The reservoir's historic structures & ecosystems are an opportunity to create a unique environmental education center for our children & their future.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Open House New York reservoir tours

In collaboration with NYC H2O, this year's Open House New York will feature tours of the reservoir. From their website:

Ridgewood Reservoir

Saturday, October 17: 10:00 am
Sunday, October 18: 10:00 am
Architect: City of Brooklyn, ca. 1850s.
Additional: NYC H2O

While the Central Park Reservoir was built in the 1850’s to supply the growing City of New York, the Ridgewood Reservoir was built to supply the rapidly expanding City of Brooklyn. It was supplied by reservoirs and wells further east on Long Island and connected via an aqueduct that ran under Conduit Avenue. The reservoir was made obsolete by the activation of the Delaware Aqueduct in 1955 and was drained in the 1980’s. Since that time proposals to develop the old reservoir basins were never realized. All the while nature worked its magic and grew a forest which is now a refuge to 200 species of birds.

Tour guides will include: Matt Malina, the Director and Founder of NYC H2O; Jonathan Turer, the School Program Manager for NYC H2O; Ken Chaya, an avid urban naturalist, educator, and designer and co-creator of the tree map of Central Park, "Central Park Entire;"; Rob Jett, the blogger behind "The City Birder", New York City's longest running birding blog; and Adam J Schwartz, an educator and NYC H2O advisor.

Saturday: Reserve Tickets
Sunday: Reserve Tickets

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Special tour

Nature and history tour of the Ridgewood Reservoir

On Sunday, April 26, Newtown Historical Society will be offering a special nature and history tour of the Ridgewood Reservoir starting at 9am in the main parking lot on Vermont Place at Highland Park. We will view the historic structures in the recently renovated park, observe the natural world and discuss its future.

You can take public transportation to Highland Park. The B13 bus stops along Cypress Hills Street and the Q56 stops along Jamaica Avenue. The Cleveland Street stop on the J train is 3 blocks from the park. Or, you can drive or bike.

This tour will be led by special guest Rob Jett, author of The City Birder.

This tour is 100% FREE and will be a great experience for children and adults alike. For more info or to RSVP, write to or call 718-366-3715.

You may wish to bring binoculars and cameras.

Thanks, and we look forward to seeing you on the 26th. Please watch the video below for more information about the historical and environmental importance of the Ridgewood Reservoir.

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Bit of History

The Times Newsweekly published this really nice historic retrospective of the reservoir:

The Reservoir Delivered More Than Just Water

Last week we looked at how our neighborhood’s earliest settlers found the water they needed to live. This week, we take a look at the Ridgewood Reservoir, the heart of Brooklyn’s first reliable water system, which also lent its name to the community that grew nearby.

The Ridgewood Reservoir was developed on 105 acres of farmland purchased from Isaac Snedeker located near Cypress Hills Cemetery, about a quartermile west of Fresh Pond Road (now Cypress Hills Street) and south of Cypress Avenue.

About 48 acres of the Snedeker Farm formed a natural basin and rose about 150’ above sea level. In fact, the reservoir’s location is at one of the highest points on geographic Long Island, atop a moraine formed by Ice Age glaciers eons ago.

Location of the reservoir was important, as the gravity-fed system allowed water to flow naturally from the high reservoir down through the distribution system running below Brooklyn streets. At its peak, the reservoir would hold 150 million gallons of water, providing enough water to Brooklyn residents to last them at least 10 days.

A smaller, secondary reservoir holding about 20 million gallons was built in Flatbush Hills, about 175 feet above sea level.

The plan include constructing an iron pipeline 36 inches in diameter and five miles long connecting the Ridgewood Reservoir to the distribution system; the pipe generally ran along Cypress Avenue to Vermont Avenue, then proceeded further into Brooklyn.

A strip of land leading south from the main reservoir to Elderts Lane was acquired to install a 36- inch diameter, 3,400’-long iron-clad force tube pumping water into the reservoir from a long, covered aqueduct (or conduit) running along what eventually became Rockaway Boulevard.

