New York’s Old Wood Pipes.
LAST week workmen were excavating on Water street in this city for the purpose of laying gas mains, resurrected a line of old cedar water pipes that have lain there undisturbed and well preserved for more than ninety years. The diggers have followed the line of ancient pipes from Fulton street to below Maiden lane. Similar water mains have been found in Pine street, and two years ago some lengths were uncovered in Park Row, near the Post Office,when digging wasbeing done in the construction of the cable road. At that time some little comment was made on the discovery.
Most of these pipes are made from red cedar logs varying from eight to twelve feet in length and from ten to fourteen inches in diameter, and have a three inch channel through the centre. Each length is pointed at one end so as to be driven into the opening at the square end of the next piece, which at that end is made large enough to admit of the point. In this manner they were strung along the streets.
Some of the pipes, of pine and other less serviceable woods than cedar, have been found and always in a bad state of preservation, while the cedar ones are apparently as sound as they were the day the trench received them. It may be that the pine ones were “ run in” by a dishonest contractor, and quickly covered out of sight, for there were dishonest contractors even in those days.
The array of old cedar pipes strung along the sidewalks is attracting a great deal of attention, and causing much wonder and comment. Relic hunters are carrying off whole lengths, and sections, and chips to preserve in memory of New York’s first water system. Some are cutting pieces into canes, others are constructing frames from sections, and still othersare carving chains and other toys. In this way most of the pipes are likely to be removed without expense to the gas pipe contractors.
There have been other finds connected with the unearthing of this old water system, perhaps more singular than the pipes. One of these is the Watergate, now atNo. 135 Maiden lane. This gate is an oval piece of flat iron, about eighteen inches long and six inches wide, squared at one end, where it is pierced with a right angled opening an inch in diameter. The gate was found at Water street and Maiden lane, inserted in a slot in one of the pipes, and so adjusted as to close the waterway in the pipe when pushed tothe bottom of the slot. It undoubtedly originally had a handle fastened in the square opening, by means of which it was operated),
Not far from the gate was found a lead connection, being a piece of pipe five inches long, with a beveled end for driving it in a hole made for it in the main. The other end shows where the pipe has been roughly broken off.
The piece of lead pipe is unique in its construction from the standpoint of a plumber of to-day, as it’ is quite different from anything now in use. It was made before lead pipe was manufactured by machinery, and is much heavier and stronger, as was made necessary by the old method of manufacture.
The centre from which the different discovered lines of wooden pipe radiate is at the corner of Centre and Duane streets, where stands the reservoir that supplied’them with water. From this point the pipes were evidently extended up and down Centre street, along Park row, Pine and Water streets, with branches running from these mains in both directions.
The depths at which these pipes have been found varies from three to five feet. The original depths have undoubtedly been much changed by subsequent work done on the surface of the streets. And places where, a hundred years ago, the land was veiy low, the raising of the grades has buried the pipes beyond probable reach, unless an underground road should be constructed on their line.
1 he supply for these pipes came from a spring, whose water . was pumped into a circular tower forty-five feet in height, where it gained its head to flow through the mains.
This tower is standing to-day with its tank full of water, and is in as good a state of preservation as it was on the day it was completed. Its construction is a credit to its builders, and worthy of examination by the present day engineer.
Though standing at the corner of. Centre and-Duane streets, it is not visible to passers by, and many persons, who for years have lived in the immediate neighborhood do not know of its existence. The reason for this is that the reservoir is entirelycovered by the building known as No. 25 Centre street. This building was built around and over the tower before the middle of the century.
The substructure of the tower, which stands immediately on the underground foundation, is plainly to be seen in the basement of No. 25 Centre street. This substructure consists of a circular stone wall more than twenty feet thick and about forty feet in diameter. It is pierced with two openings, by means of which its interior can be reached. Here is a central column of stone, about twenty feet in diameter, and eight other stone square columns arranged as buttresses against the enclosing circular wall. This wall and these columns support the tank or reservoir above.
The section above this basement section, on a level with the street is also of stone, and, like the substructure, is well laid with mo.tar that is harder than the stone itself. Above this stone portion of the tower, and extending about twenty feet higher, is the reservoir proper—a curious structure of iron, being a cylinder made of curved iron plates, one inch thick and about two feet square. The four edges of these plates are turned at a right angle, and the plates are bolted together through these turned edges, the joints being leaded. Over the joints, between each lateralseries of plates, there is an iron band, extending around the tank and firmly keyed in place. ,
This peculiar iron work was made in England, and is very different from the heavy sheet iron riveted work’that is now done, and which costs only a small fraction of what must have been paid for this old cylinder.
This old style system of water supply, which is now only of archieo.logical interest, w-as one of the links in the chain that led from the first effort at a public water supply to the present gigantic system. The first attempt was a public well in front of the old fort at the foot of Broadway. ‘Phis well was dug about 1658, and remained the only source of water supply until 1677, when numerous other wells were constructed. These wells increased in number from year to year, and in 1750 pumps were provided and operated at the public expense.
In 1774 there was quite a pretentious move to establish an extended uniform system of water supply, but the coming of the war of the Revolution defeated the project.
Then came the system now brought to public attention by the unearthing of the old cedar pipes, which also call to mind Aaron Burr, who was the moving and acting spirit in the organization of the Manhattan Company that laid them.
It was in 1799, when Burr was a member of the State Assembly. that he obtained a charter for the Manhattan Company, whose ostensible purpose was to supply New York city with water,,but whose real purpose, as history shows, was the establishment of a bank. The amount of capital to be raised was $2,000,000, and the charter provided that any money not required in providing the water system could be invested in any Business not unlawful. The surplus capital was used to establish the Manhattan Bank, which is now in existence and owns the reservoir site.
The reservoir was built, the pipes were laid, the water was pumped and is being pumped to-day, apparently for no special use of the water, but to keep running some of the provisions of the old charter.