Description of New York’s Old Reservoir.

(Copyright August 1900, by Bhepperd & Burnham.

ON June 7, 1899, the work of tearing down the old Croton reservoir on Forty-second street, Manhattan, began, and within a few weeks the place of that famous landmark will know it no more. In its stead will rise the splendid building of the Astor-Tilden-Lenox public library designed by Messrs. Carrere and Hastings, architects, of New York city.

The doomed reservoir was one of a series designed by Engineer John Bloomfield Jervis, and built under his supervision for the Croton waterworks system, and, judging from its massive wails and frowning Egyptian portals, it seemed as If built to stand for all time. And so probably it would, had it not been for the fact that itB usefulness was gone, and the ground on which itstood was needed for another purpose as useful in its own way. The substantial nature of the structure seemed to defy destruction, but the energy of the contractor, Mr Eugene Lentilbon. and the efficient aid of modern engineering appliances have solved the problem. Dynamite has been freely employed, and the huge masses of granite and of concrete, which was at least as hard as the granite itself, have been violently dislodged and compelled to vacate a position where for so many years they had been, as it were, “fixed in their everlasting seat.” The method of blasting but the massive walls pursued by the contractor is simple, and yet most effective. A drill is planted on the top, by means of which huge wedges are sawn out of the topof the series of arches or cellules which compose the walls. One end is left uncut. At the distance of a few feet are drilled a series of holes, into which are inserted sticks of dynamite, whose explosion breaks the wedge and it drops inside—the key of the arch being thus brokeu. Recourse has likewise been bad to blasting the bottom of the reservoir, which is very hard, and lies in some places deeper than fifteen feet below the level of the streets, inside what is left of the walls shows over 200 men at work with nearly fifty carts and wagons, a blacksmith’s, wheelwright’s, and repair shop, an office, and a storehouse for dynamite. In addition are steam pumps for draining off the rainwater—the whole being a hive of industry. On each corner and at the centre of the walls on Fortieth and Forty-second streets, and at Fifth avenue pilasters were built—forty feet wide at the corners and projecting four feet from the main wall; the others, sixty feet wide and projecting six feet, and all four feet higher than the main wall, except that at Fifth avenue, which rises seven feet above the wall. Doors in the central pilasters at fortysecond and Fortieth street afforded entrance to the influent and effluent gate-chambers respectively; in that on Fifth avenue, .to a stone stairway leading to tile top of the wall. The ornamental architectural details-all of the Egyptian type—weresupplied by Ren wick.

This old distributing reservoir was constructed on what was then knowu as Murray Hill, about three miles from the City hall. That location was chosen because the ground was higher there than anywhere else in the neighborhood or to the south. To reach the proper level for the water, the reservoir was built almost altogether above ground by means of walls thirty-six to forty-nine feet high—forty-one to fifty-four feet from the rock foundation At the top the reservoir, whose capacity was 24,000,000 gallons, formed a square of 420 feet at the top of the course, and 436 at its base. The extent of ground covered was about four acres. The maximum depth of the water was thirty-eight feet. As will be seen from the accompanying illustrations, which were specially made for FIRE AND WATER, the greater part of the structure was above ground—part of it rising to a height of forty-nine feet, and part, thirty-nine feet. Itsjmain walls were hollow—the cellule principle having been adopted, as well to admit of the immediate detection of any leakage as to afford a greater base with a given amount of masonry. The outside and inside walls— four feet and six feet thick respectively, of hydraulic stone masonry—were connected every ten feet by four-foot thick cross-walls, carried up to within seventeen feet of the top. At that elevation there were built from one cross-wall to another brick arches twelve inches thick—the intervening spandrils being filled in with solid rubble masonry, and the whole covered with a six-inch course of concrete. The arches were thus brought to within ten feet of the top, from which level the outer wall was carried up alone and finished with a massive Egyptian cornice, designed by J. Renwick, an architect well known to New York in his day. Earthen embankments covered the inner wall and arches. The uniform thickness of the outer wall was four feet, with a batter of two inches the foot. The inner wall was carried up vertical, with offsets —its thickness being six feet at the base; five at the middle section; and four feet at the top. Between the inner and the outer wall was a space of fourteen feet wide at four feet below the top, and nine feet, nine inches at the spring-line of the brick arches. The thickness of the crosswalls at the bottom was four feet; at the spring-line of the arches, three feet— a six-inch offset on each side, eight feet below the spring-line, reducing the thickness. Near the bottom in all the crosswalls openings six feet by one foot and a half were left, so as to admit of the inspectors passing round the whole of the reservoir, and to forma drain for water leaking through the


inner walls.

