New York City Water Supply History
Learn about the construction of two of New York City’s largest reservoirs, and how 16 mountain communities were displaced by them. This tour can be accomplished in half a day, or can consume an entire day with leisurely stops at two museums and at four outdoor exhibits stretching the length of the Byway. Check operating hours for venues before setting out.
START: Winchell’s Corners, Town of Olive. Heading west on the Byway, turn left off NYS Route 28 onto Reservoir Road at Winchell’s Corners (historic Old School Baptist Church on right, Moose Crossings store on left). Go approximately 1 mile, cross Ashokan Reservoir dividing weir (this is an arched bridge) which separates east and west basins. Turn left at the end of the bridge (a barrier prevents turning right), then left again, following signs for Route 28A (East). Go one mile, turn left at sign for “Public Parking.” This roadway leads to a parking, walking and biking area known locally as the “Frying Pan.”
An outdoor exhibit on the grassy circle here describes the building of the Ashokan Reservoir between 1907 and 1915. The Ashokan was the first of the City’s six Catskill region reservoirs, and required the destruction or relocation of 12 hamlets and the displacement of 2,000 people. The kiosk describes those communities before the reservoir claimed them. Maps, photos and text explain the operation of the monumental system, and what is being done to protect water quality today.
The Beaverkill Dike, part of the man-made bathtub that is the Ashokan Reservoir, extends nearly a mile beyond the parking area. It is paved for easy walking and provides a fabulous view of the surrounding mountains. Photo opportunity! (Don’t venture off the path, not even to take pictures: The NYC DEP strictly enforces trespass rules.)
Back in the car, turn right at the end of the Frying Pan roadway and follow 28A when it turns left at the next intersection. This area is an operational center for the NYC DEP, with many of the buildings in this compound were constructed at the time of the reservoir. Drive to the end of the large parking area on your right to see a fountain (in season) and a building housing the headworks of the Catskill Aqueduct, which carries Ashokan water to the downstate delivery system.
Continue west on 28A around the reservoir.
At West Shokan, stop at the Olive Free Library, where a history room with photos, memorabilia and interactive exhibits tells the story of the Reservoir’s construction and its impact on the area.
Continue west on 28A to Boiceville, and get back on the Byway proper by turning left onto NYS Route 28. Proceed north (West), following the Esopus Creek.
Stop at the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center for more information about the region, including the NYC water supply.
About 7 miles further West, stop at a small parking area on the right, just before you reach the Shandaken Town Hall. Water shoots down a concrete channel from a hole in the side of the mountain known as “The Portal.” A large brass plaque explains that this is the outlet of the 18-mile Shandaken Tunnel which brings water from the City’s Schoharie Reservoir to the North and deposits it into the Esopus Creek, which carries it to the Ashokan Reservoir.
Continue West on the Byway, and climb past the hamlet of Pine Hill to elevation 2,041 feet. You’ve just crossed from Ulster into Delaware County, and from the Ashokan Reservoir Watershed to the Pepacton Reservoir Watershed. Precipitation falling on the west side of this divide fills tributaries of the East Branch of the Delaware River which was dammed 35 miles from here to create the Pepacton.
Enjoy the next 13 miles on the Byway. 3 miles West of Margaretville, follow NYS Route 30 as it heads south towards Downsville. The highway overlooks the reservoir for 9 miles and crosses it on the Shavertown Bridge. Stop at the parking area on the south end of the bridge.
An outdoor kiosk, like the one at the Ashokan’s Frying Pan, tells the story of the four communities claimed for the Pepacton, which was completed in 1954. The view here is also impressive.
Go back across the bridge and turn left on Tremperskill Road towards Andes.
If time allows, turn left on NYC Highway 30A for a 3.3-mile side trip to a New York City-maintained cemetery where hundreds of graves exhumed from the Pepacton and Cannonsville Reservoirs were re interred. This is a place of quiet contemplation.
Return to Tremperskill Road, turn left and proceed 0.3 miles to a classic country church, the Pleasant Valley Meeting Hall.
On the lawn of the church is another outdoor kiosk, with dozens of photographs of buildings and people from lost Pepacton communities. This was a project of the Andes Society for History and Culture (ASHC), whose museum will be the final stop on the NYC Water History Tour.
Follow Tremperskill Road to the hamlet of Andes. Turn right on Main Street.
The large federal-style former inn in the middle of town is Hunting Tavern, headquarters of ASHC. The museum within houses memorabilia from Pepacton towns, along with exhibits on other aspects of local history, including the Anti-Rent War of the 1840s.