Navigable River Flows Beneath Bronx from Croton Reservoir
by John McNamara; originally published May 12, 1960
Although it appears on no map, there is a navigable river flowing down through The Bronx from the Yonkers city line, to Highbridge. This river, of pure fresh water, originates in Croton Lake, 33 miles away, and, underfoot and unseen, courses through subterranean pipes. The shoulder-deep stream has never ceased to flow since a June day in 1842, when the Croton Aqueduct was formally opened.
On that day, crowds had gathered at Highbridgeville where it was possible to actually see the water arrive, for there the aqueduct came to a temporary halt. The High Bridge had not yet been built, and temporary water mains were to carry the water high over the Harlem River to Manhattan's reservoirs. At this Highbridgeville valve station the stream would emerge after its leagues of sunless passage under the countryside of Westchester.
The reader might then ask: "A navigable river?" which leads to the retelling of the eerie voyage of a boat named The Croton Maid. Four men actually navigated this underground river in a wooden boat from Croton Reservoir to Highbridgeville, and careful regulation of the flow of water at the dam assured them of sufficient head room and reasonable safety. The release of the water was a controlling factor in the speed of the small boat, and this was later ascertained to be at a stroller's pace.
At dawn of June 22, the four men cast off, provided with oars, fending poles, torches and some provisions, and the little Croton Maid floated into the black tunnel and disappeared. Hours passed. The crowds at Highbridgeville waited through the long day. Night fell, while somewhere under the hills and dales of Westchester, four men poled along on their subterranean voyage. Midnight came and went. People slept on the grassy slopes, or sat and gossiped, wagering bets or praying for the men.
Around 3 o'clock in the morning there was a distinct rumble of approaching water, and the spectators hastily gathered around the terminal. As the water flowed into sight and gradually deepened, the crowd set up a cheer. Then someone glimpsed a flicker of torches reflected on the water, faint hallos were heard and soon the four heroes poled their craft out of the tunnel. Thus, the Croton Maid docked at the port of Highbridgeville, a very strange harbor indeed — some 120 feet above the Harlem River!