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AskBwog: The Little Fortress

croton1199The abandoned stone structure on 119th and Amsterdam sort of looks like a medieval castle – a very, very small one. It isn’t quite the stuff of architecture classes, but the little building stands out – you’ve probably wondered what it is or was as you passed the forgotten, weedy lot. It’s not like there’s a dearth of old buildings around here, but everyone knows the deal on St. John the Divine, the old St.Luke’s hospital buildings, and you know, Columbia. Bwog unveils this final mystery – a riveting tale of the forgotten, the clandestine, the underground… literally.

The trail of the underground aqueduct in Manhattan

The trail of the underground aqueduct in Manhattan

It turns out that the 119th street gatehouse, as it is called, is part of a now defunct and closed off aqueduct system that runs from the Croton River upstate, through the Bronx and under Amsterdam. The gatehouses give access to the New Croton Aqueduct and pumping mechanisms underground. The original Croton Aqueduct began construction in 1837 after a really big fire made it clear that a growing city needed a real water source and a real distribution system. Two reservoirs were constructed to hold water for the city brought in from Croton – one where the New York Public Library now stands and one on what would become the site of the Great Lawn in Central Park.

Where the NYPL now stands

Where the NYPL now stands

In the 1880’s the Old Croton Aqueduct’s capacity was deemed too small for the city, and construction began on the New Croton Aqueduct in 1884. Our 119th gatehouse was constructed in 1885, as was a similar structure on 113th and Amsterdam that is now used by the adjacent senior center. A third gatehouse, more impressive than our local specimens, was also constructed during the 1890’s at 135th street.

135th gatehouse, renovated as a theater in 2006

135th gatehouse, renovated as a theater in 2006

All three sites are now historic landmarks. Unfortunately, while its fellows were converted to serve seniors or renovated (135th now serves as a classical theater), 119th was filled with sand in 1984 and will remain so bloated and abandoned for many years to come.

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  • awesome fake nature says:

    @awesome fake nature go to croton dam! there is this huge waterfall you can stand over and see and hear the shit ton of water dropping hundreds of feet. it’s so sweet! highly recommended high. water is such a beautiful miracle…

  • Finally! says:

    @Finally! I’ve always wanted to know!

  • Alum says:

    @Alum “All three sites are now historic landmarks.”

    Are you sure about that? I thought Columbia secured an exemption for the one on 119th Street. The university owns the rest of that block, and I heard years ago that it also had an option on the gatehouse. That plot is too small to be useful by itself, but if CU ever replaces the buildings immediately to its east and/or south the gatehouse land could be used for part of the new building.

    1. anonym says:

      @anonym Out of curiosity, are you hoping to be named a trustee? Librarian of the Columbia archives in Low?

      1. well says:

        @well Actually, I’m the one angling for that post.

  • ummmm says:

    @ummmm i think there’s another one of these gatehouses on 113 and amsterdam next to the fire house, no?

    1. Read the Article says:

      @Read the Article “Our 119th gatehouse was constructed in 1885, as was a similar structure on 113th and Amsterdam that is now used by the adjacent senior center.”

  • seconded says:

    @seconded great article! also wondered many a time what that building was. even cooler that it relates back to something jackson focused on in history of the city of new york.

    also pretty funny that my captcha word is “solved,” ha.

  • 110 and Amsterdam says:

    @110 and Amsterdam It’s a Con Edison substation.

  • hooray for bwog! says:

    @hooray for bwog! i have been looking for the background of this building for a while, thanks!

    (and i second that query on the 110th and amsterdam building. i was thinking, perhaps a home for scientology?)

  • yay says:

    @yay good article, Bwog.

    But what I’ve always wanted to know is what is inside the creepy looking building on south east corner of Amsterdam and 110th. There are no windows on that massive structure…secret government alien research facility? Most likely.

    1. voice from above says:

      @voice from above it’s a con edison building. you know, utilities and all that fun stuff.

    2. ... says:

      @... it’s the columbia manhattanville property acquisition project “negotiation” center.

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