In the heart of Midtown the New York Public Library’s main branch is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Prior to its construction in 1900 the Murray Hill Distributing Reservoir stood on the site of the library. For 19th century New Yorkers the Egyptian Revival walls of the reservoir also appeared in contemporary guidebooks, attracting tourist crowds.
Between 1842 and 1900, the four-acre reservoir held 20 million gallons of water for the growing island metropolis. Its previous sources at Collect Pond and various springs across town were running dry and becoming polluted from urbanization. Water contained at Murray Hill originated from Croton Reservoir in Westchester County.
As a Parks analyst, I’ve researched the history of hundreds of parks throughout New York, but when is a “park” not a park? When it appears in Borough Park, Rego Park, Ozone Park, and Rockaway Park– all neighborhood names that ironically do not have have large parks within their borders. Then there’s Jerome Park, a horse racecourse from a century ago that had been submerged in favor a drinking water reservoir in the northwest section of the Bronx.
As it is with the park-name neighborhoods, there are no large parks around the shore of Jerome Park Reservoir. The small green spaces that are there are separated from the water by a double fence.
In selecting the waterways featured in my book, the question on reservoirs determined how much of the city would be covered in the book and the size of the book. Over the centuries, the city’s thirst was quenched by reservoirs placed on high location from which gravity took the flow to homes and businesses. Some reservoirs were given naturalistic appearances, such as the one in Central Park. Silver Lake on Staten Island was transformed into a reservoir; Mount Prospect Reservoir was eliminated after becoming obsolete. But only one former reservoir in the city was transformed into a public swimming pool: the one in High Bridge Park.
As upper Manhattan does not have as many historical streams as its middle and downtown parts, a chapter on Highbridge Reservoir puts the neighborhood of Washington Heights on the Hidden Waters map. Continue reading
In a city as starved for land as New York, there is Central Park with its 843 acres of grid-defying naturalistic landscape. Last night, I attended a lecture given by Gerard Koeppel, author of the recently published “City on a Grid: How New York Became New York.” He spoke of Central as the antithesis of Manhattan’s rectilinear grid, with its winding paths that respect the topography, 40 uniquely designed bridges, and artificial bodies of water that appear timeless. The largest of them is the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, which takes up 106 acres in the midpoint of the park, ringed by a 1.58-mile running track.
“There’s a sense of space and solitude here unlike any other part of the park.” –Kevin Bacon. Continue reading