Indian Pond, Brooklyn

Near the border between the original Kings County towns of Gravesend and New Utrecht was Indian Pond, a long-forgotten waterway located on the site of present-day Seth Low Playground.

The triangular parcel marks the intersection of Stillwell Avenue, Bay Ridge Parkway and Bay Parkway, three major roads that connect distant neighborhoods along their route. A block to the south of the park, Kings Highway begins its long run to the east, starting at Bay Parkway.

indian pond 5

In the 1645 contract that created the Town of Gravesend, the pond is described as a “Certaine pond  in an ould Indian field.” Its native name was Makeop, “a great clearing or open field.” At the time of Gravesend’s founding, most local natives were gone, victims of war and disease. A surviving elder signed away the 31-acre pond for the value of “one gun, one blanket, and one kettle.”

From colonial times into the late 19th century, the pond was a canoeing and ice skating site. Its shore was the property of John Morrisey, notable for its location away from population centers. The black and white photo above was taken by Daniel Berry Austin in 1883. It is the oldest known photograph of Indian Pond.

In 1896, the Morton and Gorman Garbage Crematory was given permission to dump the refuse onto Morrissey’s pond, as it had run out of space to store the ash heaps on its own property.

By the turn of the 20th century, the pond was buried and remained an undeveloped lot until 1924, when the city acquired it for parkland. Its namesake Seth Low was a former mayor of Brooklyn who later served as president of Columbia University and from 1901 to 1903 as mayor of New York City.

Above, the DoITT aerial shows the site in 1924 as a dried-up pond site, while a more recent aerial outlines the park. The park is comprised of two triangular sites. The larger is named for Seth Low, while the smaller received the name Bealin Square on July 4, 1927.

The namesake, Sgt. James J. Bealin was the first Bensonhurst resident killed in the First World War. The local American Legion Post also carried his name and lobbied for the Bealin Square designation. Within this square, the Legion dedicated four trees to local veterans killed in combat: Flight Officer Abraham Elhal (KIA 1944), Sgt. James J. Bealin, Flight Officer Arthur J. Vogel and Lt. Walter V. Sigberman.

The most recent addition to the streetscape of Seth Low Playground is a mural painted by second graders of the Brooklyn School of Inquiry in 2011. Its silhouettes of northeastern bird species hints at the once-rich diversity of wildlife that was present at Indian Pond.

Although Gravesend has been part of Brooklyn since 1894, should it ever choose to secede, it already has its own coat of arms and flag, designed by local author and historian Eric J. Ierardi. In my humble view, the heraldry lion does not need a crown, as we threw off the British yoke nearly 230 years ago.

A big thanks to the Brooklyn Public Library, whose Brooklyn Daily Eagle archive made my research possible:

  • “Skating on the pond” Brooklyn Daily Eagle December 29, 1894
  • “Gravesend’s Crematory” Brooklyn Daily Eagle Aug. 22, 1896
  • “Don’t want pumping station” Brooklyn Daily Eagle December 26, 1901
  • “Bealin Square to be Dedicated” Brooklyn Daily Eagle July 2, 1927
  • “Name Change Protested” Brooklyn Daily Eagle February 23, 1941
  • “Around the Borough” Brooklyn Daily Eagle August 14, 1947
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