3. Who Designed It?

a playground with the Highbridge Water Tower behind it

Identifying who designed the Highbridge Water Tower is a matter worthy of attention, not least because many sources have credited it to the wrong person.

Contemporary accounts state that the High Service Water Works, including the Tower, were designed under the direction of Alfred W. Craven, who served as the Croton Aqueduct Chief Engineer from 1849 to 1868. Some sources also mention William L. Dearborn, who served as Engineer in Charge from 1862 to 1872. For what it is worth, Dearborn also signed plans for the Water Tower from the early 1870s.

“These extensive works have all been designed under the general direction of A.W. Craven, esq., engineer in chief of the Croton Department, by Wm. L. Dearborn, esq., Engineer in charge.”

New York Tribune, January 14, 1868. “Croton Department: New High-service Reservoir and Water Works at Washington Hights”

However, a century later in 1967 the City’s one-page Landmark Designation report states the Tower is “attributed to John B. Jervis.” One of the giants of American civil engineering history who was Croton Aqueduct Chief Engineer from 1836 to 1848, Jervis oversaw design and completion of the aqueduct and the High Bridge. However, after 1848 he went on to other endeavors and there is no evidence he designed the High Service Water Works. It appears that Jervis’ work on the High Bridge was conflated with the later Tower.

Alfred W. Craven
Alfred W. Craven, from Early Columbia engineers, an appreciation. Public domain

In an adult version of the children’s classic “telephone game,” many subsequent sources also state that Jervis designed the Tower, but dropping the “attributed to” qualification. It has become canon.

drawing of the tower from 1870
The Technologist, September 1870.
Public domain

To correct the record, the designers should be identified as Craven, Dearborn, and their colleagues. Given the Water Tower’s distinctive architectural character, it is possible that some uncredited architect also played a role.