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Purdys Purged: 116 Years Ago

PURDYS, N. Y. Sept. 10, 1895 - The townsmen of Purdys, described in The New York Times as “pretty, peaceful Purdy’s Station on the Croton watershed,” were having an odious problem.

Ever since the gates of the Titicus Reservoir opened on July 29, a dreadful odor had been emanating. Finally, in the second week of September a delegation, calling itself the Purdys Board of Health and consisting of Supervisor Henry W. Norton, Health Office Dr. D. L. Casselmann and Dr. E. B. Potter, “shook the dust of Purdys from their shoes, made their escape from the bad smell of the reservoir at an early hour and reached New York by way of the Harlem Railroad.”

From the brand new Grand Central Station, the trio made its way downtown to Chambers Street, to present its case to Chief Engineer Birdsall of the Department of Public Works. Birdsall was told that since the reservoir gates opened, “50 or 60 citizens of Purdys had been complaining of malaria, of a languid feeling in the backs of their heads and around the top joints of their backbones.” Many of the wells in the village had become contaminated. Some had to be abandoned while others provided water suitable only for pigs and chickens.

A number of summer visitors had “hurriedly departed from Purdys owing to the smell and the fear of an epidemic of typhoid.” The town officials were concerned that the village would soon be depopulated. Neither depopulation nor epidemic occurred.

Chief Engineer Birdsall came to the rescue. He concluded that the odor was caused by lack of rainfall and agreed to shut down the dam for 10 days. In return, he asked the village officials to demolish a small waterfall near the dam, which interfered with the flow of the water and also to “pray for rain.”

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