New York Underground
[Level One Tour]

The bulk of utilities that service New York are found in the first 30 feet (9 meters) below street level, but there’s more down there. The first well was dug by English soldiers in 1666. Before politician Aaron Burr became really famous, he was responsible for New York City’s first water mains, which were made from untreated wood. The profits from the sale of water founded the Bank of the Manhattan Company, part of today’s Chase Manhattan Bank.

Digging anything in New York requires careful examination of mechanical drawings that take into account items over 100 years old. Careless digging could knock out blocks of utilities and cost millions of dollars to repair. Engineers today must rely on long-dead predecessors for accurate records of past work. These maps, new and old, are closely guarded; in the wrong hands, they could bring all of New York to its knees.