Adjacent to Pershing Field Park along Summit Avenue looms a structure seemingly out of antiquity. The massive stone walls tower over the passerby like an impregnable castle. Actually, this structure, known simply as Reservoir 3, is a former water works service station that today enjoys considerable attention from local preservationists and conservationists.
Reservoir 3 was part of an ambitious mid-nineteenth century plan for the Jersey City municipal water works system. 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 that would provide a sufficient and reliable source of fresh water for a rapidly growing Jersey City population.
Reservoir 1 at Collard Street and Summit and Laidlaw Avenues was built according to plan in 1851 and water began to flow into many of the homes in lower Jersey City as early as 1854. Between 1871 and 1874, Reservoir 3 was constructed nearby under the direction of civil engineer John Culver, although out of sequence, on a 14-acre site bounded by Jefferson, Central, and Summit Laidlaw Avenues. Strangely enough, Reservoir 2 never materialized, although the site, bounded by Central, Summit and Manhattan Avenues, just north of Reservoir 3, later was converted into public park known as Pershing Field. Even after the Passaic River water became too polluted to use (1899), and Jersey City had to acquire a better water source further west in Boonton, NJ (1904), the two reservoirs continued to function as integral parts of the city's water works operations well into the twentieth century.
Reservoir 1 was deemed outdated by the 1980s and it was quickly demolished along with the nearby Jersey City Water Works headquarters (Gomez).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 (761 Summit Avenue).
John Gomez of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy that identified Reservoir 3 as an "endangered" site 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 US. The design of the structure’s massive 20-foot perimeter walls indicate influences of the Egyptian-Revival Style while its two pump houses are characterized by Romanesque-Revival features. Reservoir 3 too was emptied and fell into disrepair around the 1990s. Since then the dam naturally came 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.