"The Croton Arch of Triumph" is a 2022 sculpture by artist/architect Dionisio Cortes Ortega. Using historically-accurate materials and working to scale, Ortega re-created a cross-section of the original Old Croton Aqueduct Tunnel completed in 1842. The Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct commissioned Ortega to build this sculpture next to the trail at The Keeper's House in Dobbs Ferry over several weeks in October/November 2022.
Welcome everyone and thank you for joining us on this chilly but wonderful autumn day.
My name is Dionisio Cortes Ortega and I am the artist and architect who created this sculpture titled Croton Arch of Triumph. This sculpture is a full scale model of a slice of the Old Croton Aqueduct of which you are all standing over. It is an accurate representation of what is underneath the trail in terms of materiality and size. Brick and Gratine (Gneiss)
The sculpture is a monument to New York City’s hidden water system and to those who helped build and envisioned it. It is also a monument to foresight, a human quality that we are in desperate need right now.
From the late 1600s to the early 1800s, New York City's water supply was limited. Most people depended on water wells that soon became contaminated because of the rapid population growth and lack of proper sewage systems. During the early 1800s there were several near-catastrophic moments that could have decimated the entire City. Health and hygiene were at an all time low – leading to high death rates and mass emigration. On top of that, uncontrollable fires were a major issue and large portions of the city were being burnt down. Life was basically unsustainable.
The people, the government, and private companies all came together and agreed something needed to be done immediately. Planning began in 1835, two years later construction started in 1837 and finally five years after that in 1842 the first major water works system for New York City was open and water started flowing in what is now known as the Old Croton Aqueduct.
What struck me most about this story is that it all sounds a little too familiar. Today, we are all experiencing a similar social, health and economic crisis. We are living through a continuous global pandemic, a racial reckoning demanding the evaluation of the myriad ways that racism is embedded into our institutions, economic inequality is at an all time high, and climate change is an undeniable reality with a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable. I cannot think of a human quality that is more in need of today than foresight. We need communities, government and private companies to come together and plan for the future. Vaccines, listening to and elevating underrepresented voices, and technology such as solar panels are some examples of how we are addressing the problems we face today. But perhaps we are not thinking big enough. So I leave us with the question: What seemingly impossibly large project do we need to envision now so that we can protect and ensure our future? A few organizations and people I would like to thank:
- Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct, the entire organization has been nothing but supportive and encouraging, and special thanks to Sara Kelsey for spearheading the project and navigating the complex process to make something like this happen. This would not have happened without her.
- Governor Hochul’s administration (congratulations btw) for providing the grant that contributed to the realization of the monument
- Socrates Sculpture Park for organizing the open call entitled Monuments Now two years ago that helped sparked the idea for this project
- Reform Architecture for providing the technical details and structural calculations
- To the incredibly talented masons Juan Gaspar and Uriel Cruz, who’s craftsmanship reminds us that skilled labor and quality construction is still attainable. Unfortunately they were not able to attend this reception.
- To Dionisio and Leticia, my parents who are always so accommodating and incredibly helpful. I mean who here has a mother you can call to bring you bags of concrete? (Mama I need more concrete - Si mijito si) Or a father that will agree to help you pick up ‘a few pieces of steel’ at the steel shop. (Papa, there is a really good coffee shop in Newburg - bring two pairs of construction gloves.)
- I alphabetical order to Karim Ahmed, Rob Cusack, Sam Fox, my love - Lillian Rusk, the Keeper’s House park’s staff, and the entire neighborhood who incessantly showered us with compliments during the entire construction.
- And to all of you for being here today.