There were many plans for supplying the city of New York with fresh water, previous to the adoption of the Croton Aqueduct scheme, but we have not the space to present them here. They were all inadequate to the necessities of the city, and all in turn were thrown aside. The most important was one for obtaining the water supply from the Bronx River. It was believed that a daily supply of 3,000,000 gallons could be obtained from this stream, but nothing was done in the matter, and it was not until the prevalence of Asiatic Cholera in 1832 had impressed upon the people the necessity of a supply of pure water, nor until the great fire of 1837 had convinced them that they must have an abundance of water, that the scheme for supplying the city from the sources of the Croton River was definitely resolved upon. De Witt Clinton gave his powerful support to the scheme, and the citizens at the municipal elections expressed themselves unqualifiedly in favor of a full supply of fresh water. It was decided to obtain the supply from the Croton River, and in May, 1837, the work on the aqueduct which was to convey it to the city was actually begun, and on the 4th of July, 1842, the Croton water was distributed through the city.
The first step was to throw a massive dam across the Croton River, by means of which the Croton Lake was formed, the water being raised to a depth of forty feet by the obstruction. From this dam an aqueduct, constructed of brick, stone, and cement, conveys the water to the city, a distance of nearly forty miles. It is arched above and below, and is seven and a half feet wide, and eight and a half feet high, with an inclination of thirteen inches to the mile. It rests on the ground for a portion of its course, and in other parts is supported by a series of stone arches. It crosses twenty-five streams in Westchester County, besides numerous brooks, which flow under it through culverts. It is conveyed across the Harlem River by means of the High Bridge. The water flows through vast iron pipes, which rest upon the bridge. The bridge is a magnificent stone structure, 1450 feet long, with fifteen arches, the highest of which is one hundred feet above high water mark. Its great height prevents it from interfering with the navigation of the stream. The High Bridge is one of the principal resorts in the suburbs of New York. The structure itself is well worth seeing, and the scenery is famed for its surpassing loveliness.
There are two large reservoirs at the city end of the bridge, the “Storage Reservoir,” and the “High Service,” the latter of which is designed for supplying the elevated section of Washington Heights. From here to the distributing reservoirs in the Central Park, which have already been described, the distance is two and a quarter miles. The distributing reservoir for the principal part of the city is on Fifth Avenue, between Fortieth and Forty-second streets. It covers about four acres of ground, and is built of granite. It is forty feet above the street, is divided into two parts, and will hold 20,000,000 gallons of water. It is exactly forty-one miles from the Croton Lake.
The daily flow of water through the aqueduct is 60,000,000 gallons, its full capacity. The reservoirs hold over 2,000,000,000 gallons, or about fifteen days, supply. Nearly four hundred miles of main pipes distribute the water through the city, and supply it to 67,000 dwelling houses and stores, 1624 manufactories, 290 hospitals, prisons, schools, and public buildings, 307 churches, and 14 markets. There are 72 drinking hydrants, and a number of ornamental fountains in the city. The lakes and fountains in the Central Park are all formed by the Croton water, which is also supplied to the State Prison at Sing Sing, and the Institutions on Blackwell’s, Randall’s, and Ward’s islands. The Croton River is one of the purest streams in the world. The water is bright and sparkling, and there is no sediment perceptible to the naked eye. Actual analysis has shown that the amount of impurity during an entire summer was but 4.45 grains in a gallon, or 7.63 parts in 100,000 parts.
The original cost of the aqueduct and reservoirs was about $9,000,000. Since then the increased supply, the new reservoirs, pipes, etc., have made the total amount upward of $40,000,000. The total receipts from the water tax since the opening of the aqueduct have amounted to about $22,000,000. The tax at present amounts to about $1,232,000 annually.