A book and a blog

What inspired me to write a book about the hidden waterways within New York City? Read on… (more…)

Akerselva, Oslo

Norway is a kingdom of mountains and deeply carved fjords. At the head of Oslo Fjord is the county’s capital city. Unlike London or Paris, Oslo does not have a large river flowing through it. But it has the Akerselva, (Aker River) a creek whose fast flowing current was harnessed by industries, contributing to the city’s growth over the centuries.

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The above 1926 image of the Oslo Steel Works shows the Akerselva flowing past the factories on its way to the sea. since the 1980s, most of the stream’s course has been cleaned up and lined with parks, except for the last quarter mile where it is hidden in a tunnel, as it flows beneath Oslo’s Central Station. Continue reading

Willow Brook on Bradley, Staten Island

Among the hidden waterways on Staten Island, Willow Brook is so obscure that a Google Street View isn’t good enough to tell the difference between an overgrown vacant lot and an overgrown vacant lot with the sound of a brook flowing beneath the vegetation. The only way to find Willow Brook is to see it in person.

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I had my encounter with a segment of Willow Brook while traveling down Bradley Avenue on the way to Greenbelt Nature Center, where I was conducting an inspection. Continue reading

Formation of Meadow Lake

The largest freshwater lake in the city covers 95 acres within Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. In contrast to the park’s central core that was an ash landfill prior to its acquisition by the city, the site of Meadow Lake was a salt marsh where Horse Brook flowed into Flushing Creek.

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The 1937 image above shows Meadow Lake assuming its present-day shape just before construction commenced on exhibits for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. There is so much to see in this photo, so here’s an explanatory tour back in time. Continue reading

Morris Creek, Queens

On the north shore of Queens is a former island fused to the borough. It was once a resort and today is a sewage treatment plant. The waterway that separated it from the rest of Queens was called Morris Creek.

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The creek was narrow enough to jump over and the resort at Tallman’s Island is a faint memory, even more obscure than North Beach in East Elmhurst, when it comes to amusements on the north shore of Queens. Continue reading

Alice Austen House, Staten Island

When I first read that there was an Austen House Museum on Staten Island, I mistakenly thought that it had something to do with a Victorian period British novelist. Both the novelist and this house’s namesake came from the upper class. Both Jane Austen and Alice Austen were fiercely independent women. Neither had ever married. The comparison ends there.

But what concerns me for the purpose of this blog is the landscape around Alice Austen’s House.

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There is a brook flowing on the south side of the house, emerging from the grass and descending down to the Narrows, the strait connecting New York Bay to the ocean. Continue reading

Westchester Creek, Bronx

On my travels north from home, I often use the Whitestone Bridge, whose roadway continues north as the Huthinson River Parkway. After emerging from the tangle of ramps it shares with Cross Bronx Expressway and Bruckner Expressway, it follows a stream for nearly a mile. But it’s not the parkway’s namesake. Not yet.

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It’s an obscure inlet that shares its name with the county to the city’s north. This is the story of Westchester Creek. Continue reading

Wienfluss, Vienna

Flowing through nine European countries, the Danube River is full of history along its 2,860-mile course. The oldest capital city on the Danube is Vienna, where the rivers enters the Pannonian Plain, splitting briefly into branches and collecting tributaries along the way. To reduce impact from flooding and improve navigation for boats, the main course of the Danube was straightened as it flows through Vienna, while its old natural course kept its winding route with a concrete bulkhead as the Donaukanal. A tributary of this “canal” is a river that shares the city’s name.

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It isn’t clear whether the ancient city received its name from the river or vice versa. Vienna’s founding predates the Roman Empire. Since 1899, the Vienna River has been confined to a concrete channel within the borders of the city, and in the section between Naschmarkt and Stadtpark, it runs through a tunnel. Continue reading

Last word on Mussel Island

musselmap.jpgWhile visiting a Parks work shop this morning, I found a 1988 Hagstrom map hanging on the wall with Mussel Island, Newtown Creek’s phantom island making its appearance. Also on the map, Hagstrom’s Maspeth office, the now-abandoned stations on the LIRR Montauk Line, the now-defunct Brooklyn Union Gas Company…

Towards the bottom of the map is the now-forgotten Evergreen Branch, a freight rail line running along the Brooklyn-Queens border.

No one ever lived on Mussel Island, it was a small and marshy piece of land at the confluence of Maspeth Creek and Newtown Creek.

Some Hagstrom Maps put the phantom island entirely within Brooklyn waters while other maps have the island shared by the two boroughs.

Divided Phantom Island

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Relying on aerial surveys of Mussel Island from the 1920s, the island is in the middle of the stream, giving both boroughs a claim for it, but older maps show it as outside of Brooklyn. With the island’s disappearance, the borough border line appeared on most maps in the middle of Newtown Creek, where Mussel Island once was. When the island went from real to phantom, Hagstrom had it divided between the boroughs, as in the 1949 map above. Circled is Kosciuszko Bridge, the highest crossing above the stream.

Was Hagstrom Correct?

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Relying on the DoITT CityMap that blends the present shorelines with a 1924 aerial survey, we see Mussel Island almost entirely within the present-day waters, with a tiny portion on what is now Brooklyn land. Back in 1924, the island was closer to Queens, and with 19th century maps as a reference, when it existed this island belonged to Queens.

Founded in 1916, Hagstrom was once the go-to authority for maps of the city and nearby cities. With the advent of GPS and satellite surveys, hand-drawn maps became obsolete. Hagstrom closed its Midtown Manhattan map shop in 2010, and was acquired by the Kappa Publishing Group that same year. Without Hagstrom, there is no Mussel Island.

Highbridge Pool, Manhattan

In selecting the waterways featured in my book, the question on reservoirs determined how much of the city would be covered in the book and the size of the book. Over the centuries, the city’s thirst was quenched by reservoirs placed on high location from which gravity took the flow to homes and businesses. Some reservoirs were given naturalistic appearances, such as the one in Central Park. Silver Lake on Staten Island was transformed into a reservoir; Mount Prospect Reservoir was eliminated after becoming obsolete. But only one former reservoir in the city was transformed into a public swimming pool: the one in High Bridge Park.

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As upper Manhattan does not have as many historical streams as its middle and downtown parts, a chapter on Highbridge Reservoir puts the neighborhood of Washington Heights on the Hidden Waters map. Continue reading

Furman Island, Queens

When taking the Grand Street Bridge across Newtown Creek, one notices the avenue narrowing to two lanes as it uses a century-old swing drawbridge to cross Newtown Creek. Not known to travelers today is that this creek used to have two islands in it at its confluence with Maspeth Creek.

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Nothing remains of the smaller Mussel Island, while the larger Furman Island has been fused to Queens. The former island is almost entirely industrial in use, with the exception of a small green piece of shoreline at a dead of 58th Road at 47th Street, where Maspeth Avenue once crossed over Newtown Creek. Continue reading