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"The chief disadvantage of New York," observed the Swedish botanist Peter Kalm in the mid-18th century, "is the want of good water." The Dutch farmers who settled on Manhattan in the 1600s found the island, which is fronted by a salty inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, to have only small quantities of surface water. Hampered by the hard rock that underlay the island, subsequent generations of Manhattanites had difficulty sinking wells, and many had to make do with polluted, dangerous sources of drinking water.
In Water for Gotham, Gerard T. Koeppel relates the complex history of how the metropolis came to acquire dependable sources of water for an ever-expanding population. Those sources lay far from the city, but engineering problems were much less difficult to overcome than was the political opposition to this reliance on the world beyond Manhattan Island. Even after a cholera outbreak killed scores of New Yorkers in 1832, some of the city's leading financiers insisted that the old wells would do just fine. Finally, Koeppel writes, through the efforts of DeWitt Clinton and other farsighted civic leaders, New York raised money to build a system of canals and aqueducts leading up the Hudson and Croton river valleys into the water-rich Catskill Mountains, getting the funds for the construction from European banks and private bondholders. Nearly a century later, all five boroughs were finally well served by pipes that brought in nearly 400 million gallons of fresh water a day--scarcely a third of the present metropolis's demands.
Water for Gotham is, well, dry at times, but it does a fine job overall of making sense of an overlooked aspect of New York's history. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From its founding as New Amsterdam in 1624 until 1850, Manhattan was plagued by two disasters that killed thousands of residents and caused millions of dollars of damage: unrestrained outbreaks of infectious diseases, including small pox, yellow fever and cholera, and uncontrolled fires that destroyed blocks of stores and residences. The reason: no clean water supply. Koeppel, a former editor at CBS News, has written a vivid history of how Manhattan finally got reliable drinking water. Relying on primary documents, diaries, personal histories and maps, he charts the internecine schemes and failed business ventures to alleviate the island's water problems, from Christopher Colles's attempt to build a reservoir and a steam engine in 1774 to Aaron Burr's and Alexander Hamilton's fraudulent 1789 Manhattan Company (which never delivered promised water but did become the hugely successful Chase Manhattan bank), to John Jevis's successful 1850 project to divert the waters of the Croton River into the rapidly growing city using a complex set of aqueducts and waterworks. Each element in Koeppel's panoramic view of Manhattan's past--including the histories and medical records of families who died in epidemics and the brutal reaction to the Great Negro Plot of 1741, in which slaves sent to fetch spring water for their masters may have organized a series of thefts and fires--is intricately bound to the public's need for clean water. Though it lacks a strong narrative drive, Koeppel's graceful history is written with a wit and intelligence that will please fans of urban history. Agent: Russ Galen.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.