2017-12-27 / Features

Ridgewood Reservoir On The NYS Register Of Historic Places

The New York State Historic Review Board voted unanimously on December 7 to add the Ridgewood Reservoir to the New York State Register of Historic Places. The application to list the site on the National Register has been submitted to the National Park Service with approval anticipated for April 2018.

The historic Ridgewood Reservoir is a 50- acre natural oasis that serves diverse communities on the border of Brooklyn and Queens. The Reservoir is located today in Highland Park which is run by the New York City Parks Department. It was built in 1859 to supply the once independent city of Brooklyn with high quality water. The ambitions of Brooklyn’s builders in the face of their city’s growth created an expanding reservoir system that routed water from Queens and Nassau counties. Its increasingly vast scale still did not suffice to quench the needs of what was then the fourth largest city in the country. Water thus helped drive Brooklyn’s 1898 consolidation with New York City. The Reservoir itself only became obsolete with the addition of new reservoirs in the Catskills in the 1950s.

By 1989, it was mostly drained. Since then, nature took its own course and has provided New Yorkers with a perfect case study of ecological succession. A lush and dense forest has grown in the two outside basins – each with a unique variety of flora – while a freshwater pond with waterfowl sits in the middle basin. That pond is on the path of the Atlantic Flyway and is an important source of freshwater to migrating birds.

Today we see a 19th century feat of engineering whose intact, large basins are surrounded by parkland. The Ridgewood Reservoir provides us with a cautionary and ultimately inspiring tale as to how citizens can work together to protect a site whose adaptive reuse ensues from its being reclaimed by nature.

NYC H2O, a non-profit that provides education programs on New York City’s water system and ecology, wrote the Historic Register Application for the Reservoir. Since 2014, NYC H2O has brought 3,000 Brooklyn and Queens students on free Water Ecology and Engineering Field Trips to the Ridgewood Reservoir to experience New York City’s water system up close and to learn to appreciate their city’s reliance on natural and engineered systems for clean water.

NYC H2O’s Executive Director Matt Malina testified at the hearing that, “The Ridgewood Reservoir is a majestic place that deserves to be listed on the National Historic Register as a cultural and ecological treasure to be discovered by generations to come. In the course of bringing a new generation of New Yorkers to visit and experience the site, we realized that that we had become stakeholders in advocating for its preservation. The support of elected officials, community leaders and organizations has been critical to preventing its demolition and in advocating for its future.”

NYS Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., a member of the New York State Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation, agreed. “The New York State Historic Review Board’s unanimous decision to place the Ridgewood Reservoir on the New York State Register of Historic Places is a major victory for the reservoir, the surrounding community and individuals who come to enjoy what nature has created there. Now, the reservoir will be preserved for generations to come. NYC H2O has been instrumental in showcasing the reservoir’s natural beauty, historical significance to Queens and Brooklyn, and its function as an education asset to thousands of students. I would like to thank them, and the others who worked tirelessly on this issue, for years of advocacy in protecting and preserving the Ridgewood Reservoir.”

His colleague, NYS Senator Michael Gianaris, added, “The Ridgewood Reservoir is a environmental gem for the residents of both Brooklyn and Queens [that] will be preserved for future generations to enjoy.”

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said, “The Ridgewood Reservoir was an engineering marvel in the 19th century and merits recognition as a landmark in urban history, engineering history and environmental history. The reservoir offers insight into the environmental history of Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau County, and as such is an invaluable opportunity to study nature.”

“As a strong supporter of preserving the Ridgewood Reservoir, my thanks to NYS Parks for adding this wonderful site to the Historic Registry list,” said Assembly Member Catherine Nolan. “Thank you to Governor Andrew Cuomo, NYS Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey, Queens Community Board 5, NYC H2O and all of the residents and organizations that have advocated for the reservoir over the last decade. Both with the wetland designation and its recent addition to the historic registry list shows that our great state recognizes the importance of preserving the Ridgewood Reservoir in its entirety for future generations”.

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