Bronx River Bike Tour

Sunday, April 24, 2011
& Sunday, June 12, 2011
Soundview Park

The New York and Harlem Railroad was constructedbetween 1832 and 1852. Cornelius Vanderbilt obtained control of the Hudson River Railroad in 1864, soon after he bought the parallel New York and Harlem Railroad. (Wiki)

The railroad paved the way for the Bronx River valley to become an industrial corridor. During this time, people often used the river for waste disposal. By the end of the nineteenth century the Bronx River had degenerated into what the Bronx Valley Sewer Commission called an “open sewer” in 1896.

The Bronx had many fresh water streams and rivers flowing through it at one point in addition to the Bronx River, Tibbet’s Brook, Westchester Creek and the Hutchinson River (Hall page 44). The Bronx River is the only one left the other have been covered over.

The Need for a Reliable Source of Clean Drinking Water

In 1842 the city’s population was 300,000 and per capita usage was 27 gallons a day. Keep in mind this was pre-indoor plumbing. Indoor plumbing became more common in the 1860’s after the civil war. Also these were the days of steam engines a typical factory could use several thousand gallons of water a day.
(Source: ??? )

“The population of Manhattan was ballooning, from 1.1 million in 1880 to 1.4 million in 1890. Water consumption rose from 92 mgd in 1880 (about 83 gd per capita) to 145 mgd in 1890.” (Liquid Assets page 53) This works out to be 103 gallons per day per capita!! For comparison today the average person uses about 160 gd.

The need for water to extinguish fires and combat the spread of disease from water born pathogens like Cholera, increased the need for a reliable clean municipal water system.

In 1798, Dr. Joseph Browne suggests building a small dam across the Bronx River below Williamsbridge for a reservoir. It didn’t happen.

1824 Canvass White, an engineer who worked on the Eerie canal and invented a new kind of hydraulic cement studied it again and recommended that it be tapped but it was not carried out.

(Bone page 70) and (“The Water-Supply of the City of New York. 1658-1895” by Edward Wegmann)

In 1874 NYC annexed the Westchester towns of West Farms, Morrisania, and Kingsbridge which all became parts of the Bronx so, its 50,000 residents, it needed more water.

1879 Commissioner of Public Works Allan Campbell proposed tapping the Bronx River again. This time it stuck.

In 1884 the Old Kensico Dam was built to build a reservoir with Bronx River water using earth and stone and was 45 feet high (verified) and about 100 feet across (estimate). It’s original name was Bronx River Reservoir. The reservoir was 1.5 miles long and 0.5 miles wide, and held 1.6 billion gallons (the Central Park Reservoir holds 1 billion gallons). Water was delivered from it to the Williamsbridge Reservoir via a 4-foot diameter cast iron pipe and supplied up to 20 million gallons per day.

The Williamsbridge Reservoir was completed and operational in 1889 and held 150 million gallons of water. It was made of stone, the very same stone used for the keepers house and was 13 acres and 40 feet deep.

The reservoir was taken off line in 1919 as it was no longer needed because the New Croton Aqueduct had been completed in 1893 and the Catskill system in 1917. It was turned into a park in 1937 by Robert Moses.

The Keeper’s House, located at the northeast end of the reservoir, was constructed in 1889-90 gray-tan gneiss with smooth, speckled-gray granite trim. . It was abandoned by the city when the reservoir was no longer needed in 1919. Plans were made in the 1930s to convert it to a branch library. However, Dr. Isaac H. Barkey, a physicist and engineer, and his wife Dorothy, interested in purchasing the house, convinced the city to build a new library nearby and acquired the property in 1946. After five decades in residence, the Barkeys sold the house in 1998 to the Mosholu Preservation Corporation whose offices are contained within.

“The Keepers House is the only surviving building in New York City associated with the Bronx and Byram Rivers water supply system.” LPC, 2000

The Bronx River System was considered ill conceived because the New Croton System came on line in 1893, shortly after the Bronx System went online in 1889. The new Croton system supplied 300 mgd as compared to 20 mgd. It was considered a graft- project for Boss Tweed’s friends.

Old Croton 1837-1843 95 mgd
Bronx River 1880-1885 20 mgd
New Croton System 1884-1893 300 mgd