When the Bronx Zoo was developed at the turn of the 20th century, its design was considered innovative as it preserved much of its natural terrain, giving many of the animals room to roam at a time when many zoos kept their exhibits in tight cages. The preservation of the landscape enabled the Bronx River to flow freely through the zoo, and retained some of the ponds and brooks within the zoo for the enjoyment of the animals.
Among these waterways are the Northern Ponds and the brook that sends the water downstream from these ponds into the Bronx River.
In a wide valley to the east of Grymes Hill is a 17-acre park containing three glacial kettle ponds tucked in a preserve that is its own miniature watershed.
In contrast to the island’s south shore that has dozens of preserved ponds and creeks, Eibs Pond is on the eastern side of Staten Island, a short drive from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Along the glacial terminal moraine that stretches the length of Long Island are numerous kettle ponds that formed from chunks of ice that fell off the ice cap and melted in place. Some of these ponds are there today, such as Strack Pond and Potamogeton Pond, and other were buried such as Redder’s Pond and Jackson Pond.
Then there was Delta Lake, the triangular pond deep inside Cypress Hills Cemetery that was photographed by a city worker in 1927 ahead of its condemnation in favor of a parkway that would slice through the cemetery.
When researching cities with hidden waterways, most have examples that were forced underground in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the western French city of Bordeaux, there are two hidden streams that haven’t seen daylight in centuries.
Above is a map of Bordeaux drafted shortly before the French Revolution. Two rivers are seen flowing towards it. The Peugue in dark blue and the Devèze in aqua. At the city’s edge, they disappear beneath the streets on their way to the Garonne River.
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.