Among the streams of New York, city and state, there are plenty of names that hearken back to the region’s first colonial masters. Examples include Gerritsen Creek, Kill Van Kull, Arthur Kill, Harlem River, Collect Pond, and Spuyten Duyvil. In Queens, an inlet of Newtown Creek makes the colonial connection quite plain. Its name is Dutch Kills.
This week’s selected photo comes from the 1921 publication The Newtown Creek industrial district of New York City By Merchants’ Association of New York. Industrial Bureau. The photo was taken from the Loose Wiles Biscuit Company, presently Building C of LaGuardia Community College. It is the head of Dutch Kills at 47th Avenue and 28th Street. In its natural state, the inlet was a creek that had its headwaters further inland.
In the old atlases
In the 1891 Julius Bien atlas, the municipality of Long Island City includes the communities of Hunter’s Point, Blissville, Dutch Kills, Ravenswood, Astoria, and Steinway. Dutch Kills is located to the north of its namesake stream’s headwaters. Although not located near the stream’s former course, Dutch Kills Playground at Crescent Street and 36th Avenue has the name because it was in the center of the Dutch Kills community. The stream had its headwaters a few yards to the southeast on what is now the 192-acre Sunnyside Yard.
In the 1903 Belcher-Hyde atlas, the stream appears to originate at the present-day corner of 38th Avenue and Northern Boulevard. As a reference, the eventual route of Queens Boulevard is highlighted. Around 1650, Burger Jorrison constructed a tidal mill on Dutch Kills that provided grain to residents of western Queens. It operated until 1861, when the Long Island Railroad obliterated the mill. The Payntar family, which had property along the rail tracks, saved the mill stone by relocating it a few yards to the west.
Dutch Kills Green
This reprieve for Long Island City’s oldest colonial artifact was for another half century. In the first decade of the 1900s, the construction of Sunnyside Yards and Queensborough Bridge greatly altered the map of Long Island City, with the creek buried north of 47th Avenue and train tracks laid on the surface. At the intersection of Queens Plaza North and Northern Boulevard, the Payntar farmhouse was demolished and the millstone was unceremoniously embedded in concrete on a traffic median. It’s a wonder that it wasn’t destroyed at the time.
In 2005, the city’s Economic Development Corporation, DOT and Parks began transforming the unattractive JFK Commuter Plaza into Dutch Kills Green. The postmodern design park has the millstone in its center, surrounded by permeable landscaping that soaks in rain water. Although it is not located atop the former stream, it is in close proximity to its historic course. On the park’s western side, a bike way connects to Queensborough Bridge.
Dutch Kills Street
Between the Sunnyside Yard and Jackson Avenue, there are a dozen “Jackson holes” or dead end streets abutting the tracks. Dutch Kills Street in one of them, shadowed by the inbound ramp to the upper level of Queensborough Bridge. Near the corner of Jackson Avenue and Dutch Kills Street is a bar that shares the stream’s name.
At 47th Avenue
The present head of Dutch Kills was constructed after 1907 and a decade later, the Degnon Terminal tracks were laid along the creek, connecting to factories in the neighborhood such as Sunshine Biscuits, American Chicle Company, and National Carbon. The photo above is from 1927, when the terminal was in its heyday. By the 1960s, trucking had reduced the neighborhood’s reliance on these tracks and they were abandoned in 1985. On one section of the tracks, a few blocks west of the creek’s head is an urban farm established on the unused tracks.
These days the head of Dutch Kills is a concrete yard operated by Nycon Supply Corporation. The company’s mixer trucks are visible throughout the city for their distinctive yellow color and the coat of arms of Portugal, the homeland of the company’s founders.
Further downstream on the exposed section of Dutch Kills, I leave it up to local historian Mitch Waxman to tell the story.