Friends Group Rescues Vital Aqueduct Machinery from Oblivion

Elijah Nelson Bedell at Old Gatehouse Aug 1905

Transport yourself back in time at the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park as a remarkable 125-year-old piece of machinery makes its grand debut. Nestled at the Keeper’s House at 15 Walnut St in Dobbs Ferry, this historic artifact, an Actuator that once powered 48” valves crucial for supplying water to New York City, has found its new home after a collaborative effort between government entities and a non-profit organization. Saved from the brink of a scrap heap and meticulously restored, this actuator, originally installed at the New Croton Dam around 1905, now proudly graces the front yard of the Keeper’s House, serving as a poignant reminder of our enduring commitment to quality water supply and a token of the relentless march of technological evolution.

A consortium of the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct (FOCA), Parks and Trails New York, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Protection successfully rescued one of three sluice gate actuators that that were scheduled to be scrapped at the New Croton Dam. Tom Tarnowsky, a FOCA board member, approached the DEP and requested that FOCA obtain custody of one of them.  State Parks agreed to move the Actuator to their Peebles Island Resource Center and the restoration process commenced. Parks and Trails New York provided funding for installation. After the actuator’s components were derusted and refurbished, State Parks and FOCA placed the actuator on a granite base outside the Keepers House.

Actuator Before Restoration, New Croton Dam

An actuator is a piece of machinery that applies gear reduction to drive a sluice gate through its travel.  The actuator itself weighs approximately 1000 pounds.  Its iron casting stands three feet high and two feet in diameter and provides a housing for gears and rod connector.  Two opposing hand cranks turn bevel gears which drive a threaded rod and its connector.  The rod, in turn, is coupled to the gate.  The rod attached to the gate at the Dam extends eighty feet below the actuator.  The gate is raised or lowered to control flow of water from the Dam.  The original hand cranks used for manual operation reside in the Keepers House.

The actuator was manufactured by the Coldwell Wilcox Company of Newburgh, NY sometime between 1892 and 1906.  It was one of three installed in the New Croton Dam and used until about 2014 when the DEP transferred custody to FOCA and State Parks.  On December 1, 2023, the actuator was installed on the lawn in front of the Keepers House.

FOCA expects to present discussions about the acquisition of the Actuator and how it functioned in the Croton water system.

Restored Actuator as Installed at the Keeper’s House

The Actuator will serve as an educational tool, aimed at enlightening generations of New Yorkers and other visitors about the rich history and function of our water supply system.  The Actuator is also a Benchmark for advancements in engineering and standardization. It serves as a reference point for understanding the evolution of materials, casting techniques, machining precision, assembly methods, stress analysis, and the integration of electrical and electronic controls.

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