Woodland Reservoir

Early Water Sources Inadequate

In its early decades, Syracuse had used a variety of local water sources for its municipal supply: springs, brooks and even Onondaga Creek.  Some of those systems used small reservoirs that were located on the high ground found southwest of the central city.  In the 19th century, there were three different reservoirs located in what is now the Greater Strathmore neighborhood.  None proved adequate, however, either in terms of pressure or cleanliness. 

As the city experienced tremendous growth in both population and surface area during the 1870's and 80's, it was apparent that a new source of wholesome water needed to be developed.  The local press, political factions and rival companies debated various possible sources of supply.  The turmoil lasted twenty years. 

A commission was finally appointed in 1888 by Mayor William Kirk to research and report on different sources of water.  J.J.R. Croes, a prominent hydraulic engineer, was hired to head the investigation and author the report.  Among the sources considered for the city's water supply were Otisco, Oneida, Cazenovia, and Skaneateles Lakes, Onondaga Creek, the Seneca and Salmon Rivers, and Lake Ontario.

Skaneateles Lake Targeted as a New Source for Syracuse Water

Skaneateles Lake was unanimously chosen as the best obtainable source based on the chemical and bacteriological analyses, as well as preliminary cost estimates.  Additionally, the lake elevation, at 466 feet above the level of the Erie Canal at Clinton Square, would ensure adequate gravity flow along the nearly 20 mile length of required conduit.  This eliminated the need for costly mechanical pumping.

Not only did it choose Skaneateles, but the respected commission also recommended the proposed new system be municipally operated.  Previous city systems had been privately operated.  State legislation authorizing the use of Skaneateles Lake called for a city referendum on public ownership.  The vote was held on June 4, 1889.  It passed with a plurality of 11,302 to 910 in favor of government control.

The challenges were far from over.  The city had to battle mill owners located along the Skaneateles Lake outlet over water rights and obtain consent from the Erie Canal Board since Skaneateles Lake was a primary feeder to the canal system.  Obtaining the State Canal Board's support turned into a protracted fight in Albany during 1889 and 1890. 

Construction Begins and Woodland Reservoir is created

Eventually approval was secured and actual construction could proceed.  The immense task of survey, design and construction of the new water system was undertaken and completed in just less than four years.  An appointed Water Board oversaw construction under chief engineer William R. Hill.  During 1891-92, a 54" intake pipe was built 1 1/4 miles into the lake and a gatehouse constructed over its opposite end inside Skaneateles Village.  (In 1938 a second pipe was added and the present brick gatehouse erected.) 

In a challenging engineering feet, a trench was excavated during 1893 and 1894 over 19 miles of hilly terrain between Syracuse and Skaneateles.  As they inched along, workman buried a 30" cast iron conduit.  They had to conquer areas of quicksand as well as cross two ravines, each nearly 100' deep.  At the same time, a 121 million gallon, 35 foot deep, 14-acre reservoir was being excavated along outer Geddes Street at Stolp Avenue on a former picnic ground known as Lilly's Grove.  This would become the well-known Woodland Reservoir, so enjoyed by neighborhood residents.

On January 1, 1892, the city had formally taken over the facilities and system of the old Water Works Company following an $850,000 condemnation proceeding.  This included the former Wilkinson Reservoir. (which now forms Onondaga Park’s Hiawatha Lake)  The city ran the former facilities until the new system was ready.

On the morning of June 29, 1894, Syracuse Mayor Jacob Amos and State Senator Francis Hendricks made a two-hour journey by train to Skaneateles with a party of City officials.  At 11:10 A.M. a lever was turned to start the flow of Skaneateles Lake water into the conduit leading to Syracuse.  It reached the city's water mains four days later and the new reservoir, christened Woodland, began filling on November 12, 1894.  The total price of the system, including water power rights and real estate, the building of reservoirs, conduit line and miles of mains, was $3,957,877.85.  The old Wilkinson Reservoir, no longer needed, eventually became the centerpiece of the city’s new Onondaga Park.

A large, round metal holding tank was added in 1910 to increase water pressure for some of Syracuse's higher elevations.  Its round brick enclosure has become a prominent city landmark, standing high above the intersection of Geddes Street and Stolp Avenue.  It was restored and rebuilt in 1994.  It can hold 1.25 million gallons. 

Woodland Reservoir Today

Woodland Reservoir is accessible by foot from many points in the Greater Strathmore neighborhood. There also is a small parking area located off Geddes Street at its intersection with Twin Hills Drive.  Some of the original 1894 buildings still exist along the edge of the reservoir.  Recently, a new service building was added along Stolp Avenue.  The Syracuse Water Department took pains to insure that the architect matched the design to the historic look of the overall site.

There is a walking path around the perimeter of the kidney shaped reservoir, making it a popular route for joggers and walkers.  It provides unparalleled views of the city.  An interesting observation can be made along the Geddes Street side of the path where it passes the front of one of the gatehouses.  Above the doorway, set into the limestone blocks, is a list of reservoir statistics, including capacity, surface area, depth and height above the Erie Canal! 

Ambitious folks can also walk up a service road to the base of the 1910 brick standpipe.  From this vantage point, the entire surface of the reservoir is visible at your feet, with the Strathmore neighborhood spreading east and north toward downtown – a truly stunning scene, especially at dusk.

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