History Hidden in Plain Sight

The well at Watts Pond


Have you ever driven past this old and rusty well, the one that stands like a statue on the edge of Edward W. Cahill Memorial Park (originally known as Watts Pond and in later years Mill Pond) and wondered about its provenance?

The story begins in 1858, the year the Ridgewood Aqueduct, commonly referred to as “The Brooklyn Waterworks,” was completed. The aqueduct was built from Cornell’s Pond (Arthur J. Hendrickson Park) to Baisley’s Pond in Jamaica, and from there to a hilltop reservoir in Glendale. Ten years prior, Brooklyn had suffered a great fire and had difficulty extinguishing the flames; excessive pumping had nearly depleted the Kings County aquifer. An alternate source of water was desperately needed.

The waterworks did not initially include Watts Pond; its elevation fell below the conduit and water could not naturally flow into the pipeline. Nevertheless, Charles C. Watts and Samuel C. Watts sold the rights to their namesake pond for $4,000. This transaction proved fortuitous. During the summer of 1872, Brooklyn’s demand for water outpaced its supply and Watts Pond was called upon to quench Brooklyn’s thirst. “A temporary pump has been put in place to pump water from the pond into the aqueduct,” reported the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. By 1894, the Watts Pond Pumping Station had 12 driven wells, each with an average depth of 50 feet, and a daily yield of 2,500,000 gallons.

In 1917, water from the Catskill Reservoir was flowing into the five boroughs, and decommissioning the wells at Watts Pond had begun. “Following the closure of the pumping station, this well was probably raised above ground and used to test the quality and level of the water,” explained Complete Well & Pump Inc., a Copiague company that does business in Valley Stream. “An above grade well ensures that no contamination from run-off [i.e. fertilizer, animal excrement] makes its way into the groundwater.” The imprint on the sanitary well cap, WSNY RDW Co 1927, stands for Water Supply New York, R.D. Wood & Co., 1927. Richard Davis Wood (1799-1869) owned a waterworks foundry in Florence, New Jersey.

Our story has a happy ending. In June 1919, the Department of Water Supply in Brooklyn issued angling permits for fishing in Watts Pond; trout, pickerel, and eel were common catches of the day. Ice-skating, too, had become a popular past time. The pond and land were eventually reclaimed by Valley Stream, its rightful owners. Brooklyn can visit if they like, but they can’t drink the water.

Location: Southeast corner of Sunrise Highway and Mill Road