A Man Made Object In Central Park Almost As Old As The Park Itself
The 161- Year-Old Central Park Relic Hidden In Plain Sight
When you need to go to the restroom in Central Park there are few choices. Last year when a friend needed to use the bathroom we headed towards the closest one.
The tennis courts were empty as it was getting near dusk. But the bathrooms near the tennis courts were open, about 100 feet from the northern part of the Central Park reservoir.
I was waiting outside the building containing the women’s bathrooms looking down at the ground.
There was a manhole cover. A very old manhole cover. I did a double-take to look closely and read the raised date.
Somehow through countless renovations and upgrading within Central Park, this utilitarian object has remained in place since 1861.
With its beautiful spoke design, this hand-forged cast iron covering still serves a purpose: providing an access point to the original Old Croton Aqueduct water system built from 1837-1842. The complex system once brought New York City’s drinking water supply from Croton-On-Hudson thirty miles north of the city. A portion of the Old Croton system was in operation until 1955.
The Central Park reservoir began construction in 1858. The Park was not officially opened at once, but in phases. One of the first sections of Central Park to open to the public was the Ramble in June of 1859, south of the reservoir.
According to a 2021 article in Untapped Cities, the oldest known manhole covers were these two dating from 1862. Both covers are also part of the Old Croton system, one being in Central Park, the other on West 40th Street and 8th Avenue. There was another cover from 1856 on Jersey Street that predated these, but the city covered it over it a few years ago,
So this 1861 cover could hold the title for oldest in the city.
What lies beneath the cover I do not know. Is it an entrance to dark catacombs that goes into the reservoir itself? Does the opening lead to the vast Croton tunnel system? Or is it simply covering part of the reservoir’s sewer system to prevent overflow?