The 1842 Croton Water Celebration Medal

Croton Water Celebration medal by Robert Lovett, Sr. Courtesy of John Kraljevich Americana.

Croton Water Celebration medal by Robert Lovett, Sr. Courtesy of John Kraljevich Americana.

Here’s a fine example of the medal produced for the Croton Water Celebration, when what we now call the Old Croton Aqueduct opened to public use on October 14, 1842. This is currently being offered by John Kraljevich, a leading expert in American historical medals, coins, paper money and related Americana, who has graciously allowed us to share his images.

The Croton Water Celebration medal was designed by Robert Lovett, Sr., the patriarch of a family of famous engravers. He was born on March 19, 1796, and grew up in a quiet New York City neighborhood in an area now covered by the western end of the Brooklyn Bridge. After a brief military service during the War of 1812 he apprenticed in the shop of master stone seal engraver Thomas Brown.

Advertisement from Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, [Philadelphia], January 15, 1818.

Advertisement from Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser,
[Philadelphia], January 15, 1818.

By 1816 he had married and moved to Philadelphia to set up his own engraving business, specializing in dies and seals. His early work can’t be identified because it was unsigned, but one significant commission has been discovered by Lovett expert and collector David Baldwin. “Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Cooper in 1819 identify Robert Sr. as the creator of the official seal for the University of Virginia.”1

By 1824 Lovett was back in New York City, where he set up shop at 249 Broadway. “His shop location moved several times over the years,” according to Baldwin, “but he stayed in New York City until his death on December 31, 1874, just six hours after the passing of his wife of 60 years.”

Lovett’s Croton Aqueduct Medal was produced in silver, bronze and white metal. The silver examples were individually engraved for the 17 New York City Alderman in office at the time of the celebration and various dignitaries, including poet George Pope Morris, author of the celebration’s “Croton Ode.” The example shown here is white metal.

One side of Lovett’s exquisite medal is shown above and the other is below. If you want to enlarge the images to see the details click here to go to John Kraljevich Americana.

Croton Water Celebration medal by Robert Lovett, Sr. Courtesy of John Kraljevich Americana.

Croton Water Celebration medal by Robert Lovett, Sr. Courtesy of John Kraljevich Americana.

  1. See this letter by Lovett to Thomas Jefferson and The Croton Aqueduct Completion Medal by Dave Baldwin. Token and Medal Society Journal, September/October 2013, vol. 53, no. 5.

John Quincy Adams Sends His Regrets

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams

On October 11, 1842 former President John Quincy Adams realized he had neglected to respond—several times—to an invitation to be an honored guest at the Croton Water Celebration. In his diary he wrote,

“. . . on turning over my letters recently received, to endorse and file them, I found one which I had totally forgotten, from . . . New York . . . inviting me to a festival to be held on the 14th of this month, in celebration of the introduction of the Croton water into the city. There was on the note a twice-repeated request for an answer, which I had overlooked till now. I answered the letter, declining the invitation, and sent [my reply] . . . so that it may reach New York on Thursday, the day before the feast.”1

Many important dignitaries were invited to the great Croton Water Celebration, but contrary to some books and a number of online sources (including—perhaps not surprisingly—Wikipedia2), former Presidents John Quincy Adams and Martin van Buren, then-President John Tyler, and Governor of New York William H. Seward did not attend. [UPDATE: We have corrected the error on Wikipedia. Depending on whether our changes are accepted the error may or may not still be present.]

It’s difficult to determine how this error crept into the historical record.

The contemporary newspaper accounts of the event exhaustively list every participating fire department, trade organization, temperance society, and civic official but say nothing of the President of the United States, two former Presidents and the Governor of New York. It seems unlikely—though not impossible—that newspapers published within days of the celebration would have missed these historic figures.

A year later Charles King even published the letters of regret from all four men in his book, A memoir of the construction, cost, and capacity of the Croton Aqueduct . . . together with an account of the civic celebration of the fourteenth October, 1842 . . .3

The President of the United States sends his regrets.

The President of the United States sends his regrets.

