Historically, it was easy to tell when you were entering or leaving a city. Its borders were indicated by walls and gates for centuries and in more recent times by generous greenbelts that separated one city from another. Between Belmont Park and the Laurelton neighborhood in eastern Queens, the Cross Island Parkway straddles the city line, separating the city from the suburbs of Nassau County.
At a point just south of Linden Boulevard, the parkway has a tight hairpin interchange with Southern State Parkway, and a hidden stream flows beneath the twisting “suicide” curve.
As often happened, when planners were charting paths for future highways, the easiest routes to map were along existing streams, where property acquisition was much easier to achieve. This week’s photo is from an aerial survey conducted on August 8, 1951. The photo comes from the New York State Archives.
The stream that flows through this interchange has had many names, including Hook Creek, Simonson Creek, Old Mill Creek, and Brookville Creek.
In the 1891 map above, the highlighted route is the future Cross Island-Laurelton-Belt Parkway, the red is the county line, and the circled area is where the interchange would be constructed. On the 1891 Bien atlas below, I also highlighted the parkway and county line as they relate to Simonson Creek.
The stream’s headwaters emerged from the ground at a point south of Belmont Raceway in Elmont, less than a mile to the east of the city line. A water pumping station originally operated by the Jamaica Water Supply Company stands on Hempstead Turnpike near Plainfield Avenue, collecting groundwater that once fed Simonson Creek. Whatever is not collected emerges out of the ground two blocks to the south of the water tanks at Belpark Avenue near Joan Court, where it flows for nearly a mile though a concrete channel constructed in 1933. I explored its path back in May 2011 for Forgotten-NY.
The stream runs beneath the football field of Elmont Memorial High School and reemerges in Dutch Broadway Park, continuing south behind private backyards. The stream flows entirely within the city after passing beneath this interchange, continuing past Laurelton Parkway, thorough Brookville Park and Idlewild Park Preserve in Rosedale on its way to Jamaica Bay.
Cross Island Parkway
Completed in 1939, Cross Island Parkway is part of a larger system planned by Robert Moses that was originally titled Circumferential Parkway, circling around the edges of Brooklyn and Queens and crossing into the Bronx using the Whitestone Bridge. Operated by the state, its identifying shield has the same outline as the numbered state routes with green indicating it is a parkway.
Southern State Parkway
There are three east-west highways on western Long Island: the Long Island Expressway, Northern State Parkway, and Southern State Parkway. The latter is the only one that does not extend into Queens. Westbound drivers must choose between going southwest on the Belt, or north on the Cross-Island. In contrast to its northern twin, SSP is full of curves, prone to traffic congestion and has short entrance and exit lanes. Like all state-operated parkways on Long Island, it has a shield depicting the Montauk lighthouse.
The interchange today
From this Google Earth aerial, we see that while the surrounding landscape is entirely filled with tract housing, the stream is still there, hidden behind thick vegetation. The county line still straddles the tight helix that takes motorists into Nassau County. Perhaps at a future date, this helix will be eliminated in favor of a gentler roadway, but its presence forces drivers to slow down and pay attention. Perhaps that was the point of its construction. The curves and low overpasses were also designed to keep trucks out.
I share this Photo of the Week with West Hempstead in mind. Over the past year, two couples from my synagogue in Kew Gardens Hills have relocated to this community, with another two soon to join them. Priced out of New York City, they see West Hempstead as the most reasonable of options based on their lifestyle, distance to the city, schools, shopping, and environment. The village has its own hidden streams, such as Halls Pond.
For now, I am determined to remain in Queens, but looking down the timeline, who knows?
Note: What my book does for the city’s streams, Steve Anderson’s nycroads.com does for the New York metro region’s highways and crossings, an encyclopedic and historical guide to every limited-access route in the area.