7.19. A SALUTE TO JOHN JERVIS AND HIS CROTON AQUEDUCT

Jervis is one of the under-celebrated American civil engineers I referenced at the beginning of this blog. We first encountered him in Chap. 2.1 as the chief engineer for one of the country’s early railroads, Pennsylvania’s Delaware & Hudson Railroad, for which he designed The Stourbridge Lion that had made the first run of a steam-powered locomotive in the U.S on August 8, 1829.  Then in 1830 he was hired by New York’s Mohawk & Hudson, for which he designed the DeWitt Clinton whose first ride took place on August 13, 1831.  In October 1836 he was named the chief engineer to design the 41-mile-long Croton aqueduct, slated to bring fresh water to New York City from the Croton River, north of the city.  Among the structures erected for this project was the 140′ high, 1450′ long Aqueduct (later High) Bridge, needed to carry the aqueduct over the Harlem River and into Manhattan (at 174th Street).  It is comprised of 15 stone arches: the eight larger arches have a span of 80,’ while the seven shorter ones span 50.’ To compare, France’s Pont du Gard has a height of 160′ and a length of 900,’ with its largest span being 82;’ therefore, one can say that Jervis’ design is comparable to its Roman precedent.

Above: John B. Jervis, Croton Aqueduct, High Bridge Aqueduct over the Harlem River, New York City, 174th St., c. 1840. (Online); Below: Pont du Gard, Remoulins, France, 19 BC-50 AD. (Online)

The water was then directed to two reservoirs in Manhattan: the first. the York Hill Reservoir was located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and 79th and 86th Streets (currently the site of the Great lawn in Central Park).

The water was then led to the distribution Murray Hill Reservoir, located on the west side of Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets (the present location of the New York Public Library). This reservoir had 25′ thick granite walls that were 44′ high atop of which was a promenade that afforded grand vistas of the metropolis.  The Egyptian-influenced design of the walls can be credited to either Jervis, or the young James Renwick, Jr., who, having just completed his M.A. at Columbia in 1839, was hired as an assistant engineer, which was his first degree from Columbia in 1836.  I tend to favor Jervis as the designer simply because Renwick would not receive his first commission, that for New York’s Grace Church, until 1843, after the reservoir had been completed.  

John B. Jervis, Croton Aqueduct Distribution Reservoir, New York, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, c. 1838. (Online)

If this last photo reminds you of Root’s Monadnock Block, good, because that is exactly what I thought. Root spent over five years in New York (1866-1871), the last two he was John Snook’s supervisor of construction for the new Grand Central Depot, located only two blocks east of the reservoir. Root had to walk by this coped cornice every day.

Among the variety of out buildings needed for the aqueduct complex, the building that I find most interesting, however, is this gatehouse located at 113th and Amsterdam. I immediately thought this building had been designed by H.H. Richardson. He had spent a few years in New York prior to moving his practice to Boston in 1872. We will follow Jervis’s career as the railroads continue to build ever westward.

Above: John Jervis (?), Croton Aqueduct Gatehouse, 113th and Amsterdam, diagonally across from St. John the Divine. c.1840. (Online); Below: H.H. Richardson. Allegheny County Jail, Pittsburgh, 1884. (Online)

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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