King has a long section of replies to invitations to the Croton Water Celebration. One of the most interesting appears long after the letters from officials like the Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller and Attorney General of the State of New York; after letters from diplomats like the Counsels of Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Greece—even after the letters from the mayors of cities like Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Troy.

Writing from Peekskill on October 8, 1842, Pierre Van Cortlandt, Jr. replied,

”I have this day received your polite invitation from the Common Council of the city of New York, to join with them on the 14th instant, to celebrate the introduction of the Croton water into the City of New York. With pleasure I accept your invitation, and will be in New York at the time appointed.”4

If anyone at that time had a plausible claim to the water from the Croton River it was Pierre Van Cortlandt, Jr. Indeed, the Van Cortlandt family had engaged in extended litigation against the Croton Water Commissioners over the diversion of water.5 Even if he had come to accept New York City’s diversion there was the matter of the Great Freshet of 1841, when part of the Croton Dam gave way. The torrent of water and debris destroyed bridges and businesses, silted out the mouth of the Croton River and is said to have come within 8 feet of destroying Van Cortlandt Manor.6

The Old Croton Dam after reconstruction.

The Old Croton Dam after reconstruction.

Did Van Cortlandt actually attend? What did he really think of the great event? Unfortunately his published correspondence contains just three letters from 1842 and none of them mention the Croton Water Celebration.

  1. Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848, compiled by Charles Francis Adams. Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott & Co., 1876. Volume 11.
  2. The current Wikipedia article for the Croton Aqueduct states “Among those present were then-President of the United States John Tyler, former presidents John Quincy Adams and Martin van Buren, and Governor of New York William H. Seward.” See here.
  3. A memoir of the construction, cost, and capacity of the Croton Aqueduct . . . together with an account of the civic celebration of the fourteenth October, 1842, on occasion of the completion of the great work . . . by Charles King. New York, Printed by C. King, 1843.
  4. Ibid.
  5. See Correspondence of the Van Cortlandt Family of Cortlandt Manor, 1815-1848, compiled and edited by Jacob Judd. Volume IV, pages 291-292.
  6. For more on the Great Freshet of 1841 see here.

Croton’s Waves in All Their Glory

Today is the 172nd anniversary of the Croton Water Celebration, when what we now call the Old Croton Aqueduct opened to public use on October 14, 1842. The day-long celebration included a massive seven-mile-long parade, songs written and performed for the occasion, and culminated in jets of pure, sparkling water rising fifty feet in the air from the Croton Fountain in City Hall Park.1

To celebrate the anniversary we’ve assembled a group of artifacts produced to commemorate that great day. Some have appeared in previous posts and others are featured here for the first time.

Click the first image to start the slideshow (and don’t miss the list of previous posts about the Croton Water Celebration at the bottom of the page).

Previous posts about the Croton Water Celebration:

If you’re interested in seeing the sheet music shown in the slideshow here are links:

  1. The title of this post is from the official song, written by George Pope Morris. It’s one of the few good lines from an otherwise unmemorable work.

The Greatest Jubilee That New York . . . Has Ever Boasted

The front page of the Dollar Weekly, October 22, 1842. Click image to enlarge.

The front page of the Dollar Weekly, October 22, 1842. Click image to enlarge.

This month is the 171st anniversary of the “greatest jubilee that New York or America has ever boasted—a jubilee in commemoration of the greatest blessing that a city like New York could receive—the introduction of an abundant supply of pure and wholesome water.” 1

The jubilee took place on October 14, 1842 and the quote is from the coverage a week later in the October 22 issue of the Dollar Weekly, a short-lived newspaper that the publishers, Herrick & Ropes, modestly proclaimed was “The cheapest paper ever published! The miracle of the age! One dollar a year, with two hundred original engravings!”

In a way they were right to call their paper “the miracle of the age” because they published the kind of engravings that made Harper’s Weekly famous when it was started fifteen year later. The highlight of this issue is the 16-inch wide engraving across the front page that illustrates the “great procession celebrating the introduction of the Croton water into the city of New York.” Photography was not in widespread use in 1842 so there are very few images depicting the jubilee parade and none of them are quite like this wonderful panorama.