Looking on a map of Brooklyn and Queens today, we see constant reminders of the Ridgewood Reservoir system, including Force Tube Avenue in Cypress Hills, Conduit Avenue through Brooklyn and Queens and Aqueduct Racetrack.

The covered aqueduct/conduit ran through south Queens and was connected to pumping stations developed near the spring-fed Baisley Pond, about six miles east of the reservoir. The aqueduct continued along what would later become Sunrise Highway into present-day Nassau County and connect to another water source for the reservoir: the Hempstead Lakes at present-day Hempstead Lake State Park.

The four ponds at Baisley and Hempstead were capable of producing 25 million gallons of water a day. The conduit would later terminate at a water source near the Suffolk County town of Wyandanch, which was then called “Ridgewood.”

Within two years of the project’s start, developer H.S. Wells and Company guaranteed, 10 million gallons of water would be delivered to Brooklyn per day; an additional 10 million gallons per day would be delivered within three years of the project’s beginning.

The water works, at full capacity, were capable of delivering 40 million gallons per day with all four steam engines and pumps installed at the main reservoir, and when the aqueduct system was expanded further east on Long Island to tap additional supplies of water.

Breaking ground

The formal ground-breaking for the Ridgewood Reservoir took place on July 31, 1856. The Common Council of Brooklyn arranged for 30 horse-drawn stage coaches to leave Brooklyn City Hall downtown between 2:30 and 3 p.m. to journey to the reservoir site.

The ceremony was to start at about 4 p.m. A platform had been built and draped with American flags. Stewart’s Brass Band entertained the crowd with patriotic songs before the ceremony began.

Among the estimated 1,000 people in attendance was Jacob Denton, who owned a farm on the east side of Fresh Pond Road that later became part of Mount Carmel Cemetery, and his son, William.

Brooklyn Mayor George Hall was among the featured speakers; he would use a special shovel to turn the first dirt.

Renaming the area

The groundbreaking was featured on the front of the following day’s issue of The New York Times. They stated that from now on the site would be called “Ridge Wood” and not Cypress Hills. It did not state the authority for this name, but presumably the directors of the Nassau Water Company had so decided.

Prior to this date, none of the maps of the area show the name Ridgewood in use. However, subsequent to the groundbreaking, the maps show the site as the Ridgewood Reservoir.

The June 28, 1858 issue of the Long Island Democrat followed suit in one of its stories: “The 4th of July at Ridgewood, Long Island: This place formerly known as South Williamsburgh was lately christened Ridgewood. It is located on the Cypress Hills macadamized road about three miles from Peck Ferry Slip, near the Ridgewood Reservoir of the Brooklyn Water Works, and in the immediate vicinity of the Cemetery of the Evergreens.”

But today, the Ridgewood Reservoir is actually located in Glendale. Over the years, as Ridgewood and Glendale became developed, the Long Island Rail Road’s Bay Ridge branch became part of the boundary separating the neighborhoods.

Land north and west of the Bay Ridge line is in Ridgewood; and areas south and east of the line—including the reservoir—is considered Glendale.

Drinking ‘Ridgewoods’

Although H.S. Wells and Company had guaranteed to deliver 10 million gallons of water per day within two years, as it developed, they were substantially late, as work would not wrap up until 3 1/2 years after it started.

Finally, on Apr. 28, 1859, the City of Brooklyn held a five-mile long parade to celebrate the completion of the initial stage of the water works. To prevent any anticipated violence, 500 police officers were hired to supplement the Brooklyn Police Force, but as it happened, they were not needed.

The parade started at the corner of Myrtle and Bedford avenues and proceeded north along Bedford Avenue through Williamsburgh.

Major Gen. H.B. Duryea, who was head of the Fifth Brigade, led the parade. The Fifth Brigade was made up of the 13th, 14th, 17th and 72nd Regiments. New York Gov. Edwin Denison Morgan also participated, as did the common council of Brooklyn.

Because pure water meant that decent ice could be made, about 100 icemen marched in the parade, carrying their ice tongs.

