Where the street grid covered numerous ponds across the city’s boroughs, the youngest of them, Staten Island still has plenty to offer. Along the island’s south shore, numerous ponds and creeks that were once erased by mapmakers in favor of yet-to-be-built streets have reemerged within the Staten Island Bluebelt. Launched in 1990 by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, the program involves acquiring privately-owned wetlands and re-purposing them as storm water drainage corridors, essentially allowing nature to channel the excess water rather than having it travel through sewers.
These preserved ribbons of open space function not only as storm water channels but also as parks and nature preserves in a rapidly developing borough. Among the 19 designated Bluebelt properties on the South Shore is Jack’s Pond, an apparent throwback to an earlier time in the Great Kills neighborhood.
How it functions
Emulating natural drainage patterns, water from heavy rainstorms collects in ditches and ponds, where wetland plants act as filters, absorbing some of the pollutants; and as sponges by retaining some of the water entering the ponds.
In places where natural waterways did not exist, they were constructed, serving the same purpose of channeling storm water.
This Best Management Practice of storm water management has since been applied to locations in Brooklyn, Queens, and cities worldwide, demonstrating the functional aspects of urban streams, how they handle excess water much more effectively than sewers.
In the aerial above, the street grid is interrupted by the preservation of New Creek as a Bluebelt property. The planning map shows locations where the sewers meet the creek.
More than one pond
Jack’s Pond is part of a miniature watershed comprised of three ponds. The uppermost pond is tucked between Nelson Avenue and Cleveland Avenue with a second pond across Cleveland Avenue in a patch of woods next to Christ Lutheran Church. At Hillside Terrace, downhill from Adrienne Place, the water is hidden in a pipe and reappears behind 83 Hillside Avenue in the largest pond, which carries the watershed’s name.
Courtesy: New York City Department of Environmental Protection
Because it is a shallow pond, algae blooms occur when the water temperature rises, making the lake unattractive to neighbors and less habitable for wildlife. As natural as it appears, the clarity of the water is the result of maintenance by the city. Excess water from Jack’s Pond is drained into a storm sewer that travels towards Great Kills Harbor.
The pond’s likely namesake stems form its past use as an ice harvesting site. In 1878, Jack’s Ice House was established by this pond, a vital business in a time before refrigeration was invented.
Books on the Island
As today is Wednesday, I would like to share the following books that I’ve used as sources for my entries on Staten Island.
If there is a hill, creek, pond, valley, point, cove, or inlet on Staten Island with a name, Ira K. Morris (1848-1922) had the stories behind the names. His 1898 work Morris’ Memorial History of Staten Island is an encyclopedic guide to the borough’s named locations.
When it comes to visiting these named places, local naturalist William T. Davis (1862-1945) is the borough’s John Muir, describing in detail the future parks and Bluebelt properties in his 1892 work Days Afield on Staten Island. Davis’ advocacy for natural spaces included the acquisition of the borough’s first nature preserve, which was later named for him. His work in historical preservation resulted in the creation of Historic Richmondtown, the island’s own preserved village.
To show how distant Staten Island feels from the rest of New York City, no place is as distant as Tottenville, the southernmost point in the state of New York. Although the neighborhood does not have any ponds or creeks, reading these two books gave me an appreciation for the borough’s past as an island of small towns.
From a historic house overlooking the Narrows, photographer Alice Austen documented life on Staten Island in the late 19th century. Prior to Austen, the island was the setting of many paintings and drawings, documented in a book by Barnett Shepherd.
When it comes to Richmond Creek, much can be written about Fresh Kills, formerly the world’s largest landfill and presently undergoing a massive transformation into a park. Benjamin Miller’s Fat of the Land goes into detail on how a vast salt marsh became a garbage dump. Danish author Ellen Braae’s book Beauty Redeemed compares former industrial sites around the world, with a mention of Fresh Kills.
For recent stories on Staten Island streams, the venerable Staten Island Advance (pronounced with an accent on the first letter) is my go-to source, especially for really hidden places such as Jack’s Pond.
It is the only print newspaper that serves an entire borough, published continuously since 1886.