Old Pipes Reveal Truth About 200-Year-Old Water Distribution System

Wooden water pipes still intact after two centuries underground

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Municipal workers were in for quite a surprise when a 2006 street excavation in Lower Manhattan in New York exposed wooden pipes that conveyed water to the city two centuries ago. 

The intact pipes, believed to date to the 1820s, included the original wrought iron connectors that held sections of the pine together. Once pulled from the ground, the pipes sat for several years in the headquarters of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection. 

Last month the pipes were transported to the New York Historical Society where they will be on display. 

The 12- and 14-foot-long pipes were laid by the Manhattan Company, which became known more for its efforts to build a banking empire rather than providing high-quality drinking water to local communities.   

“Even into the 1820s, as other cities began using cast iron, the Manhattan Company was still laying wooden pipes – hollowed out tree trunks, actually – that were susceptible to leaks, low pressure and invading roots,” explains a blog on The New York Times website

Perhaps this is an extreme case of negligence on the part of the pipe installation company, but there’s no doubt that standards and quality regulations were certainly different back then – and probably loosely enforced as populations increased at alarming rates in cities across the nation – compared to today’s water distribution system standards. 

This is yet another example of why water system operators and municipal workers who operate and maintain today’s water treatment plants and water delivery systems deserve a pat on the back for ensuring we have reliable and safe drinking water. 

Check out a photo of the exposed wooden pipes and the original blog at http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/18/early-water-delivery-system-in-the-city-cut-corners-and-trees/?goback=.gde_3785227_member_233835818.


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