The 14.3-acre reservoir, a landmark since it opened for operation in 1881 as a source of Jersey City's water supply, is recognizable by the gigantic stone walls that conceal from the public the almost ideal landscape formed since it closed in 1992.
Many who came for the event were first-timers taking the opportunity to walk on a path atop of the walls, see birch and apple trees occupied by various species of birds, and fish and kayak in the six-acre lake that formed in the reservoir's wake.
Also, they could view gatehouses and other historic buildings on the grounds.
But the enjoyment of this urban preserve could be threatened by the New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation's plans to acquire the reservoir for a new school.
And there have been suggestions from other quarters for Reservoir No. 3 to be designated for playing fields and housing.
Trying to preserve it
Steve Latham, a resident of the Heights for the past 17 years, helped form the Jersey City Reservoir Alliance in 2003 in order to preserve the reservoir as a green space. He sees a different future for this urban oasis that includes a fishing pond, a nature trail and a preserve for plants and wildlife.
"This land is open space; this land has never been built on," he said. "If you look at an 1841 map, you'll see a stream running through here, a spring, trees, meadows. The walls were built around this land, but the land itself has never been built upon. This land, before white people got here, it was always open space. It would be great if it was always open space for all generations to come." Bon soir, reservoir?
Reservoir No. 3 was one of three in Jersey City built between the 1850s and 1870s by the city's water department to supply water to a growing Jersey City that by the early 20th century reached a peak population of 320,000.
But the reservoir closed in the early 1990s when the city's water was supplied by the Boonton Reservoir in Morris County.
Since Reservoir No. 3 closed nearly 15 years ago, it has undergone a transformation from an eyesore where rubble and graffiti once scarred the acreage to what a recent press release issued by the Jersey City Reservoir Alliance described as the "hidden jewel of Jersey City." Owned by the city
But the abandoned reservoir, still owned by the city, has also caught the attention of city officials who have contemplated building ball fields on the site to lessen the burden of the crowded fields of nearby Pershing Field.
There was also a proposal during former Mayor Bret Schundler's second term for a charter school to be built on a portion of the reservoir, with the administration setting aside money for education and recreation.
On March 31 of this year, the Jersey City Reservoir Alliance held an information seminar for the public to let them know about the plans for the New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation (NJSCC) to acquire the reservoir site from the city to build a new school. The NJSCC has looked at Reservoir No.3 as a result of a frustrated attempt to acquire an empty lot near the reservoir between Jefferson and Laidlaw Avenues, the former site of the Davey Paper Company.
Mayor Jerramiah Healy, who was unable to attend last week's celebration, said last week that he is "keeping an open mind" about the site's future. This came amid rumors that the city would allow for the acquisition of the reservoir site by the NJSCC as soon as this summer.
City Councilman at-Large Mariano Vega, said while touring the reservoir last weekend that he would work toward convincing the mayor and other city officials to obtain money from the state's Green Acres fund to help develop the natural preserve.
"The Board of Education needs schools; there's no question about that," Vega said. "But when you have a huge parcel across the street that's vacant and you don't have to take houses out, that's the better place to put it. The Reservoir No. 3 could wind up being the environmental resource for the Board of Education."
Vega also said he was looking forward to the day when he could walk into a park that would be formed out of the reservoir, taking a swim or doing some fishing.
Representatives from the New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation could not be reached for comment. Enjoying Saturday in the oasis
The word oasis, according to the 2004 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, means "a fertile or green spot in a desert or wasteland, made so by the presence of water" as well as "a situation or place preserved from surrounding unpleasantness; a refuge."
For those who came out last Saturday to visit Reservoir No. 3, those definitions for oasis resonated throughout the four hours when it became a public haven.
For 71 year-old Doris Cappelleti, who was accompanied by Councilman Vega, it was the first time she ever set foot within the confines of this space. She grew up on Troy Street, one block away from the reservoir.
"You see the swans and people in the rowboat and I'm overwhelmed, just overwhelmed," said Cappelleti. "I hope they keep [the reservoir] this way, for my grandchildren and my grandchildren's grandchildren. This is something that people fought for. As you can see, there are more than a handful of people here today."
For six year old Ian Thomas Russell, who came with his father Ron, it was actually the second time to visit the reservoir.
"I came here before to do some cleaning up, and I like coming here to see the water," he said.
Jersey City native Willie Nicolo came from his home in Pennsylvania to take in some fishing in the lake inside the reservoir. Nicolo caught some wind-mouth bass and sunfish for sport, putting them back in the water.
"They can do a stocking program here, putting fresh water trout in the water," he said. "They can have a fishing program for the youth, make money from fishing licenses."
"Why go out to Bergen County to do this kind of fishing when it can happen here in Hudson County?"
The event also attracted all different groups: nature enthusiasts, history buffs, and political candidates for City Council and the Jersey City Board of Education.
Historic preservation expert Rick James gave a detailed history of the reservoir and how it can qualify for historic landmark designation.
"I would approach very cautiously something that's clearly of a lot of value like this site," said James, "especially any project that could affect the Jersey City Heights for the next 50 to 100 years."