Adjacent to Pershing Field Park, along Summit Avenue, looms a structure seemingly from the time of antiquity. The massive stone walls tower over the passerby like an impregnable castle. Actually, this structure, simply known as Reservoir 3, is a former waterworks service station that today enjoys considerable attention from local preservationists and conservationists
Jersey City developed its municipal waterworks in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1850, the engineer William S. Whitwell proposed a three-reservoir complex, a pumping station near Belleville, NJ, and a set of massive underground pipes to carry a sufficient and reliable source of freshwater to Jersey City's growing population.
Reservoir 1 at Collard Street and Summit and Laidlaw Avenues was built according to plan in 1851. Its water began to flow into many of the homes in lower Jersey City as early as 1854. Between 1871 and 1874, Reservoir 3, although out of sequence, was constructed nearby under the direction of civil engineer John Culver on a 14-acre site bounded by Jefferson, Central, and Summit Laidlaw Avenues. Reservoir 2 was abandoned. Its site, bounded by Central, Summit and Manhattan Avenues, just north of Reservoir 3, became the public park of Pershing Field. Even after water from the Passaic River became too polluted (1899) and Jersey City acquired a better water source in Boonton, NJ (1904), Reservoirs 1 and 3 continued as integral parts of the city's waterworks well into the twentieth century.
Deemed outdated by the 1980s, Reservoir 1 was demolished with the nearby Jersey City Water Works headquarters (Gomez). The site is now occupied by the modern facilities of the St. Joseph's School for the Blind at 761 Summit Avenue.
John Gomez of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy has identified Reservoir 3 as an "endangered" site and calls it "a superb example of 19th-century aqueduct engineering." Rectangular in design, Reservoir 3 is a 30-foot-deep trap rock tub, one of the last of its kind in the United States. The design of the structure’s massive 20-foot perimeter walls indicates influences of the Egyptian-Revival Style, while its two pump houses are characterized by Romanesque-Revival features.
In the 1980s, Reservoir 3 was decommissioned, emptied, and fell into disrepair. Since then, the dam has naturally come to life again with water from rain and snow and reforestation. Today, it is home to an emerging ecosystem, wetlands, and wildlife sanctuary under the watchful surveillance of the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance.
Applebome, Peter. "An Oasis of Wilderness in Jersey City?" New York Times 15 May 2005.
Gomez, John. "Reservoir 3: Hidden 'Jewel of Jersey City.'" Jersey Journal 30 March 2005.