The following excerpts and plates are from a memoir written by an engineer who participated in the construction of the Ridgewood Reservoir. While this posting may seem longer than typical submissions, I believe that it helps illustrate the technical and historic significance of the site. The engineering feat was a spectacular achievement in Brooklyn and Queens history, yet there is no hesitancy on the part of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation designing a plan that would tear out a significant section of the largest basin's retaining wall.
The cover sheet of the publication with the entire title and publishing information is:
The Brooklyn Water Works and Sewers. A Descriptive Memoir.
Prepared and printed by order of the Board of Water Commissioners.
Illustrated By Fifty-Nine Lithographic Plates.
New York: D. Van Nostrand, 192 Broadway 1867.
I have also included a couple of photograph taken last year. The entire manuscript is available for viewing on the "Making of America" website. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the digital library is a collaborative effort to preserve primary source material related to the development of the United State's infrastructure. You can learn more about it here. As you read the descriptions, keep in mind that the original plan called for two basins, but a third was added soon after as they realized the population was growing at a faster rate than anticipated.
"The reservoir grounds include 48.4 acres of land. They are enclosed by a neat fence of wrought-iron, eight feet high, with a small gate on the south side of the grounds, and an elaborate gateway on the north side, upon the Cypress hill turnpike road. The reservoir occupies about two thirds of the grounds, the unoccupied part is available for similar use hereafter."
"The grounds are kept in neat order, but no trees were allowed to be planted there, because their leaves would be blown into the water, and besides, to some extent, detracting from its purity, might clog the gates and screens of the outlet-chamber. For similar reasons, it was judged best not to allow carriages or horses to use the banks of the reservoir as a driving-path, the dust from which, as well as the manure of the horses, would, in that ease, find its way into the reservoir."
"The reservoir is divided into two compartments the water area of the eastern division is 11.85 acres, and of the western division 13.73 acres in all 25.58 acres."
"The contract required that the reservoir should have a capacity of not less than 150,000,000 of New York gallons when full. Its capacity now, when full, amounts to 161,221,835 gallons, equal to 20,636,395 cubic feet." "The reservoir grounds are situated on the crest of the central, hilly range already mentioned the original surface was knobby and irregular with a piece of swamp touching the eastern boundary, not an unusual circumstance upon the heights of this range, wherever their very irregular surfaces produce hollows or cups retaining the summit-waters."
"The position of the reservoir on the grounds, and the position of its bottom, as regards height above tide, were determined solely by economical considerations, the object being so to place it as that the earthwork of forming it should be a minimum. The contract required it to have a "surface elevation of not less than one hundred and fifty feet above mean tide ;" a provision which could be satisfied by any arrangement of the work which the ground admitted of. The surface-water of the reservoir as built, when full, stands one hundred and seventy feet above the tidal base referred to."
"The irregularity in the shape of the original surface produced a corresponding irregularity in the depths of the embankments forming the earthen boundary of the reservoir, which vary from thirty feet in height on the east side to four and five feet in height on portions of the west side. The inner slopes of the reservoir rest consequently, partly on artificial embankment and partly on the natural earth of the position, excavated to the necessary form, as will be seen by inspection of the cross sections of these banks (plate 38)." "The first step in the construction consisted in the removal from the entire site of the reservoir, and its banks, of all vegetable soil or vegetable matter of any kind, which was laid aside to be afterwards replaced on the outer slopes of the finished embankments."
"The material excavated from the ground in the process of shaping each compartment of the reservoir was used in the construction of its embankments. This material consisted of a still', coarse earth, of excellent quality for such work, but full of small stones and boulders. The boulders were broken up and laid aside for paving. The small stones were also carefully removed-no stone exceeding four inches in diameter being allowed to remain in the earth which was applied to the construction of the embankments."
"The outer embankments are twenty feet in width at top, which is situated four feet above the high water level of the reservoir; the division embankment is fifteen feet in width at top, which is situated three feet above the same water level ;
"The puddle consisted of a mixture of the earth of the excavations (selected and freed from stones for that purpose), and of a stiff, white clay found in the neighborhood. The amount of clay required to form reliable puddle will vary with the nature of the earth mixed with it, and can only be ascertained by trial and practice. Too much clay is as objectionable as too little. The puddling material used here was very excellent, and the workmen who applied it were of the best description, having had a previous experience and training in this kind of work."
