May 08, 2010

Ossining Weir Chamber & Old Croton Aqueduct, Part I

At least this morning's rain didn't cancel our trip to explore the Weir Chamber, one of the access points into the Old Croton Aqueduct in Ossining, NY. I'd first heard of the tube access when I toured the Bronx portion of the old aqueduct a couple of years ago, and I've been dying to get in there ever since. Getting a little wet on the walk over there was not going to deter me from finally climbing through the brick-lined tunnel.

The Old Croton Aqueduct was a lifesaver in the mid-1800s when New Yorkers were living with fetid water that was barely suitable for washing and that the horses wouldn't even drink. Cholera outbreaks were rampant. After years of dumping their sewage in the streets, the city inhabitants had polluted and contaminated all the fresh springs of Manhattan and the nearby rivers, necessitating fresh water to be brought down from Upstate. Engineers chose the Croton River as their water source, and built a gravity-fed aqueduct (inspired by the Romans) whose downhill grade lowered it 13 inches for every mile.

It soon proved to be insufficient as New York's population exploded and individual water consumption increased tremendously. Eventually replaced by a newer Croton Aqueduct, ultimately an even newer one that took its fresh water from the Catskills prevailed - which is still how we get our fresh water today.

The vestiges of the old aqueduct are surprisingly well-preserved and maintained, save for a few spindly tree roots that have started invading the brick and mortar tunnels.

The Weir Chamber was one of several chambers that provided workers access to the inside of the aqueduct for observation and repairs. The one in Ossining is open occasionally for visitors.

aqueduct pedestrian bridge

Weir Chamber door


inside pedestrian bridge (note water line)

in the hillside (note rock ceiling)

below pedestrian bridge

By the time we emerged from inside the aqueduct, the sun was shining, and the only rain falling was the residue shaken off the tree leaves above by the wind. Instead of taking the Metro-North train back to Grand Central from the Ossining station where we'd arrived, we decided to walk along the aqueduct a couple of miles south to the next station, Scarborough.

Ventilator #8

After walking through a bustling (though somewhat unsavory) commercial area near the Sing Sing prison, and through a couple of town parks and the parking lot of the Hillside Terrace apartment complex, we crossed over into lush wilderness. Save for the houses visible down the right side of the aqueduct ridge, and the faint white noise of distant traffic, we would have really thought we were in the middle of nowhere.

Ventilator #9

The path of the Old Croton Aqueduct can be really confusing, and features a few diversions off the original path because of private property that it crosses through or other obstructions. In addition to some resources online, Google Maps does mark the path with a green line, and the map sold by Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct also proves to be pretty handy in navigating the sometimes confusing pathways and signage.

After walking a great majority of the trails along the Bronx River, it's nice to have another hike that I can conquer this summer, one piece at a time...

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