Until 1898, Brooklyn was a separate city from New York and tried to remain as independent as possible. That included where it got its water; while the City of New York had access to the excellent Croton Aqueduct, Brooklyn had to look elsewhere. The Bronx River was too hard to reach and streams on Long Island were insufficient, so instead the city turned inward, linking various Brooklyn streams and wells and sending the water to a newly built elevated reservoir located along the Brooklyn-Queens border.
The reservoir was constructed between 1856 and 1858 following concerns Brooklyn was losing a lot of business due to its lack of reliable water sources. Six streams in the area were dammed and the water “forced” uphill into the reservoir. A nearby street in Brooklyn is named Force Tube Avenue and this is also how Conduit Avenue in Queens gets its name. As the demand for water grew, the system expanded to draw from more waterways, some as far as 30 miles away.
Ridgewood Reservoir became obsolete within 40 years, as Brooklyn was merged into Greater New York City, granting the borough access to the extensive Croton, Catskill, and Delaware water systems. The reservoir became a mere backup in 1959 and was fully decommissioned in 1989.
The three basins were left to go to seed. As the decades passed, they turned into forest and wetlands, home to multitudes of flora and fauna and a popular stop for migrating birds. When the city decided to turn Basin #3 into a ball field, locals protested, arguing the reservoir was now a crucial natural resource. The plan was ultimately abandoned and local organizations now work to make the area more accessible to visitors. It was declared a Class I freshwater wetland by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in 2018.
Know Before You Go
The reservoir is in Highland Park, bordered by the Jackie Robinson Expressway on the north. By public transit the reservoir is roughly a 15-minute walk from the Norwood Avenue station on the J/Z subway lines.