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.