Here’s a photo that may be a stage set for an Aladdin revival, an idealized Middle Eastern city. The caption in this 1920s postcard and the flags identifies it as Basra, Iraq, a city on the Shatt Al-Arab waterway that contains many canals within it, earning the nickname Venice of the East.
I don’t expect to be visiting Basra during my lifetime, but I know that this postcard image dates to a more peaceful time in this storied city.
On the stretch of Belt Parkway between exits 9 and 17, the scenic highway rings the shore of Jamaica Bay, crossing over six inlets of the bay. A century ago, these inlets were freshwater streams that originated further inland, each with its own history.
Among these streams is Fresh Creek, which separates the neighborhoods of Starrett City and Canarsie.
In a ravine sandwiched between a house and an apartment building in the Douglaston neighborhood of Queens, there is a pond that I was not aware of when I wrote Hidden Waters of New York City. I knew that Alley Pond Park has many ponds and lakes within it, but I never knew about Old Oak Pond.
I was informed about it by local resident Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY. He advised to wait until the winter season when there is less vegetation blocking views of the pond, a fewer ticks. But I could not wait.
In today’s polarized society, people often put themselves into ideological silos and see little in common with members of other political persuasions, interests, and beliefs. Although the Hamodia newspaper is designed for a certain sector of Orthodox Jews, I can argue that its material can educate anyone who picks it up. Can you imagine an Irish-American historian from Queens reading a Hamodia article?
An example of the cross-over appeal here is Yitzchok Shteierman’s Pioneers of Boro Park column, which documents the neighborhood’s history. This is the type of work that Kevin Walsh does on Forgotten-NY.
Where do the literary paths of Shteierman, Walsh, and I intersect? At Webster’s Pond, a long-buried waterway deep in the heart of Borough Park, Brooklyn.
In recent years there has been plenty of talk about the proliferation of self-storage warehouses across the city, large boxy structures that provide few jobs, take up land and skyline, but in their defense, pay their taxes, provide a service to the public, and use otherwise neglected industrial properties. In Queens, no self-storage facility is as iconic as the downtown Flushing U-Haul with its clocktower that faces Flushing Creek.
The southernmost and perhaps least crowded public beach in New York City is at Wolfe’s Pond Park. It is a small stretch of sand on the otherwise pebble-strewn Raritan Bay. Behind the beach is a berm designed to hold back storm surges and behind it is Wolfe’s Pond, a historic waterway that nearly touches the ocean.
Down here, there are plenty of New Jersey radio stations playing on the radio, with Keyport and Keansburg facing across the bay. Like many parks on Staten Island, Wolfe’s Pond Park expanded in a piecemeal fashion, leaving a few homes within its borders. The homeowners live inside a forest knowing that they will never have to worry about other homes being built next to theirs.
Its name appears on a popular tavern in Long Island City and despite its “sunny” name, it is nowhere to be seen on the surface. On a recent visit to Socrates Sculpture Park in Astoria, my daughter stumbled on a sizable puddle in the park that lingers long after the rain is gone.
This puddle is as ephemeral as the sculptures in the park, but it may carry the spirit of Sunswick, the waterway that flowed across this site on its way to the East River at Hallets Cove.
As downtown Flushing becomes more crowded with condo and hotel towers pushing the skyline as high as airplanes from nearby LaGuardia Airport allow, it is difficult to imagine the neighborhood as it was when the first Quaker settlers arrived there in 1643.
In 1908, John H. Innes designed a map of late 18th century Flushing for the City History Club of New York. A copy of this map can be found at the Library of Congress, along with similar maps for Queens’ other early settlements, Jamaica and Newtown. Looking at these maps is like taking a tour back in time to when Queens was emerging from the American Revolution, still rural with street patterns that are still here today.
Prior marrying me, my wife resided in the Outremont section of Montreal, where we took strolls in Pratt Park. It is one of eight parks designed between 1910 and 1931 by a legendary local trio: engineer Émile Lacroix, landscape architect Aristide Beaugrand-Champagne and horticulturalist Thomas Barnes.
Three of them, Saint Viateur, Outremont, and Beaubien, have artificial ponds with fountains. Pratt Park was the most special of these, not only because this is where I dated my wife-to-be, but also because it has two ponds connected by a stream, with an isle, and a waterfall. It is a miniature Central Park within a single city block.
On the Bronx shore of the Harlem River to the south of Yankee Stadium is the 10-acre Mill Pond Park, which opened in 2009 on the site of the Bronx Terminal Market. The name of this park suggests a forgotten waterway on the site.
Where was the pond that gave this recent park its name?