Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

We decided to switch things up a bit today, taking the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail (the "OCA") heading South out of Rockefeller State Park Preserve.  I hadn't seen Brennen W. since the Caumsett Park 50k last March (he has since become a dad - congrats !), so picking him up at the train station at 6:30 AM was a pleasure.  Brennen, Peter L. and I covered about 5.5 miles of the OCA before turning around to complete the out-and-back 16-miler.

Just a few feet beneath the OCA Trail lies the masonry tunnel that first brought clean water to New York City.  The Aqueduct was built in response to the fires and epidemics that repeatedly devasted New York City, owing in part to its inadequate water supply and contaminated wells.  Major David B. Douglass planned the route and structures and established the projects hydraulic principles.  He was succeed in 1836 by John B. Jervis, who achieved the final design of the Aqueduct and its major structures and led the complex construction effort.  Work on the Aqueduct began in 1837, carried out largely by Irish immigrant labor.  For most of its length the Aqueduct is a horseshoe-shaped brick tunnell 8 1/2 feet high by 7 1/2 feet wide, set on a stone foundation and protected with an earthen cover and stone facing at embankment walls.  Designed on principles dating from Roman times, the gravity-fed tube drops gently 13 inches per mile.  In order to maintain the steady gradient through a varied terrain, the Aqueduct was cut into hillsides, set level on the ground, tunneled through rock, an carried over valleys and streams on massive stone and earch embankments and across arched bridges.

Water first entered the Aqueduct from Croton at 5:00 AM on June 22, 1842 and emerged at the Harlem river 22 hours later.  The water eventually filled two above-ground reservoirs (on the present sites of the Great Lawn in Central Park and the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue).  Until 1955 the Old Croton Aqueduct brought water to New York City, when supply because insufficient due to the spiraling population growth to which it contributed.  The New Croton Aqueduct, triple the size and much deeper underground, lies a few miles to the east (it began service in 1890 and remains in service today, although it has no walking trail).

At some point in the next few months we are planning to organize a run of the entire 41 mile OCA Trail, starting at the New Croton Dam and finishing at the New York Public Library (followed, of course, by drinks and food).  Anyone interested in joining us should e-mail me and I will keep you in the loop on a planned date for the run.

What you may find along the OCA.


  1. It was mighty cold out there today. i am glad to see someone else still wearing shorts although I think Brennen may be crazier than me. Looking forward to running the entire OCA Trail.

  2. Thanks for the historical tour - those kinds of details can really add something to a run. Still scratching my head at what, pray tell, is topping that funky van.

  3. Nice. That looks like it was lots of fun.