I said yesterday that the Mount Prospect and Ridgewood Reservoirs of the Brooklyn water supply system are long gone, but that’s a simplification. The Mount Prospect reservoir is completely gone, buried under a new park and the Brooklyn Public Library. The Ridgewood reservoir, seen above in a 1909 map, has had an interesting after-life.
This mid-1800s system, meant to serve the rapidly-growing city of Brooklyn, took water from several small lakes in the town of Hempstead, in the eastern part of Queens County. When the towns that made up current-day Queens joined Greater New York in 1898, the eastern part of Queens (some 70 percent of the county’s land area) was split off as Nassau County. The lakes were in farm land and served as a clean supply for a long time, until Brooklyn joined New York’s supply from upstate. The Ridgewood Reservoir was a large storage reservoir, subdivided into two, and later three sections, and fed by a long aqueduct heading east. I’ve created a Frankenstein map, mostly the 1909 Bromley index map showing all of Queens but with a small piece of the 1903 Hyde map of Brooklyn, where the borough’s jagged border required infill.
Note that north is to the upper left. In the lower left corner you see the East River and Blackwell’s (Roosevelt) Island. The colored line traces the route of the underground aqueduct: the green portion of the line (most in Queens, and with its far left end in Brooklyn) is “Conduit Avenue”, and the light blue part in Brooklyn is “Force Tube Avenue.” Apparently the people who named streets were uncomfortable with the word “siphon.” The Ridgewood reservoir is at the left end of Force Tube Avenue. Another namesake is not directly shown on the map: Aqueduct Racetrack was opened in 1894 in the blank area between Conduit Ave, Centerville Ave, Rockaway Plank Road, and Stoothoff Avenue. I think it;’s fair to say that people were well aware of the presence of the aqueduct.
The reservoir was not formally used after 1959 but not completely abandoned until 1999, when it was drained and left alone for nature to take its course. Two of the three basins are now new-growth forest, the third is a small pond with a natural shore. It has become something of a wildlife sanctuary. Adaptive reuse strikes again.