Grangebel Park was built as a private park in the late 1880s by one of Riverhead’s leading citizens of the day, attorney Timothy M. Griffing.
Griffing purchased the property, which lay immediately east of his family homestead, in 1884. It was once the site of a water-powered flour mill. The mill had burned down in 1879 and the property had become “an overgrown and unsightly swamp,” according to “Riverhead- The Halcyon Years, 1861-1919” by Thomas M. Stark.
Over the next decade, Griffing improved the site and turned it into a beautiful park, which he opened to the public from an entrance on Main Street. He named the park “Grangebel” after his three daughters: Grace, Angeline and Mabel.
In 1892, Griffing built a 100-foot-tall tower at the southeast corner of the park, which he sited over a newly built flume and canal leading from the new dam he’d built at the site of the abandoned mill. The tower had a 25-foot observatory built atop its roof. It housed a large water tank, a grist mill and two turbine-type water wheels — one to power the mill and the other to operate pumps to lift water from two 85-foot-deep wells to the water tank.
When it was finished in September 1892, the tower was the tallest structure in the county. Its wood sheathing was painted to resemble a stone-walled castle.
While the tower was being built, Griffing and several other men founded the Riverhead Water Company and began laying mains in the village. The water company’s mains would be supplied by the two artesian wells Griffing had drilled near the tower. Water would flow by gravity to the new mains from the storage tank inside the tower.
Griffing’s wife Caroline was active in the Christian Women’s Temperance Union and on Dec. 6, 1892, the organization held dedication ceremonies at the top of the tower. Twenty ladies sang “America” while the flag was raised and a prayer was offered that the village “be liberated from the curse of liquor.” Visitors to the tower would pay a 10-cent donation to the temperance union.
The water company’s mains would eventually be acquired by a new municipal water district established in 1914.
Though its wells and pumps would be replaced with modern, more powerful equipment that produced better water pressure, the Griffing water tower remained in place for many years and was a local landmark featured on numerous postcards of the day.
“The observatory above the roof became a popular place for viewing downtown Riverhead and taking photographs,” writes Stark.
In 1931, the upper portion of the tower was removed because of its weakened condition. After Grangebel Park was acquired by the town in 1948, the lower portion of the tower was demolished. Its stone foundation and the brick pumphouse built next to the tower in 1907 remain in the park today.
Adapted from: “Riverhead: The Halcyon Years, 1861-1919” by Thomas M. Stark (Maple Hill Press, 2005)
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