When the first water from Ridgewood Reservoir flowed through the mains of the City of Brooklyn on Apr. 28, 1859, the residents tasting the good water called their drinks “Ridgewoods.”

Although the celebration took place in April 1859, it was not until the following year, Jan. 20, 1860, that the water works became fully operational.

Recycling the reservoir

For nearly 100 years, the Ridgewood Reservoir provided Brooklyn residents with all the water they needed to drink, cook, clean and bathe. It would outlive the City of Brooklyn itself, which was incorporated into Greater New York City in 1898.

After New York City connected its water system— which supplies water from reservoirs upstate—to Brooklyn, the Ridgewood Reservoir became redundant. It was rendered a backup water supply in 1959, and taken completely out of the city’s water system 40 years later.

The basins were drained and the site was left dormant for 25 years, allowing the reservoir to naturally reforest itself. Eleven years ago, the city Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) transferred ownership of the reservoir to the Parks Department for future development as parkland.

Several years later, then- Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlined a master plan which would have transformed the Ridgewood Reservoir and neighboring Highland Park into one of eight “regional parks” across the city.

Initial plans called for one of the three reservoir basins to be cleared and developed into new athletic fields and park space. As much as $50 million in city funds were initially allocated for this endeavor.

Residents, environmentalists and other civic activists fought the proposal, claiming that development plans would harm the reservoir’s fragile ecology created over the previous two decades.

The Great Recession of 2007- 09 caused financial distress in the city, forcing the $50 million reservoir revitalization plan to be tabled indefinitely. The Parks Department, however, received funds in recent years to renovate the perimeter pathways and a causeway between two of the three basins.

Though the Parks Department proposed further renovations at the Ridgewood Reservoir last year, none of the plans are funded as of this issue. However, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is in the process of considering declaring the reservoir as a natural wetland, which—if declared—would inhibit substantial development at the location.

It would seem that the Ridgewood Reservoir truly has come full circle. A device that once brought a taste of nature to a city now has come back to nature itself.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Upcoming Volunteer Event

We just received the following request from the parks department:

Volunteers needed to help maintain our trees in Highland Park

The NYC Park’s Natural Areas Volunteers are hosting an upcoming event in the Brooklyn/ Queens area, for which we have a great need for volunteers.

On Tuesday, November 18th, we will be at Highland Park,  from 9:00am to 1:00pm we will be conducting an invasive removal and tree stewardship project.

Here is the link to the event page where you can read more and register if you are interested:

Joseph G. Homsey
Stewardship Program Coordinator,
Natural Areas Volunteers
T - 212.360.3317

F - 212.360.3316

E -

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Highland Park Improvements Planned

A small, but important piece was just posted in the Times Newsweekly:

"With the city’s Parks Department abandoning its plan to breach the Ridgewood Reservoir’s walls, Parks Committee Chairperson Steve Fiedler reported the agency now plans to spend the money for that endeavor on improving ball fields and other facilities in nearby Highland Park. The improvements include new handball courts and a renovated playground near Cypress Hills."

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Waterworks Bike Tour


Michael Miscione, the Manhattan Borough Historian, will lead a bicycle tour of the now defunct water supply that served the once-independent City of Brooklyn. The system built in the 19th century brought fresh water from Queens and Long Island into the city. It was largely abandoned after Brooklyn was consolidated into NYC in 1898, and its components -- pipes, reservoirs, pumping stations, wells etc. were dismantled, built over or repurposed. But some remnants and ruins still exist, and can be seen if you know where to look.

Note: This is NOT a free event! The tour is sponsored by NYC H2O.

Saturday, October 18, 2014, 11:00am

The tour meets at the Ridgewood Reservoir.

The ride will last about 3 hours and cover about 15 miles.

Bring your own (functional) bike and a sandwich.

To register or request more information click here:

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Ridgewood Walking Tour

Tour cancelled

We regret to inform you that this Sunday's tour of Ridgewood will be postponed to a yet-to-be-determined date.

The Newtown Historical Society has an upcoming walking tour of Ridgewood:

Please RSVP to (718) 366-3715 or if you wish to attend this event.

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