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.