|The Tower in High Bridge Park|
Quite literally the high point in High Bridge Park is the High Bridge Water Tower. At nearly 200 feet above the ground, the top of the tower "towers" over the rest of the park, and allows an unobstructed and commanding panorama of the surrounding area and a very sweeping view of Harlem River below the cliff and its Valley running from the north to the south.
From the water level of the Harlem River, the pedestrian walkway atop the High Bridge is nearly 140 feet above. From there,the base of the Water Tower is a full 100 feet above the pedestrian walkway and rises from there nearly another 200 feet to the top of the tower, bringing the top of the weather vane of the tower about 440 feet above the river. To put this in perspective, the Statue of Liberty is 305 feet above the ground level (the statue itself is 151 feet tall). When the Statue of Liberty was completely installed in 1886 it was the "tallest" structure in New York at the time.
The High Bridge Water Tower was designed by John B Jervis and completed in 1872, about 14 years before the Statue of Liberty was completed. It was built in order to increase the water pressure for the water delivered to the residents of the city. Jervis had completed construction of the High Bridge and the Old Croton Aqueduct itself some 40 years earlier (the Old Aqueduct had opened in 1842).
According to a New York Times article, "increasing water demands - particularly for the newly developed flush toilet ... strained a system that had not been designed to serve Manhattan's higher ground."
To meet the increased water demands of the city the New York the State Legislature authorized improvements to the Old Croton Aqueduct in 1863, but the new reservoir and water tower developed to meet those needs would not be completed until almost ten years later in 1872. The octogonal tower is constructed of load bearing walls made of rough cut granite in a Romanesque Greek Revival style with a peaked copper roof. We have been told that the interior of the tower has an impressive spiral iron staircase rising to the top with occasional windows allowing breathtaking vistas of the Harlem River Valley below.
As far as anyone can tell there never has been public access to the tower. Perhaps with all the attention being given to the recent redevelopment of the bridge and the park there will be some consideration given to opening the tower to the public some time after the bridge is completed. We have been told that the ascent on the spiral staircase and the views are well worth the effort of walking up to the top.
The High Bridge, the reservoir and the tower ceased to be used during World War I. Only the water tower was in use after the war and even it ceased to be used for any purpose after 1949. None of the major elements mentioned have ever been used in any capacity for New York's water system since that time. In 1934 the reservoir was converted for use as the swimming pool and in 1959 a carillon was installed in the tower.
In 1984 a fire in the tower caused the roof to cave in. In 1988 the roof and carillon reconstruction was initiated, however of the anticipated $900,000 in funds needed to complete the work there were only sufficient to complete the copper roof section by 1990. In 2011 it was estimated that he cost of restoring the tower to its full glory would be in excess of $2 million, including the cost of replacing the carillon and the source for those funds was nowhere in sight. The Department of Parks when last asked did not believe that the restoration of the tower would be completed any time around the time that the High Bridge was anticipated to be restored in 2014.
For some early photos of the Water Tower see our other post.
last modified 9/13/15