"The clay was first well broken up, and thoroughly mixed with the right proportion of earth; it was then carried to its place, whether on the bottom, on the slope, or in the centre of the embankment, and laid in horizontal layers of six inches in thickness; water was then applied to each layer, and the gang of puddlers proceeded to work it with their spades and feet into a stiff, heavy paste, which, when sufficiently worked, was allowed to set before the application of another layer. If exposed too long to the sun, it will over dry and crack, and will then require to be re-worked before the addition of another layer. When the workmen are not well practised in its application it may sometimes be advisable to mix it with water into the proper consistency before depositing it in place, but in that case it should be well re-worked in position."
"The entire bottom of each division of the reservoir, after having been graded to the proper lines, was covered with two feet of puddle in the manner already described. The surface of this puddle, when finished, was covered with a thin layer of gravelly earth. The bottom in each case has a fall of eight inches from the south side towards the drainage-pipes of the effluent chamber, to admit of the entire water of either compartment being drawn off when so required for cleaning or repairs."
"On the completion of the banks, their slopes were dressed off to the required inclination. The outer slopes were then covered with the reserved soil, and seeded. The inner slopes were paved with dry stone paving, the stone being derived from the boulders of trap-rock found in the excavations and in the vicinity. This pavement was specified to be twelve inches in thickness, laid upon a bed of gravel or small stones and well packed and pinned."
"The water began to flow into the reservoir in November, 1858, and continued to rise in it slowly through March and April."
"While the gales referred to lasted, the paving was merely watched and driven home as it settled, and well pinned up with chips. After the stormy weather had subsided, we proceeded to repair what was amiss, and to render the whole work of paving secure against any similar contingency, in the following manner."
"One of the compartments of the reservoir having been emptied, gangs of men were set to work to drive home the paving, to bring up any pieces, that had settled irregularly, to the correct
"After our experience of the action of the wind on this reservoir, and my examinations since of dry stone paving upon other reservoirs, both here and in Europe, I should make the thickness of dry paving not less than eighteen inches, and lay it with stones capable of close work, upon any reservoir as much exposed to the action of wind as is the Ridgewood reservoir."
"The influent chamber is in length, twenty-eight feet, width, nineteen feet the bottom is situated six feet below high water of the reservoir, and four and a half feet below the centre of the mouth of the delivering pipes. From this pool, or chamber of water, an open passage communicates with the western division of the reservoir, and another with the eastern division. Either of these passages can be shut off by flash-boards, and the whole delivery, in that ease, thrown into the opposite division. The water, flowing through these passages, falls, when the
"The masonry of the work consists of granite, carried up in courses, the face-stones being cut in bed and build, and dressed to the lines of the work. The whole is laid in hydraulic mortar, composed as already described. The drawings will give the details of the foundations, &c. (See plate 39.)"
"The influent chamber is large enough to receive the terminal pipes of four force mains, being the number necessary to deliver the waters of four engines, each of ten millions gallons daily capacity, covering, therefore, the forty millions of supply contemplated in the design of these works, half of which supply is provided for now, as previously mentioned."
"The bottom of this chamber as well as of the effluent chamber proper, is paved with hard-burnt brick, set on edge, and laid in cement mortar. The masonry is of blue stone, finished with coursed granite, except the heavy foundations, which are of rubble work. The whole work is laid in hydraulic cement mortar, of the character elsewhere described. The earthwork of the division embankments, where it connects with the masonry was carefully rammed, and the puddle wall of the embankment was widened there, so as to cover the whole space between the buttresses. The puddle was enlarged in the same manner behind the walls of the influent chamber."
"The apparatus for moving the sluices is protected by a small house built over each passage."
"The paving of the reservoir slopes, where they meet the top lines of the banks is finished by a dwarf wall, and blue stone coping, upon which there is placed a low iron fence to keep visitors and children off the water slopes."
necessary to describe."
It is deeply disturbing that the City of New York would ever considering erasing, what is clearly, a very important piece of New York's history. The Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park should be celebrated, not turned into artificial turf recreational fields.
Send us an email