Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Early Snowbirds

New York’s weather reverts to normal in January, 1830

By David Minor

So far, as the residents of the New York City area welcomed in the year 1830, there would have been few complaints about the winter. James Stuart noted that the streets of Manhattan were so dry it was necessary to sprinkle them to keep the dust down. But, downstate or up, New Yorkers are suspicious of nice winter weather anytime before mid-April. They were not to be disappointed.

Exactly one month after Christmas the mercury headed for the cellar. Water transportation was halted between the city and both Philadelphia and Albany. According to Stuart, “. . . all hands were set to work in order to have the ice-houses filled with that article which is so indispensable in a warm climate. The ice-house attached to the boarding-house where we were living contains thirty tons of ice; and, as no ice is admitted into an ice-house here which is not perfectly clean and clear, so that a lump of it may be put into a glass of water or a bottle of wine, as much care is necessary in selecting the ice perfectly pure from the ponds, as in packing it in the ice-house.” He mentions that his Hoboken neighbors the Stevenses keep large supplies of ice both here in New Jersey and at Albany, for use on their steamboats during the warmer weather. Northeastern forests near the big cities are being depleted of wood, much of it for the bark, which is ground up by tanneries to produce a tannin-rich liquid for soaking animal hides, softening them to create pliable leather. The spent liquid is then put to use polluting nearby rivers and streams. Man-made recycling at its worst; at least until new technologies come along.

Unlike most residents of the area Mr. and Mrs Stuart have no ties binding them to the colder climates. He writes, ”On the 29th January, I set out on a long projected expedition to Charlestown, New Orleans, the Mississippi and Ohio.” Left to our own devices after the snowbirds have flown, we’ll hang around the mouth of the Hudson and see what’s going on during the rest of 1830. The Stuarts will return at the beginning of summer.

Meanwhile, the city’s search for decent water is ongoing. In April work is completed on a 27-foot high stone tower on 13th Street, built to contain Philadelphia engineer Thomas Howe’s iron tank, designed to hold 230,000 gallons of water. A system of twelve-inch iron pipes will be laid to carry the water under Broadway and the Bowery to supply three and a half miles of streets with water, capable of being pumped sixty feet above street level.

Two types of power are at work in this project - water and political. The Manhattan Company, a brainchild of Aaron Burr in the late 1790s, had been formed to bring Bronx River water downtown. But Burr had a more important goal in mind, slipping language into the enabling legislation to turn the entity into a private bank. Now, in the fall of 1830, State attorney general Greene C. Bronson will sue to have the Manhattan Company's charter dissolved, arguing that the company not only has no right to be in the banking business, but also has not fulfilled its main obligation to deliver drinking water. Company lawyers will keep this one tied up in the courts for the next two years. Proponents of alcoholic abstinence will leap into the fray, citing the lack of good drinking water as the excuse for intemperance. The waters will remain muddied (you should pardon the expression . . . or not) for some time to come.

© 2006 David Minor/Eagles Byte

No comments: