You may have noticed that in the course (pun intended) of my research, I am particularly fascinated with the sources of streams. For this week’s selected photo, the head of Coney Island Creek appears for the first time, at Shell Road and Belt Parkway. Prior to 1936, it didn’t have a head as it was an inlet separating Coney Island from the mainland of Brooklyn.
The photo was taken on November 13, 1936 and can be found in the NYPL Collection. Funding for this bulkhead project was provided by the WPA as a Depression-period public works project. Although nearly a mile of Coney Island Creek has been filled and Coney is no longer a true island, in many ways it still feels like one.
Before this Photo
Looking at the 1890 Elisha Robinson map of Brooklyn, I highlighted the path of the proposed Canal Avenue (see this article), the present-day crossings in red, and circled, the present-day heads of Coney Island Creek and Sheepshead Bay. What we know today as Sea Gate was called Norton’s Point. Brighton Beach was mostly a racetrack while Manhattan Beach comprised of seaside resorts operated by Austin Corbin.
Coney Island Creek was a tidal strait linking Gravesend Bay and Sheepshead Bay. Although there were plans to transform it into a canal in the late 19th century, by the 1930s, plans had changed and instead, the section between Shell Road and West End Avenue was filled and covered by the Belt Parkway.
Looking at the DoITT CityMap aerials form 1924 and 1951, we see that by 1924, significant portions of the stream has been filled between Ocean Parkway and Coney Island Avenue, and at the point where Emmons Avenue becomes Neptune Avenue. It appeared that Coney Island would be fused into Brooklyn’s street grid but then Belt Parkway again severed the former island from the mainland. Two underpasses, three bridges, and two subway trestles cross the highway.
Having volunteered in Coney Island and Brighton Beach in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it felt as if the creek had returned to the surface by flooding some of the streets along its former course, along with the rest of Coney Island as a result of a storm surge. The streets were covered in sand and debris.
Here’s a Google Street View of the head of Coney Island Creek today, where the elevated Belt Parkway runs above Shell Road and beneath the Culver Line (F subway train). Behind the Belt Parkway, a former wetland is site of the Coney Island Yard. The water appears harmless, but it is an inlet of the sea and without marshland to absorb the storm surge, the higher level of water crashes onto the street and nearby rail yard. Seeking to mitigate the impact of a flood, the city commissioned the Coney Island Creek Resiliency Study to reduce the impact of a storm surge on Coney Island Creek.
A barrier at the mouth of Coney Island Creek would present 100-year storms such as Sandy from impacting the back side of Coney Island. The creek in many ways reminds me of the channels that separate Atlantic City from the mainland. Like Coney Island, AC’s ocean-facing side has a boardwalk and tourist attractions, while is backside is mostly forgotten and unknown, a maze of twisting inlets and marshes. The same can be said about Coney Island Creek.
The creek has its share of admirers, including boaters who plied its course. Back in 2006, Forgotten New York followed the route. Although one boater described the drain at the creek’s head as a culvert of the creek, the city’s DEP lists it as sewer drain CI-641.
For more information on Coney Island Creek, historian Charles Denson is working on a documentary about this stream.
In the News:
- Ryan Healy covers the history of Hell Gate Bridge for Gothamist.
- Coming soon: the documentary Saving Jamaica Bay by Dan Hendrick.