a storage capacity of 10 million gallons of water. The engine house, situated on the northern side of High Bridge, pumped water from the aqueduct to the reservoir. The water entered the reservoir through the eastern gatehouse and was dispersed through the western gatehouse.

As Parks Commissioner, Robert Moses demolished the reservoir in 1934 and converted the site into the Highbridge Play Center and Pool. Portions of the original retaining wall are visible at the bathhouse on Amsterdam Avenue.

Accessibility to Public: Converted to a public pool facility 1934-1936.
Landmark Status: New York City Landmark as High Bridge Pool Complex (LPC 2007)
Threats: N/A
Current Interpretation: None


Historic Image:

Source: New York Public Library Digital Gallery

“2 Reservoirs Sites to Serve as Parks,” The New York Times, (4 Apr 1934), 23.
Bromley, Dorothy Dunbar, “City Children to Have New Play Fields,” The New York Times, (6 May 1934), XX2.
Burr, William Hubert, Ancient and Modern Engineering and the Isthmian Canal, (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1902), 254.
“The Croton Aqueduct,” Mining Petroleum Standard and American Gas-Light Journal, 9:4 (16 Aug 1867), 53.
“Croton Department. New High-Service Reservoir and Water-Works at Washington Heights,” The New York Tribune, (14 Jan 1868), 2.
“Domestic Items,” Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide, 1:4 (11 April 1868), 3.
“Harlem Bridges,” Harper’s Weekly, XI:567 (9 Nov 1867), 717-718.
Harmann, Sadakichi, “A Plea for the Picturesqueness of New York,” Camera Notes, 4:2 (1 Oct 1900), 91.
“New Croton Water Works,” Mining Petroleum Standard and American Gas-Light Journal, 8:2 (16 Jul 1866), 20.
“Park Work Is Begun On 2 Bathing Pools,” The New York Times, (4 Oct 1924), 48.
“The Water We Drink, And Where We Get It,” Harper’s Weekly, XVII:839 (25 Jan 1873), 78-79.
Wegmann, Edward, The Water-Supply of the City of New York 1658-1895, (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1896), 76-77
Sarah Morrison/ February 28, 2011


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