Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 20, Part V

By Holice and Debbie

"Are you curious to know what conjured us this fair vision to my mind? On New Year's night a fire broke out in narrow and crowded Gold Street.  It was soon extinguished, and on that occasion alone the insurance companies estimate that at least a million of dollars' worth of property was probably saved by Croton water.  Fires, once so terrific in this city, are now mere trifles.  The alarms are not more than one to six compared with former years.  This indicates that a large proportion was the work of incendiaries, who have small motives to pursue their vocation, now that the flames can be so easily extinguished.  Reflecting on these blessings, I thought how the old Greeks chiseled from their Pentelic marble. But after all, what had they so beautiful as our 'Maid of the Mist'?

High Bridge was completed in 1848.  With the completion of High Bridge, the water commissioners appointed by the governor finished their labors and the whole system came under the charge of the Croton Aqueduct Board. In 1858--4 an additional pipe of four feet diameter was laid across Manhattan Valley. In 1858 the construction of the new large reservoir in Central Park was begun, and it was completed in 1862.

In 1860-61 the large iron pipe of seven feet six and five-eighths inches diameter, and equal to the full capacity of the aqueduct, was laid on High Bridge, over which the water had therefore been passed through two thirty-six inch pipes. In 1861 another pipe of five feet diameter was laid across Manhattan Valley. In 1865-6 in pursuance of an Act of the legislature, the masonry aqueduct below Ninety-second Street was discontinued and replaced by two lines of six foot pipes laid through ninetieth Street and Eighth Avenue to the reservoir in Central Park.

In 1866 the present high service works at High Bridge were commenced and completed so as to be brought into use in 1870, since which time their capacity has been enlarged by construction of another pumping engine and the laying of additional pipes. In the same year the construction of the storage reservoir at Boyd's Corners, on the west branch of the Croton River, was begun. It was not completed to be available for use until March, 1873. By an Act of the legislature of 1870, the remaining portion of the masonry aqueduct on Manhattan Island, above the surface viz., between Ninety-second and One Hundred and Thirteenth Streets, was ordered to be replaced by underground conduits. The conduits decided upon were four lines of four-feet pipes, laid under the surface of Tenth Avenue. They were completed in 1875.

In 1872 the then commissioners of public works purchased the land for the new storage reservoir on the middle branch of the Croton river, near Carmel; but for some reason it was not put under contract until October, 1874. It was completed and water let into it in April, 1878.

The total amount expended for works, structures, aqueducts, pipes, etc., etc., connected with the water supply of the city of New York, including maintenance and repairs, from the period of its inception to the first day of January, 1879, was thirty-five million eight hundred and twenty thousand and eighty-one dollars and forty-six cents, of which sum twenty million thirty thousand two hundred and twenty-one dollars and ninety-three cents had been spent to January 1, 1865. The revenue derived from Croton water from its introduction into the city in 1842 to January 1, 1879, amounted to thirty-two million one thousand five hundred and thirty-five dollars and seventy-three cents.

But as the city continued to grow the old aqueduct became inadequate to supply the increasing population with water. For years complaints were made of the scarcity of water, just as in the olden time, and at last the legislature sanctioned the building of a new aqueduct. A charter was obtained in June, 1883, known as "An Act to provide new reservoirs, dams, and a new Aqueduct, with the appurtenances thereto, for the purpose of supplying the city of New York with an increased supply of pure and wholesome water." Long before 1883, however, the municipal authorities had looked over the ground and mapped out plans. It was deemed wisest to construct the new aqueduct wholly in a tunnel, instead of following the natural contour of the surface of the ground, and thus insure safety and economy. It was found that the Croton was a most unreliable stream. In 1880 there were two hundred and six days in which no water ran over the dam, and other days when millions of gallons ran to waste, there being no means for storing it for drier months. It was resolved to excavate the conduit, except at a few points, by tunnel in solid rock. It was proposed to construct a dam to impound water to a level of two hundred feet above tide, in order to utilize the utmost flow possible from the watershed of the Croton River. This water area would cover three thousand acres, giving s storage capacity, when filled, of thirty two thousand million gallons, the top water line of this reservoir being thirty-four feet above the lip of the present Croton Dam.

