As late as 1936, steam locomotives shared tracks in the city with diesel and electric trains, horses shared the roads with trucks, and could that be a tall-masted ship docking on Staten Island’s North Shore? This week’s selected photo comes from the NYPL collection, taken by noted urban photographer Percy Loomis Sperr on May 22, 1936.
Sperr’s photo shows Bodine Creek crossed by the old and new trestles of the North Shore Branch of the Staten Island Railway.
Where is Bodine Creek?
In contrast to the creeks of Staten Island’s South Shore which have been preserved within the Bluebelt and park boundaries, the borough’s North Shore became urbanized long before the Verrazano Bridge triggered the island’s development boom. As a result, some of the streams flowing into the Kill Van Kull were covered in the decades preceding the bridge’s opening in 1964.
In the 1874 F. W. Beers atlas, the red area indicates the railway trestle in the photo, blue marks Bodine Creek and its tributaries. Yellow marks Bodine’s Mill Pond. At the time, the creek formed the boundary between the villages of New Brighton and Port Richmond. A proposed but never-built railway spans the pond.
Moving forward to 1907, Bodine Creek appears in its entirety in the Borough of Richmond topographical Survey of that year. The creek flows out of Brooks Lake, a mill pond in present-day Clove Lakes Park, flowing north through West New Brighton with a branch diverging towards the Barrett Nephews Dyeing Company factory. At a point north of the straight Carey Avenue (highlighted), it merges with Palmer Run, widening into Bodine Mill Pond. The dam is at the winding Richmond Terrace (highlighted). It finally passes beneath the train trestle (red) before emptying into the Kill Van Kull.
One more map
By 1917, the year the G. W. Bromley published his atlas of Staten Island, most of North Shore’s present-day streets had been completed. At the same time the streams were still flowing across the developing landscape. On this map, one can see major roads such as Forest Avenue, Jewett Avenue, Castleton Avenue, and Richmond Terrace as they related to the creek. The green outline covers Clove Lakes Park and Silver Lake Park. Within those parks, the stream is also known as Clove Brook. The stream’s western tributary flowing between the numbers 17 and 18 is Palmer Run. The green square covers Levy Playground, which is near the confluence of Palmer Run and Bodine Creek.
Who was Bodine?
As with many place names on Staten Island, Bodine is a French name, the result of an influx of Huguenot refugees who settled in the colony throughout the 17th century fleeing persecution in France. Their descendants have since spread across the nation. Between Castleton Avenue and Richmond Terrace, the family built a mill pond. By the 1920s, the pond had been largely filled and its footprint today is mostly comprised of car repair shops along Rector Street and the Castleton Bus Depot.
What’s there today
Traveling on the major roads that once crossed the creek between Clove Lakes and Richmond Terrace, we see hints of the stream based on topography and undeveloped spaces.
At Forest Avenue (above) looking upstream one can see an undisturbed Bodine Creek flowing through Clove Lakes Park but once it meets Forest Avenue it goes underground. Across the street is a blend of apartments and single-family homes built atop the stream bed between the 1970s and 1990s.
Looking downstream at Post Avenue, we see a dried up channel that once carried Bodine Creek. The background is the Castleton Bus Depot, built atop the stream bed.
At Castleton Avenue, alleys used for parking and storage lie atop the former course of the creek.
The creek reemerges to the surface at Richmond Terrace, where it flows for a quarter mile before emptying into the Kill Van Kull. Along the way, it crosses beneath the concrete trestle photographed by Sperr.
As mentioned earlier, Levy Playground is located near the confluence of Palmer Run and Bodine Creek. The park was built on the site of a city-owned pumping station, yet another hint of the vanished stream.
Sperr in reverse
When Sperr took the photo of the North Shore Branch crossing Bodine Creek, he also took another photo from the same location looking upstream. As you can see by 1936 it already looked like a dump and most of it would soon be covered.
The North Shore Branch
From 1886 until March 31, 1953, the North Shore Branch provided passenger train service to communities along the Kill Van Kull. Increased car ownership, cheaper fares from competing buses doomed the unprofitable rail line. Freight service continued on the line until its abandonment in 1989. As Staten Island’s population and traffic woes grew over the decades, the well-preserved rail line remained unused despite numerous attempts to jump start a revival.
Once a railroad is abandoned, it is extremely costly to restore so instead the city is focusing its plans on a busway for the North Shore using some parts of the elevated trestle with stops located near the former train stations. When Sperr took a photo of the completed concrete viaduct of the North Shore Branch, he probably had no clue that in less than two decades, it will no longer be used.
As for Bodine Creek, although most of its course has been developed, those parcels that are still empty (see above) could be transformed into bioswales and bluebelts for the North Shore.