By Bill Parry
The Ridgewood Reservoir on the Queens/Brooklyn border will be preserved after the New York State Historic Review Board voted unanimously this month to add the 50-acre natural oasis to the New York State Register of Historic Places. Elected officials, community boards and environmental experts joined forces to have the site designated as a wetland preserving it from developers for future generations.
NYC H2O, a nonprofit that educates people about New York’s water system and ecology, wrote and submitted the reservoir’s successful Historic Register application for New York State that is now pending approval for the National Register with its listing expected in April. As part of its mission, the organization has brought more than 3,000 Queens and Brooklyn students on Water Ecology and Engineering Field Trips to the reservoir since 2014.
“The Ridgewood Reservoir is a majestic place that deserves to be listed on the National Historic Register as a cultural and ecological treasure to be discovered by generations to come,” NYC H2O Founder and Executive Director Matt Malina said during his Dec. 7 testimony in Albany. “In the course of bringing a new generation of New Yorkers to visit and experience the site, we realized that we had become stakeholders in advocating for its preservation. The support of elected officials, community leaders and organizations has been critical to preventing its demolition and in advocating for its future.”
The reservoir was built in 1859 to supply the independent city of Brooklyn with drinking water that came from streams in Queens and Nassau counties. After New York City switched to reservoirs in the Catskills in the 1950s, the Ridgewood Reservoir was decommissioned and drained in 1989, becoming a lush and dense forest which is now home to more than 150 species of birds.
“The New York State Historic Review Board’s unanimous decision to place the Ridgewood Reservoir on the New York State Register of Historic Places is a major victory for the reservoir, the surrounding community and individuals who come to enjoy what nature has created there,” state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said. “Now the reservoir will be preserved for generations to come. NYC H2O has been instrumental in showcasing the reservoir’s natural beauty, historical significance to Queens and Brooklyn, and its function as an education asset to thousands of students.”
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz praised the decision.
“The Ridgewood Reservoir was an engineering marvel in the 19th century and merits recognition as a landmark in urban history, engineering history and environmental history,” Katz said. “The reservoir offers insight into the environmental history of Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau County, and as such is an invaluable opportunity to study nature.”
State Assemblyman Michael Miller (D-Woodhaven) called the listing wonderful news and a great victory for the community and area activists.
“Had you asked me in 2007 if I’d still be advocating for the Ridgewood Reservoir in a decade, I probably would have laughed, given my firm conviction that the value of preservation should have been plainly obvious to anyone visiting it,” Friends of Ridgewood Reservoir Community Organizer Rob Jett said. “The recent recognition as a historically significant site confirms what so many people believed for so long and gives the Ridgewood Reservoir crucial protections.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr