Water for Gotham tells the spirited story of New York's evolution as a great city by examining its struggle for that vital and basic element--clean water. Drawing on primary sources, personal narratives, and anecdotes, Gerard Koeppel demonstrates how quickly the shallow wells of Dutch New Amsterdam were overwhelmed, leaving the English and American city beleaguered by filth, epidemics, and fires. This situation changed only when an outside water source was finally secured in 1842--the Croton Aqueduct, a model for urban water supplies in the United States.
As the fertile wilderness enjoyed by the first Europeans in Manhattan vanishes and the magnitude of New York's water problem grows, the reader is introduced to the plans of Christopher Colles, builder of the first American steam engine, and of Joseph Browne, the first to call for a mainland water source for this island-city. In this vividly written true-life fable of the "Fools of Gotham," the chief obstacle to the aqueduct is the Manhattan Company. Masterminded by Aaron Burr, with the complicity of Alexander Hamilton and other leading New Yorkers, the company was a ruse, serving as the charter for a bank--today's Chase Manhattan. The cholera epidemic of 1832 and the great fire three years later were instrumental in forcing the city's leaders to finally unite and regain New York's water rights.
Koeppel's account of the developments leading up to the Croton Aqueduct reveals it as a triumph not only of inspired technology but of political will. With over forty archival photographs and drawings, Water for Gotham demonstrates the deep interconnections between natural resource management, urban planning, and civic leadership. As New York today retakes its waterfront and boasts famous tap water, this book is a valuable reminder of how much vision and fortitude are required to make a great city function and thrive.
"A fascinating, play-by-play tale based on an exhaustive review of personal narrative, anecdotes, primary sources, and nearly forgotten archives. . . .Koeppel reveals his eye for interesting detail."--Library Journal
"Koeppel . . . has written a vivid history of how Manhattan finally got reliable drinking water. . . . Koeppel's graceful history is written with wit and intelligence. . . ."--Publishers Weekly
"New York journalist Koeppel tells the lively, labyrinthine tale of how the burgeoning metropolis struggled for decades to obtain an adequate supply of water."--Booklist
"A tale of ingenuity in the face of enormous natural and social challenges, ably narrated by the journalist Gerard T. Koeppel. . . . Let us toast the engineers, the laborers and the politicians--the heroes of Koeppel's account--with a glass of clean, clear Manhattan tap water."--Laurence A. Marschall, The Sciences
"Mr. Koeppel has made . . . an engaging tale of material that could easily have become leaden. His prose is unfalteringly elegant, his eye for enlivening detail is keen, and his thorough research has been splendidly assembled. This is most certainly not just a book for New Yorkers."--Philip Ball, The New York Observer
"Extraordinarily well-researched and remarkably readable. . . . Entertaining and highly useful."--Caleb Carr, The New York Times Book Review
"New York . . . has a good tale to tell of city hall intrigue and corruption and fortunes made on the back of cruel epidemics and of a heartening triumph for engineering. . . .The story is well told by a good journalist."--Fred Pearce, The Times Higher Education Supplement
"An engaging tale. . . . [Koeppel's] prose is unfalteringly elegant, his eye for enlivening detail is keen, and his thorough research is splendidly assembled. This is most certainly not just a book for New Yorkers."--Philip Ball, New York Observer
Table of Contents:
ONE "Give Us Cold Water" 1
TWO Manahata Goes Dutch 7
THREE English Well-Being 17
FOUR Tea Water and the Works That Weren't 28
FIVE New City, Old Trouble 50
Six Aaron's Water 70
SEVEN Fools of Gotham 102
EIGHT Catching the Croton Bug 139
NINE The Work Begins 185
TEN Taking the High Road? 218
ELEVEN Filling the "Big Teapot" 246
EPILOGUE New York's Waterfrom Then to Now 285