Showing off the Works
October 20, 2010 by JAS
The central fountain, now so ubiquitous with our vision of Washington Square Park, was first turned on in January of 1852. It took almost ten years to build between planning, fundraising and construction. It attests -as many other NYC fountains did at the time- to the miracle of Croton Water.
Up until the nineteenth century, the Fresh Water of “Collect” Pond was the city’s main source of drinking water. This 70-acre pond was fed by an underground spring. Pumps still run underneath the city to divert water from this spring into the East River. While the pond served Manhattan for the first centuries of its had become so contaminated by excrement, dead animals and industrial wastes that in 1803 it had to be filled in. For several decades New Yorkers had to rely on often impure and unreliable well water carried to their homes by the pailful from pumps located at roughly four-block intervals. Wealthy residents had spring water delivered from outside the city in barrels.
Washington Square Fountain and Arch, 1953
Then, in 1842, the Croton aqueduct was completed. It carried water from the mouth of the Croton River in Westchester to a receiving station on Eight-sixth Street. The project required the laying of 150 miles of pipes, and it carried fresh water to all parts of Manhattan at high enough pressures to support the building of fountains all over the rising city. Fountains such as the one erected in Washington Square Park spoke to the wealth, prosperity and modernity of New York City at the mid-century. There is no underestimating the affect Croton Water had on the city. The several fountains which remain from this period are monuments to that stage of New York’s urban development.