Bird’s Eye Views of the Croton Aqueduct, 1879-1887

Here are two priceless “bird’s eye” views of the Croton Aqueduct, made eight years apart during the period when New York City was rapidly outgrowing the capacity of what we now call the Old Croton Aqueduct. One map looks north, showing the burgeoning metropolis in 1879—straining the water supply system with its unrelenting growth. The other looks south—to the future—showing both the path of the New Croton Aqueduct tunnel and the then-planned location (later abandoned) of “the most massive structure of its kind in the world,” the Quaker Bridge Dam.

The City of New York. Will L. Taylor, chief draughtsman. New York, Galt & Hoy, 1879. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Click to enlarge.

The City of New York. Will L. Taylor, chief draughtsman. New York, Galt & Hoy, 1879.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Click to enlarge.

Taylor’s 1879 New York City Map

In a fascinating article about three-dimensional maps of New York City, the website Codex 99 calls this map “the first true attempt at a perspective map of the city . . . [The] four-sheet engraving, published by Galt & Hoy, attempted to label all roads and piers and depict buildings to (at least a more appropriate) scale using a vanishing perspective. It was a stunning achievement for the time.” 1 The map is so detailed that it shows all three major components of the Old Croton Aqueduct in New York City:

  • High Bridge and the High Bridge Water Tower
  • The Receiving Reservoir in Central Park
  • The Distributing Reservoir at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, now the site of the New York Public Library

High Bridge and the High Bridge Water Tower. Click to enlarge.

High Bridge and the High Bridge Water Tower. Click to enlarge.


The Receiving Reservoir in Central Park. Click to enlarge.

The Receiving Reservoir in Central Park. Click to enlarge.


The Distributing Reservoir at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Click to enlarge.

The Distributing Reservoir at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Click to enlarge.

Scientific American, 1887

The cover of the June 4, 1887 issue of Scientific American featured a bird’s eye view map looking south, from the Putnam County border to New York City and beyond. The accompanying article said the map “clearly presents the course of the Croton River, the location of Muscoot, Croton, and the proposed Quaker Bridge dams, and in the dotted line shows the line of the old aqueduct and in the full black line shows the course of the new aqueduct.”

The Old and New Croton Aqueduct System, looking south from Putnam County. Scientific American, 1887. Click to enlarge.

The Old and New Croton Aqueduct System, looking south from Putnam County.
Scientific American, 1887. Click to enlarge.

When this map was published the New Croton Aqueduct tunnel was three years away from completion and the dam was still in the planning stages.2

The narrow part of the Croton, where today’s Quaker Bridge crosses the river, was one of several areas subjected to extensive planning—including test borings, cost estimates and structural plans. The site was eventually abandoned in favor of one further up-river, but in 1887 Quaker Bridge was the favored location. For Crotonites the detail showing the bridge is particularly interesting because it depicts a covered wooden bridge. The current metal Quaker Bridge—one of the oldest bridges in Westchester County—wasn’t built until 1894.

Detail of the area from the Old Croton Dam to the Hudson River. Scientific American, 1887. Click to enlarge.

Detail of the area from the Old Croton Dam to the Hudson River. Scientific American, 1887. Click to enlarge.

For a before-and-after bird’s eye view of the flooding of the Croton River Valley after construction of the New Croton Dam see this previous post.


  1. A high resolution image of the Taylor map is available at the Library of Congress website.
  2. The tunnel was opened in 1890 and construction of the New Croton Dam began in 1892.

New Croton Aqueduct Map, 1884

New_croton_aqueduct_map

This is a detail of the Croton area from the map The Route of the New Aqueduct from Central Park to Croton Dam . . . prepared by the Aqueduct Commission in 1884. The route of the new aqueduct tunnel is the dark straight line, running diagonally across the bottom from Croton Dam.

One of the many interesting things about this map is that the New Croton Dam—then in the planning stages—is shown at the Quaker Bridge location. For more information on the Quaker Bridge Dam, see here.

Another fascinating aspect of the map is that it shows two bridges across the lower Croton River that didn’t actually exist in 1884, when the map was made. Moving from left to right the bridges shown are:

  • Hudson River Railroad Bridge, built in 1859, which was definitely there in 1884.
  • The Van Cortlandt Manor Bridge, which spanned the mouth of the river and went up the road where Shoprite is today, had several incarnations and was there when this map was made. “Long Bridge” was built in 1871 and “Wagon Bridge” in 1898. New York State eventually removed the old span, replacing it with the “Van Cortlandt Bridge” in 1922. This was the main route into Croton for more than 40 year until it was demolished in 1964—despite protests from villagers.
  • Highland Turnpike Bridge is next and was long-gone by 1884. This bridge was first built circa 1812 as part of the Highland Turnpike, which ran through the Hudson Highlands. Because bridge construction was still primitive in the early 1800s bridges tended to wash out due to severe storms or spring freshets. Indeed, in 1836 the New York Legislature reported that “the bridge over the Croton river upon [the Highland Turnpike] has been entirely carried away.”
  • High Bridge, the covered bridge that was built high above the river, is another ghost bridge on this map. It collapsed in 1879. (Details here).
  • Quaker Bridge was definitely there in 1884 and would have been dwarfed by the dam behind it, that the New York Sun in 1888 called “The Biggest of All Dams . . . the Gigantic Structure at Quaker Bridge.”

Croton Area in an Early NYC Transit Map, 1887-1890s

Ny_transit_map-1890s-detail

A detail from an early New York City regional transit map, made between 1887 and the 1890s. What’s particularly interesting about this map is that it shows the “Quaker Bridge Dam,” one of the possible locations for what became the New Croton Dam.

In the late 19th century, when New York City was rapidly outgrowing its water supply, the Quaker Bridge area was the subject of extensive planning for what an article in the New York Sun in 1888 called “The Biggest of All Dams . . . the Gigantic Structure at Quaker Bridge.” Luckily, the planners decided against the Quaker Bridge location in favor of one further up river.

This error shows up on other maps and ephemera as late as 1908. There are some post cards showing the completed dam (photographs taken circa 1908) that misidentified it as the “Quaker Bridge Dam.”

Courtesy of the University of Chicago Library, which has an online collection of maps here.

This map is from the Late 19th- and Early 20th-Century Urban Rail Transit Map collection, and can be found here.

Map of the New York City and Northern Railway Co. and the Yonkers Rapid Transit Branch to Getty Square, Yonkers, showing their connection with the Manhattan Elevated Railway of New York City at 155th Street and New York and New England R.R. at Brewsters.