Highland Park

Ridgewood Reservoir

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

A Brief History

Highland Park and the Reservoir sit on a ridge formed by the Wisconsin ice sheet's terminal moraine. This ridge lends to dramatic views of nearby cemeteries, East New York, Woodhaven, the Rockaways, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Highland Park was acquired in pieces over time by the City of Brooklyn, Parks, and The Highland Park Society. The first purchase was in 1856 when the City of Brooklyn purchased the Snediker's cornfield to start the construction of the Ridgewood Reservoir. This Reservoir was important as the population in Brooklyn was growing and there was a need for more water. The Reservoir was built in 1858 and held 154 million gallons. In 1889, the Reservoir was the last link in the aqueduct system that originated in Nassau County. In 1891, the land surrounding the reservoir, which in now Upper Highland Park, was purchased by the City of Brooklyn. Jurisdiction for this parcel was given to The Highland Park Society. This parcel helped to buffer the Reservoir from the pollutants generated by cemeteries and garbage plants.

Up until 1894, not much was done. The landscape architect firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot designed the main drive and concourse on the southern portion of the Reservoir. The following year, an iron fence was built around the Reservoir and ornamented with electric lamps.

In 1905, the next two land purchases, which now comprise Lower Highland Park, included the Schenck and Monford estates, and in 1906, a land transfer between the Highland Park Society and the Department of Water, Sewer, Gas and Electric was the last parcel added to the park.

The Reservoir operated as a water supply for Brooklyn from 1858 to 1959. In 1917, New York City Tunnel #1 was completed and brought water from north of the city, and in 1936, Tunnel #2 was completed. With the development of the Catskill aqueduct for New York City, Basins One and Three were drained. From 1960 to 1989, Basin Two was used as a backup water supply for Brooklyn and Queens. In 1990, the Department of Environmental Protection decommissioned the site. In 2004, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced its transfer to Parks, as well as plans to develop the site into a public park.

Natural History

The Reservoir is 50+ acres and sits atop the Harbor Hill Moraine, rising above the surrounding Jamaica Bay outwash plain. It is divided into three basins, which are separated and enclosed by steep stone walls.

Flora of the Reservoir

The outer basins were drained decades ago and provide a unique opportunity to see forest succession at work. The east basin contains large sections of native plants. Trees such as Black Cherry, Grey Birch, Red Maple, and Sweet Gum can be found here. Sedges, grasses, rushes, and other wetland and upland plants thrive beneath the trees. Sweeping across the northern section of this basin are thick carpets of moss, which engulf bog-like areas unique to the New York City area.

The biggest basin is on the west side and contains the largest number of plant communities. Black Locusts dominate here, anchored by an open savannah–like expanse. South of this area, you can find the same clusters of Grey Birch trees, mosses, sedges and grasses as well as Poplar and Willow trees. Pools of standing water have attracted the establishment of wetland plants, some found on the Threatened and Endangered lists.

The central basin contains water and is dominated by Phragmities, a non–native invasive plant.

Wildlife in the Reservoir

With the combination of many different types of habitats—forests, fields, and wetlands—the Reservoir is an opportune spot for wildlife viewing.

The Reservoir falls along the Atlantic Flyway, a coastal migratory route for birds. It is also perched on a ridge, creating updrafts for birds of prey to soar. It and the neighboring Forest Park are listed as the top 500 places to see birds in New York State. In 2007, a total of 127 bird species were recorded in the Reservoir, seven of which are listed as Threatened or of Special Concern. Some birds of prey observed were the Red–Shouldered Hawk and Short–Eared Owl. In May, you can catch the “Warbler Wave” and other spring migrants stopping here before their long journey north.

Mammals and reptiles found in the Reservoir are opossum, raccoon, squirrels, voles, snapping turtles, garter snakes, and frogs.

Highland Park Guidelines

  • No unauthorized vehicles at any time. Absolutely no dirt bikes, All Terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, etc. are allowed in the park any time.
  • No alcoholic beverages allowed.
  • No paintball games allowed inside a New York City park at any time.
  • Do not enter restricted, fenced, or locked areas in the Reservoir.
  • Do not damage Parks property.
  • Please obey and comply with Parks Department employees' instructions, directions, and warnings.
  • All pets must be kept on a leash at all times, except during the hours of 9:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m.

Directions to Highland Park

Was this information helpful?