The new Aqueduct Commission, in their effort to utilize as great a flow from the basin as possible, fixed the dimensions of the new Aqueduct as equivalent to a circle of fourteen feet in diameter, or a discharge of three hundred and twenty-four million gallons daily. This, together with the old Aqueduct, will give a supply of four hundred million gallons daily, to feed which, in a dry year, such as 1880, will require nearly seventy thousand million gallons of stored water in the Croton Basin.

The new Aqueduct begins near the present Croton Dam, in a tunnel of a horseshoe section, within a brick lining, which will extend throughout from end to end. The excavation is at times necessarily in excess of the required dimensions, and slips may extend high into the roof, and at other places heavy timbering is required. The normal section taken out per running foot is two hundred and four cubic feet. The capacity of the finished tunnel is preserved from the starting point until the New York City boundary is reached. It was expected at this point that for the annexed district a distributing reservoir would be built, which would divert a portion of the flow, and hence the flow below this point towards new York would be but two hundred and fifty million galls daily; the finished diameter of the tunnel thence was reduced to a circle of twelve feet three inches in diameter.

This portion of the tunnel for a length of six and one-half miles, owing to a falling away of the surface, is depressed, and, being under pressure, will be reduced in size and more heavily lined with masonry. It includes the section under the Harlem River, which, owing to the character of the rock, is carried one hundred and sixty feet below the tide level; and the tunnel here, in addition to the heavy brick lining, will also be secured by an interior lining of cast iron two inches in thickness, the section of the tunnel below the river being ten and one-half feet in diameter. On the south side of the Harlem River the tunnel will resume its dimensions of twelve feet three inches, and terminate in a gate house at One Hundred and Thirty-fifth Street. Thence iron pipes will convey the water to Central Park reservoir.

The entire length of the tunnel to one Hundred and Thirty-fifth Street will be thirty and three-quarter miles, being over five miles less than the old aqueduct between the same points. It will be worked through thirty-four shafts and ten open portals, and the progress may be estimated as thirty-two feet for ward per week at each heading. There are about twenty miles of tunnel at present excavated, and about three miles of brick lining completed.

The construction of this Aqueduct will cost from fifteen to twenty million dollars. The contract for excavation amounted to over twelve million dollars. No less than six extensive gate chambers will be required for the purpose of emptying portions of the Aqueduct, if it should be found necessary, and for regulating the flow of water from the Storage Reservoir into the city; one of these, near the Croton Dam, is a most intricate structure, calculated to meet the wants of a most unprecedented water service, and will alone cost some five hundred thousand dollars.

Surveys had been made for shallow receptacles, but no sites for dams for over one hundred square miles of the basin could be found, except by means of the Quaker Bridge Dam. To take advantage of the entire drainage of the basin, many declared it absolutely necessary that the dam should be built four miles below the present dam. Extensive borings indicate solid rock for the foundation about ninety feet below the bed of the river. The dam proper being one hundred and seventy-eight feel high above this level, makes the total height from the rock about two hundred and seventy feet. The width of the gorge at the bottom is four hundred feet, and the top of the dam is one thousand four hundred feet in length, to be occupied by a river. No water will flow over the dam itself; all freshets and waste will pass by an ample spill-way cut in the rock to the south and west of the dam. There will be about five hundred thousand cubic yards of stone masonry laid in hydraulic cement, and it is estimated to cost between four and five million, and require a little less than five years to build.

So far the work has progressed with great loss of life and injury to limb. Three shifts of workmen occur in twenty-four hours, and the work is continued night and day. the shafts range in depth from over sixty to three hundred and fifty feet. The energy of those in charge has been wonderful, and the labor-saving expedients admirable. As a whole the undertaking has been managed with consummate skill.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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