Discover the Oldest Man-Made Lake in New York

Written by Niccoy Walker
Updated: August 11, 2023
© Petrozello
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Key Points:

  • The Ashokan Reservoir is the oldest NYC-owned reservoir in the Catskill Mountains
  • Four thousand immigrants constructed the Old Croton Dam, which created a 400-acre lake.
  • They began working on the Old Croton Dam in 1837, and on July 4, 1842, it was successful.
The Ashokan Reservoir is the Oldest Man-Made Lake in New York
This beautiful lake is known for its walking trails and great fishing.

New York has a long history in this country. For 175 years after the Dutch founded New York, drinking water came from springs, wells, and ponds. The first public well was established near Battery Park in 1667, shortly after the British took control. But these sources of water soon became inadequate due to increasing population and contamination. In fact, New York had such a water crisis at one point that fires raged out of control, and disease spread like wildlife. So what did the state do about it? Discover the oldest man-made lake in New York, including the history of its water supply system. Plus, are there towns underneath NYC’s reservoirs? Find out now!

The Oldest Reservoir in New York

New York City’s Manhattan Company built the very first reservoir on Chambers Street

Most of the oldest man-made lakes in New York are long gone, with some ruins still visible in public buildings, such as the New York Public Library. But we don’t actually know much about the very first reservoir, other than it was built and controlled by the newly formed Manhattan Company. The first reservoir was built on Chambers Street, where it stored water gathered from outside the city. Water was then distributed to people by way of wooden pipes. However, the water wasn’t very clean or abundant. Unfortunately, the Manhattan Company cared more about starting the Chase Manhattan Bank than it did about delivering an adequate water supply.

Once the city leaders realized something had to be done about the water, they got to work establishing plans to build a modern public water supply system. Four thousand immigrants constructed the Old Croton Dam, which created a 400-acre lake. And the Old Croton Aqueduct sent water from the Croton River to a reservoir that once sat in Central Park. Then the water traveled to the Murray Hill Reservoir, which was on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, right where the New York Public Library sits today. You can still see remnants of the old reservoir on the lower level of the Schwarzman Building. 

They began working on the Old Croton Dam in 1837, and on July 4, 1842, fresh, clean water flowed through the city. After that, the city’s population grew, and officials decided to enlarge the Croton system, which led to even more people migrating to the area. 

What is one of the Oldest Still-Standing Reservoirs in New York?

Ashokan Reservoir
The Ashokan Reservoir is the oldest NYC-owned reservoir in the Catskill Mountains

© Petrozello

During the turn of the century, the city was forced to produce more water for the growing population. To expand its water supply, city officials passed legislation that allowed them to buy and use water from the streams and rivers of the Catskill Mountains.

One of the oldest still-standing reservoirs of the Catskills is the Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County. It was created by impounding Esopus Creek, which flooded thousands of acres of farmland and relocated thousands of people. The reservoir underwent construction from 1907 to 1915. It is officially the oldest New York City-owned reservoir in the Catskill Mountains. The Ashokan Reservoir is also one of the largest in the state, covering 8,300 acres. And it is the deepest reservoir, featuring a max depth of 190 feet. In total, there are nearly 70 reservoirs dispersed throughout the state of New York. 

Are There Towns Under NYC Reservoirs?

The short answer is yes. When legislation was enacted for the city to acquire land and build dams and reservoirs in the Catskills, the residents of these areas fought back. People had built towns and lived their lives in the area for decades and were forced out by the city. After the creek was impounded, a total of twelve communities were submerged. Two thousand residents were moved, and homes, businesses, churches, and farms were abandoned and now underwater. 

The sordid past of the New York City Water Supply doesn’t end there. To build the Ashokan Reservoir, the city shipped in Italian immigrants, African Americans, and Native Americans. The workers lived in shacks and were patrolled by a police force run by the city’s Board of Water. The Department of Environmental Protection Police (DEP) still patrols the areas around the reservoirs today. 

In all, there are 12 reservoirs and three controlled lakes that supply water to New York City. Due to the reservoir’s location in the mountains, NYC has some of the best drinking water in the country. More than one billion gallons of fresh, clean water are delivered to the city each day. 

So what are your thoughts? Was the city justified in its action to flood the towns near the Catskills to supply its residents with water? Or should they have found another way?

Where is The Ashokan Reservoir Located on a Map?

The Ashokan Reservoir is located in Ulster County, New York, lies at the eastern end of Catskill Park, and serves as one of several reservoirs in the region that supply water to the City of New York. Remarkably, it stands as the city’s deepest reservoir, reaching a depth of 190 feet near the dam.

Here is The Ashokan Reservoir on a map:

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the Triangle area and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

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