Nineteen Reservoirs

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Thirty years ago, Low Life appeared to universal acclaim and secured Luc Sante’s status as the author of that cult classic of alternative New York City history. Now, he returns with another sidelong NYC history—here, the making of the upstate reservoir system that reliably supplies one of the world’s greatest metropolises with its fresh water, and without which the city would almost certainly have faded into insignificance.
The Croton, the city’s earliest upstate reservoir, was created in Westchester County in the late 1830s. But Sante’s focus here is the sixty-year period, from 1907 to 1967, when twenty-six villages and countless farms, forest lands, orchards, quarries, and more on the west side of the Hudson River were bought for a fraction of their value, demolished, and then submerged—some of them within living memory—to create the Catskills reservoirs. The regional ecosystem was profoundly altered, including in ways we will never be able fully to appreciate.
In addition to the reservoirs, whole networks of roads that are owned by the city and have their own traffic laws and speed limits give New York City power in the lives of the upstate locals, affecting their tax rates and limiting their access to the reservoir lands at will. The reservoir system has affected a political polarization between upstate and down, city and country, that was already well underway before the first shovel of soil was removed—and appears as a microcosm of the urban/rural polarity that continues to unbalance the nation as a whole. Dozens of historical photos that document the reservoir system’s creation, nostalgic historical postcards from pre-reservoir times, historical  and contemporary maps, and present-day photographs by renowned artist Tim help make this meticulously detailed book both an immersive history and a meditation on the significance of these willed-from-nature bodies of water to the city—past, present, and future.