Underexposed | 4

Central Park Reservoir, southwest corner, Central Park, 2012. Copyright Stanley Greenberg 

Between 1810 and 1840, New York City’s population more than tripled. To meet an insatiable demand for water, engineers looked upstate to the Croton River. In 1842 (175 years ago), the city completed a 41-mile long stone aqueduct to move water from Westchester to the tip of Manhattan Island via gravity. The first stop was the receiving reservoir, with a capacity of 180 million gallons, between 79th and 86th Streets in what was soon to become Central Park.

The park’s designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, sought to integrate environment and infrastructure, and the fortress-like embankments of the reservoir cramped their style. The Croton Aqueduct Department conceded in 1862 and built a more picturesque receiving reservoir alongside; a grove of trees was artfully planted to distract from its predecessor. The original reservoir was decommissioned, drained, and eventually filled in 1936 to create the Great Lawn. Perhaps forgotten, but not all is gone. The northeast edge of the original structure can still be found, running along the east end of the Central Park Police Precinct at 85th Street Transverse. More easily missed are the remains of the reservoir’s western wall northwest of the Delacorte Theater by Turtle Pond. A relatively new post marks the spot.

Central Park Reservoir, north wall, Central Park, 2012. Copyright Stanley Greenberg
Central Park Reservoir, north wall, Central Park, 2012. Copyright Stanley Greenberg

Stanley Greenberg is the author of Time Machines (2011), Under Construction (2010),  Waterworks: A Photographic Journey Through New York’s Hidden Water System (2003), and Invisible New York: The Hidden Infrastructure of the City (1998). Greenberg was born in Brooklyn, New York, and lives there now.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.



Photographer Stanley Greenberg’s monthly dispatches trace the myriad paths of the city’s infrastructural networks in great breadth and close detail.