Brooklyn’s Forgotten Lake: Pictures of Mount Prospect Reservoir

Back when it was an independent city, Brooklyn received most of its drinking water from Long Island, pumped into a large receiving reservoir in Ridgewood.  Some of that was then send southward to a reservoir built in the late 1850s at the second highest point in Brooklyn — Mount Prospect — rising 200 feet above sea level.

Photographed by Robert Bracklow, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Photographed by Robert Bracklow, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

 

The reservoir was 3 1/2 acres, holding 20 million gallons of water at a depth of 20 feet. Or, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “containing just about enough water to cook the breakfast of the people of Brooklyn for a week

The elevation was not included in the original design of Prospect Park, conceived in the 1860s as Brooklyn’s own Central Park. ** Especially odd when you consider that Prospect Park takes its name from the hill where the reservoir resided.

Pump house at the old reservoir on the East Side Lands, with Flatbush Avenue behind it, and Prospect Park in the background.
Pump house at the old reservoir on the East Side Lands, with Flatbush Avenue behind it, and Prospect Park in the background. [Courtesy Museum of the City of New York]
 Standing besides the man made lake was a pumping station and a grand Gothic tower, 30 feet tall. The world could be seen from here. “From the top of the tower … could be afforded a grand view overlooking the Park and City of Brooklyn; south may be seen the Atlantic Ocean; west, Staten Island and New Jersey; north, the Bay and the City of New York; east, the Navy Yard, Williamsburgh and the East River, altogether affording one of the grandest views imaginable.” [source]

Below: Circa 1900, looking north from the reservoir over Eastern Parkway into what is today’s Prospect Heights neighborhood.  Below that, looking out over Grand Army Plaza. Photos by George Hall and Sons. Courtesy Museum of City of New York

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When Brooklyn was incorporated into the consolidated Greater New York, they also were brought into New  York’s central water system (i.e. the Croton Aqueduct, later blended with the waters of the Delaware and the Catskills).  The Mount Prospect Reservoir was dismantled in 1940 and turned into a park. And the tower was torn down as well when the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library was constructed.

According to BPL’s blog,  “The wrecking company in charge of tearing it down announced in the Eagle that the Connecticut pink granite used to build the tower would be made freely available to anyone who wanted it.”  So there may be pieces of the old tower incorporated into buildings all across the borough!

Looking over Brooklyn and Manhattan
Looking over Brooklyn and Manhattan (Library of Congress)

 

 

Unsurprisingly, the reservoir was a bit of a tourist attraction as evidenced by this postcard. (Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York)
Unsurprisingly, the reservoir was a bit of a tourist attraction as evidenced by this postcard. (Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York)

 

Viewing the entrance to Prospect Park with the reservoir and tower behind it. From this vantage you can see the Brooklyn Museum and the Mount Prospect Laboratory.

 

For more information on New York City reservoirs and drinking water, listen to our show on the history of the Croton Aqueduct:

** See Matthew’s comment below about Mount Prospect’s appearance in the original Prospect Park plan.