OSSINING, NY — Starting in 1837, the Croton Aqueduct was constructed to carry millions of gallons of water 41 miles from the Croton Reservoir to New York City. The first water flowed through the tunnel in 1842, which was marked by a celebration in Manhattan, including toasts of lemon water called Croton Highballs.
The aqueduct stopped supplying water to New York City in 1955. In 1968, New York State purchased the Westchester section and turned it into a 26.2-mile long state historic park for walkers, runners, and cyclists. Though a section of the tunnel still supplies water to Ossining, the rest is no longer in use.
On the trail, there is occasional evidence of the tunnel below. Every mile or so, stone ventilator towers protrude from the landscape. The ventilators were made to allow fresh air into the tunnel. In addition, stone weir chambers were constructed to divert excess water into streams and to allow for work in the tunnel.
In Ossining, the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct, a nonprofit organization, use a weir to provide the only public access to the tunnel. During the warm weather months, guides lead free tours of the weir, at the north end of a bridge built in 1839, which crosses over a bridge built between 1861-62.
The most recent tour was June 29, and was led by Aram Aslanian-Persico, a mechanical engineer who works for New York City. Aslanian-Persico had a host of interesting facts at hand as well as a binder full of illustrations. He guided his guests into the 1882 weir, down a metal staircase, and onto a metal platform that extended a short distance in both directions inside the tunnel.
The weir is near the Joseph Caputo Community Center, which contains museum-quality exhibitions about the Old Croton Aqueduct and about the Sing Sing Correctional Facility. The tour started with watching a short video at the community center.
Toward the end of the tour, Aslanian-Persico sold two attractive and informative maps, for $5 each, that the Friends made of the Westchester and New York City sections of the aqueduct. For additional aqueduct merchandise, and info, stop by the Keeper’s House at 15 Walnut St. in Dobbs Ferry.
The next weir tour is Saturday, July 13, at 10 a.m., followed by another on Saturday, July 27, at the same time. The Friends also offer tours of the Croton Dam and Reservoir as well as other sections of the trail. For more info, visit aqueduct.org.
Tim Lamorte is an award-winning journalist who has spent more than two decades documenting life along the Hudson River.