Croton Distributing Reservoir

New York, New York, USA

Demolished 1899

The Disappointed Tourist: Croton Distributing Reservoir, Ellen Harvey, 2021. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24″ (46 x 61 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

The Croton Distributing Reservoir (also known as the Murray Hill Reservoir) was a massive above-ground holding tank for water from the Croton River. The reservoir opened in 1842 and was then the primary source of water for New York City, holding 20 million US gallons (76,000 m3) of water. The granite walls were 50 ft tall (15 m) and 25 ft (7.6 m) high and the whole was designed in a vaguely Egyptian style. The walk around the reservoir’s promenade was particularly beloved by novelist Edgar Allen Poe, as well as many other New Yorkers, who came to admire the moonlight on the water at night. It was torn down in 1899 and the New York Public Library was built on its site.

This isn’t my own memory, but I interviewed the novelist Louis Auchincloss years ago, and he was endlessly nostalgic not only for the New York he used to know (he was born in 1917) but for the New York he had heard about from his grandparents. “I think,” he once wrote, “I would rather see the old reservoir on Forty-second Street or the original Madison Square Garden than I would any of the lost wonders of the ancient world.” And if you look online you can see that the old reservoir was indeed very grand and worth being nostalgic about. Imagine such a colossus in the middle of New York! Larrissa M.