If they left us nothing else, we could remember Herrick & Ropes as innovative publishers who paved the way for the great illustrated weekly newspapers. But at the same time they were publishing two other papers—another weekly, The Atlas, and a daily paper, The Aurora. On March 28, 1842 Herrick & Ropes announced in the Aurora that they had “secured the services” of a “bold, energetic and original writer as their leading editor” who would “carry out their original design of establishing a sound, fearless and independent daily paper.” His name was Walter Whitman, but we know him today as the poet, Walt Whitman. 2

Click the images below to see all the Aqueduct-related images published in the October 22 issue.

  1. Dollar Weekly, October 22, 1842.
  2. Whitman’s relationship with the publishers did not end well. By May 1842 he was no longer associated with the paper, which referred to him as “the laziest fellow who ever undertook to edit a city paper.” That summer Whitman used his new position at a different newspaper to exact revenge. “There is in this city,” he wrote, “a trashy, scurrilous, and obscene daily paper, under the charge of two dirty fellows, as ever were able by the force of brass, ignorance of their own ignorance, and a coarse manner of familiarity, to push themselves among gentlemen.” For more see Walt Whitman’s America by David S. Reynolds.

O, blessed be the Croton!

As we noted in a previous post, the poet and social activist Lydia Maria Child recorded the unbridled joy New Yorkers felt when the Croton Aqueduct opened in 1842. The arrival of the “clean, sweet, abundant water” also inspired her to write a poem, “The New-York Boy’s Song,” which was published in 1854 in her book, Flowers for Children.

Child was "renowned in her day as a tireless crusader for truth and justice and a champion of excluded groups in American society."1 In this poem she celebrates the ways the "blessed" Croton—which "flows for man and beast, and gives its wealth out freely, to the greatest and the least,"—could cure several social ills plaguing New York City in the mid-1800s.

The New-York Boy’s Song
To Croton Water

Croton Fountain, circa 1850.  Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

Croton Fountain, circa 1850.
Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

O, blessed be the Croton!
It floweth every where—
It sprinkleth o’er the dusty ground,
It cooleth all the air.

It poureth by the wayside
A constant stream of joy
To every little radish girl
And chimney-sweeping boy.

Poor little ragged children,
Who sleep in wretched places,
Come out for Croton water,
To wash their dirty faces.

And if they find a big tub full,
They shout aloud with glee,
And all unite to freight a chip,
And send it out to sea.

To the ever-running hydrant
The dogs delight to go,
To bathe themselves, and wet their tongues,
In the silver water-flow,

The thirsty horse, he knoweth well
Where the Croton poureth down,
And thinks his fare is much improved
In the hot and dusty town.

And many a drunkard has forgot
To seek the fiery cup;
For every where, before his face,
Sweet water leapeth up.

Then blessings on the Croton!
It flows for man and beast,
And gives its wealth out freely
To the greatest and the least.

We city boys take great delight
To watch its bubbling play,
To make it rush up in the air,
Or whirl around in spray.

It is good sport to guide a hose
Against the window pane,
Or dash it through the dusty trees,
Like driving summer rain.

O, blessed be the Croton!
It gives us endless fun,
To make it jump and splash about,
And sparkle in the sun.

And the fountains, in their beauty,
It glads our hearts to see—
Ever springing up to heaven,
So gracefully and free.

Fast fall their sparkling diamonds,
Beneath the sun’s bright glance,
And like attendant fairies,
The brilliant rainbows dance.

White and pure their feathery foam,
Under the moon’s mild ray,
While twinkling stars look brightly down,
Upon their ceaseless play.

And all about the crowded town,
In garden, shop, or bower,
Neat little fountains scatter round
A small refreshing shower.

Perhaps some dolphin spouts it forth
To sprinkle flower or grass,
Or marble boy, with dripping urn,
Salutes you as you pass.

Then blessings on the Croton!
May it diminish never—
For its glorious beauty
Is a joy forever.

  1. From Child's biography at the Poetry Foundation website.

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.

Croton Water Parade Float, 1909


Post card of the Introduction of the Croton Water float in the 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration parade in New York City.