Over several days during the holiday week of 2019-2020, I was inspired to achieve a goal that I have often thought about: walking the entire 41-mile length of the Old Croton Aqueduct historic trail. Although there are certain sections of the park that I frequently visit, large swaths were, up to this point, unknown to me. It was a real pleasure to finally get out and see what the rest of the Aqueduct trail has to offer! I was not disappointed by my discoveries!
As history would have it, some designers are broadly associated with their works, like Frederick Law Olmsted with Central Park or John B. Jervis with the Old Croton Aqueduct. John James Robertson Croes was not one of those, yet many of us live in a more beautiful environment because of his talents.
Croes was born in 1834 in Richmond, Virginia, son of a clergyman and grandson of a Revolutionary War veteran. He attended the College of St James in Hagerstown, Maryland, and studied civil engineering, graduating in 1853.
If you want to delve further into the history of the Old Croton Aqueduct, which lies just below the trail that winds through these river towns, head to a new exhibit that opened recently at the Keeper’s House Visitor Center on the trail in Dobbs Ferry.
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Because the Old Croton Aqueduct was powered by gravity alone, the Aqueduct and the trail above it do not follow a straight line. Instead, to maintain the average 13.25-inches–per–mile downward slope of the tunnel on its journey from the Croton Reservoir, its path follows the ridges formed by ancient glaciers. Armed by the early and forceful exercise of eminent domain, New York City constructed its tunnel through public and private property in a single-minded quest to meet citizens’ urgent need for clean, abundant water.
Middle School 15 is 2 blocks from Aqueduct Avenue in The Bronx. Teachers Shawanda Weems, along with co-teacher Mr. Mozoub, discovered The Friends Of The Old Croton Aqueduct 4 years ago; ever since they’ve brought their summer class to Washington Heights.
This year her kids crossed the High Bridge to learn the history of the rooftop water towers, and the Old Croton Aqueduct. They stepped on Rucker Park’s basketball court, toured Morris Jumel Mansion and Sugar Hill Museum Of Art & Storytelling, and paid respects at Mayor Ed Koch’s and John J Audubon’s graves.
On July 13, excited neighbors, youth groups, “parkies,” and city and state officials attended a groundbreaking for the NYC Parks Department’s $10 million project to renovate Adventure and Sunken playgrounds in Manhattan’s Highbridge Park. Adventure Playground is where the paved path to the Manhattan end of the High Bridge begins; adjacent Sunken Playground provides ADA-compatible access to that path.
As co-head of Walks & Tours for the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct and a docent at the Keeper’s House Visitor Center in Dobbs Ferry, I am frequently asked the same question: What would be a good walk or tour along the 26-mile trail that runs through these Rivertowns (the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park)? Or perhaps along the 15-mile New York City route, which ends at the main New York Public Library (former site of the Murray Hill Distributing Reservoir)?