Thomas (12) Addis Emmet


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, Genealogical ID:
Thursday, June 4, 1818
New York, NY
Monday, January 12, 1880
Carmel, NY

Thomas (12) Addis Emmet, like his father, graduated from Columbia College and then studied engineering. His first job was for the Erie Railroad and he later worked for the New York Dept. of Public Works, helping to establish the water supply for the City.

At the time of his sudden death "of apoplexy," he was involved in the construction of the reservoir system. His obituary describes Emmet as a "genial, unostentatious and charitable" bachelor, greatly loved by his colleagues as well as by his family.

As the eldest son, he inherited a large emerald ring from his father - the ring used as a seal by the United Irishmen in 1798 and engraved with a harp and clasped hands, a ring of such potent symbolism that the British government offered a reward of £500 for its possession in the late 1790s. Thomas left the ring in his will to his nephew, Robert (67) Emmet.

The dam on the middle branch of the Croton River and reservoir where Emmet was working at the time of his death is about two miles from Brewster, NY.

A tunnel about 500 feet long, connecting two reservoirs, was built through "very hard rock," according to an interview Emmet gave the NY Times in 1875. It was slow work, as everything was done by hand. Continually passing wagon teams removed the rocks and dirt, which was then used in constructing the nearby dams. The property to be flooded by the dams included some valuable farm land and two houses, "one alone valued at $25,000."

A New Yorker article in 2003 claims that "as an engineering feat, this water tunnel system rivals the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal." This article goes on to point out that "for much of its history, New York was a parched city."

By 1785, newspapers were complaining that local water had become "a common sewer."  Yellow fever epidemics in 1798, 1805 and 1822 killed thousands, as did an 1832 outbreak of cholera caused by drinking water polluted with human feces.

The Croton Reservoir system was finally launched in the late 1830s, and as Mayor Philip Hone (the great-grandfather of some Emmets) wrote in his diary, "Nothing is talked of or thought of in New York but Croton Water... Water! water! is the universal note which is sounded through every part of the city, and infuses joy and exultation into the masses."  

But by the 1850s, with the growth in the city's population, the supply from the Croton reservoir was becoming inadequate so Emmet was enlisted with others to expand the system northward.