We first learned about The Old Croton Aqueduct Historic State Park on the MTA’s one day getaways section. It’s no longer listed on their website. It spans from Croton Dam in Westchester County and use to go all the way down to the NY Public Library on 42nd Street.
The Old Croton trail links towns and historic sites along the Hudson Valley. In Westchester, it spans 26 miles from the Croton Gorge County Park to the Yonkers-NYC line.
As NYC grew so did the need for clean water. The sources of water in Manhattan were inadequate and wells polluted. In 1837, work was started on the Croton Aqueduct and and was mainly built by Irish immigrants. It’s gravity fed and drops 13 inches per mile. It was a challenge to do this through varying terrain. We’ve walked a lot of it. I’m so impressed with the workmanship and the history of the project. This was built in the times when washing hands before surgery wasn’t the norm.
You can read more about The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail here. They also have free maps and one you can buy. We bought one, it’s more detailed. We use their maps and google maps on our phones a lot. The trail is marked mostly but sometimes the trail is built over and it’s gets a little confusing and you may have to walk along the side of roads.
On June 22, 1842, water started to flow. It took 22 hours of gravity fed water to flow 41 miles to 42nd street in Manhattan. This greatly improved conditions for everyone. Wealthy New Yorkers installed running water in their homes and built baths. For the masses, public bath houses were built. This led to a decline in people using city wells which led to cellars being flooded as the water table rose. To fix that problem in 1852 construction started on our sewer system.
Even though the Old Croton Aqueduct was quite the project in it’s day, the city soon outgrew that water source. In 1885, construction began on the New Croton Aqueduct a few miles east.
Underneath the Old Croton Trail is the tunnel where water flowed. It amazes me each time we’re on it. As I’m walking I imagine the construction, the laborers, and all that it took to make this project happen.
In Manhattan, the reservoir where the water was disbursed was at 42nd street. The NY Public Library stands there today. Before it hit 42nd street, the water was stored in the center of Manhattan in an area now known as the Great Lawn of Central Park. Belvedere Castle was built on natural bedrock to overlook of Manhattan’s water supply.
The aqueduct remained in use until 1955. The town of Ossining receives its water supply from the northernmost area. It reopened in 1987.
This trail is great. It is accessible by public transport by taking Metro North. Towns, parks (like Untermyer Gardens), historic mansions, a Hudson Valley view, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, an occasional toilet are found along the way (at gas stations and public parks) – can’t ask for anything more.