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Croton Aqueduct State Park

During the 1830s New York City was in dire need of a fresh water supply to combat the steady rise of disease and to fight numerous fires that often engulfed large tracts of businesses and homes. After numerous proposals and an abandoned plan two years into its production, construction of an unprecedented magnitude began in 1837 under the expertise of John Bloomfield Jervis. The proposed plan called for a 41 mile aqueduct and dam to be built in order to run water from the Croton River to New York City. Three to four thousand workers, mostly Irish immigrants earning up to $1.00 per day, completed the masonry marvel in just five years. In 1842 water flowed into above ground reservoirs located at the present sites of the New York Public Library and the Great Lawn of Central Park. Throngs of people attended the formal celebration held on October 14th and celebrated with “Croton cocktails” – a mix of Croton water and lemonade.

This 19th century architectural achievement cost New York City approximately 13 million dollars and was believed able to provide New Yorkers with fresh water for centuries to come. The population spiraled upward at a dizzying rate, however, and the Croton Aqueduct, which was capable of carrying 100 million gallons per day, could no longer meet New York City’s needs by the early 1880s. Construction of the New Croton Aqueduct began in 1885 and water began to flow by 1890. Although no longer the sole supplier of fresh water, the Old Croton Aqueduct continued to provide water to New York City until 1965.

In 1968, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation purchased 26.2 miles of the original 41 mile aqueduct from New York City. Presently, Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park is a linear park which runs from Van Cortlandt Park at the Bronx County/City of Yonkers border to the Croton Dam in Cortlandt. In 1987 a section was reopened to supply the Town of Ossining and in 1992 the Old Croton Aqueduct was awarded National Historic Landmark Status. The scenic path over the underground aqueduct winds through urban centers and small communities. It passes near numerous historic sites, preserves, a museum highlighting the construction of the Aqueduct, and many homes. The Aqueduct’s grassy ceiling provides abundant recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. While primarily for walking and running, parts of the trail are suitable for horseback riding, biking (except during “mud season”), bird watching, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing.

The appeal of the trail lies in the great diversity of scenes it traverses. Thus, a walk on the Aqueduct can take you not only through stretches of leafy green space but also past backyards and local parks, "Main Street" village centres, great and small historic sites, trickling rivulets and grand Hudson views. It is open to pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, cross-country skiers and equestrians. Photographers, bird watchers,naturalists and historians enjoy it as well. Cyclists are requested to avoid the trail after heavy rains and during the “mud season.”

Brief History of the Aqueduct

The Croton Aqueduct is a masonry tunnel that brought New York City its first supply of clean, plentiful water, and thus contributed to its development as a great metropolis. The Aqueduct was built in response to the fires and epidemics that repeatedly devastated New York City in the late 1700s and early 1800s, owing in part to its inadequate water supply and contaminated wells.

Construction began in 1837 and the first Croton water entered the Aqueduct on June 22, 1842. The first chief engineer of the Aqueduct was succeeded by John B. Jervis of Rome, New York. The Aqueduct carried water 41 miles from the Old Croton Dam in Westchester County, north of New York City, to two reservoirs in Manhattan - on the present sites of the Great Lawn in Central Park and the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue from where it was distributed.

Its capacity was soon exceeded by the demands of a spiraling population growth to which it actually contributed. Although the Croton Aqueduct was in use until 1955, it was superseded by the New Croton Aqueduct, triple the size, laid further inland, and tunneled deep underground. The New Croton Aqueduct was started in 1885 and went into service in 1890. It currently supplies about ten percent of New York City's water.

Now a National Historic Landmark, the Aqueduct is considered one of the great engineering achievements of the 19th century. The tunnel is an elliptical tube 8.5 feet high by 7.5 feet wide. It is brick-lined and represents an early use of hydraulic cement for most of its length. The outer walls are of hammered stone.

Designed on principles dating from Roman times, the tunnel is gravity fed for its entire length, dropping gently 13 inches per mile. To maintain this steady gradient through a varied terrain, its builders had to cut the conduit into hillsides, set it level on the ground, tunnel through rock, and carry it over valleys and streams on massive stone and earth embankments and across arched bridges. Typically, it is partly buried, with a telltale mound encasing it.

Today, the Croton System supplies less than fifteen percent of New York City's water, but its reservoirs and tunnels also deliver water from the Catskill and Delaware Systems. Yet, even with a 550 billion gallon water system, New York City is not immune to drought.

Old Croton Trailway State Historic Park and Trail

For more than 150 years, the trail atop the Old Croton Aqueduct has linked communities and a wealth of historic sites along the lower Hudson River. Locals will often say,"Let's go for a walk along the Aqueduct," referring to the footpath atop the masonry water tunnel. Both the trail and the tunnel (also known as the "tube") comprise the Old Croton Trailway State Historic Park. (Until 1999, the park was named Old Croton Trailway State Park.)

The park was created in 1968 and encompasses the northernmost 26 miles of the Aqueduct and its right-of-way, from Croton Gorge County Park to the Yonkers-New York City line. It lies wholly within Westchester County. It is under the jurisdiction of the Taconic Region of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The appeal of the trail lies in the great diversity of scenes it traverses. Thus, a walk on the Aqueduct can take you not only through stretches of leafy green space but also past backyards and local parks, "Main Street" village centres, great and small historic sites, trickling rivulets and grand Hudson views. It is open to pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, cross-country skiers and equestrians. Photographers, bird watchers,naturalists and historians enjoy it as well. Cyclists are requested to avoid the trail after heavy rains and during the “mud season.”

Visiting Corton Aqueduct State Park

Hours:
The park is open year round from sunrise to sunset. Hourly visits to the Ossining weir chamber and aqueduct tunnel are conducted early in June and October. Reservations must be made two weeks in advance by contacting the Site Manager. Group tours may also be arranged at other times by appointment.

Getting There:

  • Train - Use MetroNorth Railroad's Hudson Line with service to & from Grand Central terminal, in New York City. The Aqueduct trail is within a half-mile walk uphill & eastward from most of the stations.
  • Auto - Parking is available in municipal parking lots, MetroNorth parking lots (some have free parking) and along many streets. Motorists should obey local parking regulations.
  • Bus - The trail is accessible from several bus routes of the Westchester County Beeline bus service - along Route 9/Broadway and other major roads serving village centers.
Specifics on visiting the Croton Aqueduct State Park were correct at time of publication. We would suggest that you confirm dates and times prior to your visit.
 
 
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