NYC Needed Water, but 4 Little Towns Were in the Way

They're not in the way anymore: Atlas Obscura looks back
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 23, 2016 10:52 AM CST
A tunnel crew at work in 1948 on the project.   (New York City Department of Environmental Conservation)

(Newser) – A handful of picturesque villages in New York's Catskills region had bleak Christmases 63 years ago—residents were well aware that their homes were about to be deliberately sent underwater for good. It was all in the name of progress, explains a feature at Atlas Obscura. In this case, progress entailed flooding the villages of Pepacton, Union Grove, Shavertown, and Arena as part of the construction of a mammoth aqueduct system that supplies New York City with 25% of its tap water to this day. For some residents, it meant giving up the land their families had farmed for generations. "They were fair and they treated me well," said one farmer in Shavertown, referring to city officials. "Now, as quitting time gets closer, the thought of leaving my home, the buildings I built and the place I raised my family makes me sick.” He received $30,000 for his 600-acre farm.

The article touches on the incredible engineering that made the water network possible—especially for its era—but the main focus is on its human toll. “The inhabitants of the little village of Arena are decorating their homes and putting up Christmas lights for the last time,” it quotes the local Oneonta Star reporting in December 1953. The prevailing sentiment seemed to be one of resignation, writes Andy Wright at Atlas Obscura: "The building of the reservoir was met with awe and a sense of inevitability; the loss of the picturesque towns a bittersweet sacrifice to innovation." Click for the full story, which notes a quirk of the project: The number of living residents who were relocated (about 1,000) was trumped by the number of the non-living (1,330). All the graves had to be relocated, and NYC maintains them. (Read more Longform stories.)

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