The outside walls were of coursed rubber work, roughly hammer-dressed; the pilasters, of ashlar masonry. On the water side of the inside wall. raised four feet above the high-water level and completely covering the inner wall and brick arches connecting the cross-walls, was an embankment of puddled earth, with a slope of four horizontal to one vertical for a width of sixteen feet, and then a slope of one to one to the coping of the inclosure, whose width was seventeen feet. Rubble masonry laid in hydraulic mortar and coped with dressed stores, surmounted by an iron railing, covered its faces—its top being a course of concrete two feet thick, on which were laid flagstones.

The reservoir, whose basin was 386 feet square and forty-two feet deep, was divided into an east and west basin by a central wall of concrete, nineteen feet at the bottom, six feet eight inches at highwater level, and four at top faced with rough masonry. Each basin could serve as an Independent reservoir, if necessary, and bud a separate outlet and inlet and a blow-off gate, by which the water was emptied Into a sewer in Forty-second street l.ittle wells were inserted and a slight descent of the bottom arranged towards them from all sides, so as to draw off the water entirely from the bottom of each division for the purpose of cleaning or repairing the basins. The lower parts of the wall were protected by bands of puddled earth paved with fifteen inches of hydraulic masonry. The bottom of the reservoir was of very impervious hard pan—so hard as to call for the use of dynamite to blast it out. It was covered with puddled earth to a height of two feet, aud then with twelve inches of concrete made with hydraulic mortar. In the central wall was laid a thirty-six-inch pipe, the object of which was to keep the water at the same level in both basins It was provided with a stop-cock operated from the top of the wall. Near the north end of this dividing wall was built a waste-weir for each basin—the overflow water was discharged by a waste weir well having two falls, together fifty-two feet. The water which fell from the opening of the bridge covered the first well and filled the water bag below, which was eight feet deep. It passed through an opening and then made a second fall down the well; filled its water-bag and was carried off through a sewer, with a bottom and arch of stone, into the Fortysecond street sewer already mentioned, which is of the same profile, but ot brick throughout. Thiee lines of thirty-inch inlet and outlet pipes were arranged for—each line being provided with a stopcock, which was operated from a gateclmmber placed in the wall A gatehouse was at 1 lie south end of the division wall, where the flow of the effluent pipes could be controled by sliding gates; in front of the gatehouse was set on edge a screen of oak slabs, six inches by one inch.


In connection with this old reservoir, it may not be out of place to go back a little and remind the reader that New York’s first source of public water supply was wells, the earliest of which was sunk in 1658 or 1659 in front of the old fort, just south of the present Bowling Green. In 1677 other six wells were sunk, and so on Irom time to time—the expense being borne by the city and the property benefited. The first wells were dug in the centre of the street; afterwards, at the street corners. As the water became polluted, new wells were dug at what was then a great distance from the city, one of the most famous of which was the ’ Old Tea-water pump,” near the junction of the present Chatham and Roosevelt streets. A tea garden was established there, and it became quite a fashionable evening resort.

With the growth of the city, these wells also became contaminated, and in 1774 a reservoir was built between the present Pearl and White streets on the east side of Broad way. Into this was pumped water from the Collect by means of a Newcomen atmospheric engine. An English civil engineer was the projector and promotor ofthis system. When itwas adopted, he became an employe of the municipality and laid distribution pipesof hollow logs in the principal streets. The enterprise, however, was not a success and was abandoned. After the Revolution, various water supply projects were advanced, and at last in April. 1799, the legislature passed an act whereby the Manhattan company (now the Manhattan bank), of which Aaron Burr was the moving spirit, obtained a charter for supplying the city with water. All that was done by that company, however, was to furnish enough water to maintain the bank’s charter, and. instead of using the Bronx, as was intended, as the source of the supply, a large well, twenty-five feet fn diameter, was sunk at the corner of the present Readeand Centre streets. This reservoir—the second built in the city—was on Chambers street, the pipes being, as before, merely hollow logs. As has been already mentioned the Manhattan company, to maintain ite charter, is still pumping water from the well above referred to iuto a stone reBervoir about fifty feet in diameter, now inclosed in a building at the northwest corner of lieade and Centre streets, close to the site of Aaron Burr’s office.

The population of New York having increased, and its limits having been considerably extended, water became scarce, and several moves were made to obtain a satisfactory supply. It was not, however, till 1829, when the Manhattan company refused, because of its not being a paying speculation, to furnish water to the upper part of the now enlarged city, that a wooden reservoir for fire protection (the third built in the city) was erected at Thirteenth street and Broadway, into which the water was pumped by a steam engine. This was the beginning of New York’s public water works system The cry fo____ pure water and more of it having become pressing, in 1833 the Croton river was favorably spoken of as a source of supply, and was finally chosen as such in 1835. In 1840 tiie first storage reservoir for the Croton water was built in what is now Central Park, between Seventy-ninth and Eighty-sixth streets aud Sixth and Seventh avenues, part of whose overflow for the use of the lower part of the city, was conducted to the latedistributing reservoir, on Murray Hill, into which the water flowed for the first time in the year 1842.


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