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Water Supply of Jersey City

 

Lithograph circa 1880 showing the "new" Jersey City reservoir. Originally printed in a German language edition of Frank Leslie's Illustrated.
Courtesy Jersey City Free Public Library

Detail of William H. Wood Map of Jersey City, Hoboken,
and Hudson Cities 1855 showing the location of the
Bergen Hill Reservoir in what was then Hudson City.
Courtesy Jersey City Free Public Library

Tablet circa 1871 on the wall of Reservoir 3 listing
the names of the Jersey City Board of Public Works responsible for the contstruction of the new reservoir.
Photo: P. Shalhoub, 2001
Reservoir 3 at the southwest corner of
Summit and Jefferson Avenues
Photo: P. Shalhoub, 2001

It is easy to take for granted the supply of fresh running water that is available to Jersey City residents today. To many, the water supply is a resource of unknown origins. However, occasional water main breaks and periodic droughts are unpleasant reminders that the city is not self-sufficient when it comes to this basic necessity.

There was an earlier time when the source of water for the Jersey City residents was much closer to home. The Dutch and English farmsteads that dotted the Jersey City landscape prior to the mid-nineteenth century relied on well water or nearby springs. The Bergen Hill area had several notable wells including one that was situated in the center square of the town of Bergen. In the 1830's, below Bergen Hill, in what was then the separate but rapidly growing municipality of Jersey City, there were also three public water pumps located at Newark Avenue and Bay Street; First and Erie Streets; and Grove and Fifteenth Streets. However, according to author Joan D. Lovero, "the superior quality of the drinking water from the Bergen hill gave rise to a thriving business in which kegs of water were delivered to the homes on the lowland in Jersey City" (35). Water was sold door-to-door with the trade of water for a penny a pail.

Local historian J. Owen Grundy writes in his history of Jersey City that "The wells, which had been dug in the early city, were found inefficient, and on October 4, 1844, John D. Ward, a nationally known engineer, called upon the city to create an adequate water supply. But the issue remained dormant
until 1851, when commissioners were appointed to provide a water supply for Jersey City, Van Vorst [Township] and Hoboken; the commissioners were Edwin A. Stevens, later to found Steven Institute of Technology in Hoboken; Edward Coles, Abraham J. Van Boskerck, Dudley S. Gregory and John D.
Ward" (34).

In 1850 the services of the engineer William S. Whitwell, known for the Boston Water Works, were secured. He planned a three-reservoir complex for water works service stations in the city at the cost of approximately $650,000. Reservoir 1 at Collard Street and Summit and Laidlaw avenues was built in 1851. Grundy explains that "it was decided to take water from the Passaic River, then so pure, that one could see pebbles on the bottom. Water works were constructed at Belleville. On June 30, 1854, the first water was let into the pipes, and on August 15 it was available in homes, shops, and factories throughout the city, from the reservoir on Central Avenue" (Grundy 34). About twenty years later, the system's capacity was expanded with the contstruction of Reservoir 3 on a 14-acre site along Summit Avenue. For some unknown reason, the second proposed reservoir was never built, although the site was later developed as Pershing Field Park to serve the urban community.

The Water Commission also adopted a sewerage plan for the city. It consisted of "a tidal canal from Communipaw Cove to Harsimus Cove, principally along the line of Mill Creek and Hoboken Creek" (Eaton 105).

Grundy adds that by 1899, "the Passaic River had become so polluted that it was abandoned as a source of supply; and the new water works at Boonton began furnishing the city with pure water from the Rockaway River in 1904" (Grundy 45).

Currently, Jersey City residents receive their water supply from New Jersey's Boonton Reservoir administered by United Water, Inc. under the auspices of the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority. Because of their close geographic proximity, both Liberty Island and the once busy immigration station on Ellis Island, have for many years been supplied with water from the Jersey City system.

References:

Eaton, Harriet Phillips. Jersey City and Its Historic Sites. Jersey City, NJ: Women's Club of Jersey City of Jersey City, 1899.
Grundy, J. Owen. The History of Jersey City, 1609-1976. Jersey City, NJ: Progress Printing Co., Inc. 1976.
Lovero, Joan Doherty. Hudson County: The Left Bank. Sun Valley, CA: American Historical Press, 1999.
Winfield, Charles H. History of the County of Hudson, New Jersey. New York: Kennard & Hay Printing Company, 1874.

 

By: Carmela Karnoutsos
Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub