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Do You Remember?

"High Bridge Water Tower"

(Reprinted from the Bronx Times Reporter July 20, 2006)

The American Water Works Association designated the High Bridge Water Tower a landmark as it was the last surviving water tower in the Croton system.  The dedication ceremony took place on August 14, 1969.

 

Among the recent items in the news was the construction workers strike that would have created quite a problem at ground zero. It would have also adversely effected the ongoing construction of the water tunnel. Deep beneath the surface of the ground workers are boring through solid rock with huge cutters to extend our water tunnel system. Water Tunnel #3 is over 500 feet below the Bronx surface and transports about two billion gallons of water per day to New York City.

Supplying such a metropolis with water, both for drinking and fire fighting, has long been a problem. Aaron Burr was among the first to form a company to solve this problem and numerous others have followed until finally the New York Common Council approved a $2.5 million dollar plan in 1834 for the creation of the Croton Aqueduct. Water was admitted into the aqueduct on June 22, 1842 and four people boarded “The Croton Maid” for the 33 mile underground journey through the pipeline to High Bridge. They arrived the following day. The bridge was still not totally complete but the construction was sufficient to carry the necessary piping. The water service to New York City was finally initiated on October 14, 1842 and a grand celebration ensued.

High Bridge was completed the following month and soon became a popular haven for artists, photographers and others who wished to study this beautiful bridge with its fifteen huge stone arches. Some of these arches were later removed to better maintain traffic on the Harlem River. The bridge was such a marvel that it actually became a destination. It was not open to vehicular traffic but the pedestrian walkway afforded spectacular views of the river and the surrounding countryside. The walkway has, unfortunately, since been closed.

New piping was installed over High Bridge in 1863 and it has been updated many times since. The problem at that time was low water pressure. There was a need for a pumping station and thus plans were drawn up for the High Bridge Water Tower in 1866 and it was completed in 1872. The tower is almost 200 feet tall and held a 32 foot high water tank that was six feet in diameter. It served the purpose for a few years but soon additional towers were needed. This is the only one still standing and it has become a landmark. The 47,000 gallon tank was removed but the spiral staircase that led to the tank is still there as is the smaller staircase that leads to the top of the tower. It is accessed from 174th Street and Amsterdam Avenue and affords a marvelous view of the Bronx. Our water system is now gravity fed from a series of reservoirs but the landmark water tower still stands as a reminder of the past efforts to keep our city awash in clean water.

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