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Stories from DEP is a collection of feature articles
published in DEP's internal newsletter, Weekly Pipeline.
This article was originally published December 6, 2011.

Where ‘Wood’ We Be Without These Pipes?

Starting in mid-November and for the next several months, anyone going between Lefrak’s high-rise and low-rise buildings will be treated to a fascinating display of New York City history on the third floor: an exhibit of two wood pipes excavated from a lower Manhattan street. The exhibit describes the role wood pipes had in the 1800s in delivering drinking water to New York City residents and to the infrastructure necessary for the city’s growth. One of the earliest methods to distribute water was using wood pipes made from logs. Yellow pine was cut into logs and an auger, a corkscrew-like drill, was used to bore through the center. The log water pipes on exhibit probably date back to 1820 when they were installed by the Manhattan Company. Fast forward to August 2006 when during water main replacement work, the two logs on display were discovered and unearthed at Beekman Street between Water and Pearl Streets.

Finding wood water mains was not a surprise, but their condition was. Found during routine utility upgrades, the logs were still connected to each other and in sound condition, despite their age. They had been taken out of commission years before but not removed from the ground. Upon their discovery, the city’s lead agency in the construction project, the Department of Design and Construction, consulted with the Landmarks Preservation Commission as to how they should proceed, and archaeological consultants were called in to oversee the rest of the excavation. Excavation in the area of the exposed wood water pipe continued with caution. The construction crew dug the area surrounding the entire length of the log before attempting to remove it.

Once it was fully exposed, the pipe was carefully lifted out, wherein the second log was found connected to the first. Both were part of a longer section of pipe composed of interlocking pieces. The two logs each measured approximately 14 feet in length with an average width of 9.5 inches and a hollowed-out core of six inches. One log had a conically shaped end that fit into the hollowed-out end of the other log and an iron collar that bound the two together. The pipes would then begin their journey to upper Manhattan.

DEP staffers Steve Askew and John McCabe from the Bureau of Wastewater Treatment were very helpful in arranging for the pipes to be removed and stored at the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant for safekeeping, where they were kept from 2006 to 2011.

In early 2011 Sue Dennis, Director of Facilities, Management and Construction Services (FMC), began to prepare the pipes for exhibition. The FMC team included mechanics, carpenters and archival staff. FMC staff, including Albert Colon, Thomas Murphy, Armondo Cerbone, Giuseppe La Russa and Vincent Pulsonetti transported the valuable relics to Maspeth, Queens. Professional conservator services stabilized the logs to avoid deterioration and specially treated them as part their restoration for future use. The next step involved designing and building “cradles” for the precious cargo. Conservators reviewed and approved the DEP-designed cradles that were then built by DEP carpenters Larry Del Grosso, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Bill Garneau, Michael Neal, John Sikula, Howard Spina, Joseph Trimarco, and Stephen Vaughan. The cradles were painted by Alex Monioudis, Constantine Anton, and Sergey Shmulevich.

Athena Danalakis, Karen Murphy, and Samar Qandil from the agency’s Archives staff prepared the descriptive panels with background information describing the wooden mains. Al Jabbar from BCIA prepared the exhibit panels. The wooden pipes will be featured as part of a travelling exhibit to other DEP locations, including Kingston and Valhalla, to highlight the pipes that serve as reminders of the precious liquid that helped fuel the city’s growth into the premier city that it is today.

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