New York City tap water. Winner of many awards. Secret ingredient of Joe’s pizza crust. We take it for granted when we turn on the tap, and we are annoyed when an underground water main ruptures, disrupting traffic for days. But what is the story behind the New York City water supply system?
There was a time when the young but growing New York City did not have a reliable source of clean drinking water. There were a few fresh water streams, such as Minetta Brook, and many private wells. When we look at those beautiful Federal era townhouses in Greenwich Village that, thankfully, are still with us today, we see the dormer window and pitched roof, and understand that often the servants would sleep in these quarters (dormer, from the French dormer – “to sleep”.) But that pitched roof served a purpose – to collect rain water. (You can read more about Federal houses here and here.)
According to the website of the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, “In 1800 the Manhattan Company (now The Chase Manhattan Bank, N.A.) sank a well at Reade and Centre Streets, pumped water into reservoir on Chambers Street and distributed it through wooden mains to a portion of the community. In 1830 a tank for fire protection was constructed by the City at 13th Street and Broadway as was filled from a well. The water was distributed through 12-inch cast iron pipes. As the population of the City increased, the well water became polluted and supply was insufficient. The supply was supplemented by cisterns and water drawn from a few springs in upper Manhattan.”