Clean, Sweet, Abundant Water!


Of all the people who recorded the unbridled joy New Yorkers felt when the Croton Aqueduct opened in October 1842, few captured it as eloquently as Maria Lydia Child, whose poem Thanksgiving Day, was set to music and is known today as Over the River and Through the Woods.

In her book Letters from New-York she writes about the Croton Water Celebration and the magnificent fountains—symbols of the engineering feat that made modern New York City possible.

“Oh, who that has not been shut up in the great prison cell of a city, and made to drink of its brackish springs, can estimate the blessings of the Croton Aqueduct? Clean, sweet, abundant water! Well might they bring it thirty miles under-ground, and usher it into the city with roaring cannon, sonorous bells, waving flags, floral canopies, and a loud chorus of song!

I shall never forget my sensations when I first looked upon the Fountains. My soul jumped, and clapped its hands, rejoicing in exceeding beauty. I am a novice, and easily made wild by the play of graceful forms; but those accustomed to the splendid displays of France and Italy, say the world offers nothing to equal the magnificence of the New York jets. There is such a head of water, that it throws the column sixty feet into the air, and drops it into the basin in a shower of diamonds. The one in the Park, opposite the Astor house, consists of a large central pipe, with eighteen subordinate jets in a basin a hundred feet broad. By shifting the plate on the conduit pipe, these fountains can be made to assume various shapes: The Maid of the Mist, the Croton Plume, the Vase, the Dome, the Bouquet, the Sheaf of Wheat, and the Weeping-willow. As the sun shone on the sparkling drops, through mist and feathery foam, rainbows glimmered at the sides, as if they came to celebrate a marriage between Spirits of Light and Water Nymphs.

The fountain in Union Park is smaller, but scarcely less beautiful. It is a weeping willow of crystal drops; but one can see that it weeps for joy. Now it leaps and sports as gracefully as Undine in her wildest moods, and then sinks into the vase under a veil of woven pearl, like the undulating farewell courtesy of her fluid relations. On the evening of the great Croton celebration, they illuminated this fountain with coloured fireworks, kindling the cloud of mist with many-coloured gems; as if the Water Spirits had had another wedding with Fairies of the Diamond Mines. . . .”

Letters from NY_w
This excerpt is from Letter XXX, dated November 14, 1842.

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