This week’s selected photo comes from Vincent Seyfried and William Asadorian’s book Old Queens, N. Y. in Early Photographs, a collection of 261 photos from the prewar borough. Back then, winters were longer and colder, there were more waterways on the landscape and more ice skating locations. The authors found this postcard image in the Queens Library’s archives.
This 1905 scene was at Baylis’ Pond in Springfield Gardens, at the present-day corner of 219th Street and 141st Avenue.
A tributary of Jamaica Bay, this stream is today found within Springfield Park and along the eastern edge of JFK Airport. Prior to the 1950s, the stream ran undisturbed from its headwaters on Springfield Boulevard to the west of Montefiore Cemetery, south to the bay. Along the way colonial period millponds harnessed the water to provide grain for local residents.
The creek had an eastern tributary branch that originated near Montefiore Cemetery and flowed south on what become 223rd Street, curving southwest into Baylis’ Pond before merging with the creek’s main branch. The pond was alternatively known as Nostrand’s Pond after Peter Van Nostrand who built a gristmill on the creek. The above photo of his home was taken in 1906 by Eugene Armbruster. It was demolished in that year to make was for suburban development.
The pond’s namesake family has roots in the neighborhood going back to the American Revolution. In total, 66 members of the family are buried at Old Springfield Cemetery, which is enveloped by Monterfiore Cemetery a mile to the north of the pond.
In the above 1908 Belcher-Hyde map, Baylis’ Pond appears in a larger and smaller body split by Lincoln Avenue, which later was numbered as 141st Road, between Willow Pl. (219 St.) and College Av. (222 St.) Notice how 141st Road makes a slight shift at the pond. That jog in an otherwise straight path is still evident today, but the pond’s site is now occupied by tract houses built in the 1950s.
Following the creek
Relying on the 1924 DoITT CityMap aerial survey, I highlighted the north-south Springfield Boulevard and the ancient east-west Merrick Road. Baylis’ Pond is circled. The interruption in the eastern branch of Thurston Creek is Montefiore Cemetery. Although most of the landscape in 1924 was still rural, the borough-wide street grid had already been destined for Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and Cambria Heights. In piecemeal fashion, it was spreading across the former farms.
An interesting note: The most famous interment at Montefiore Cemetery is the last Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Shneerson (1902-1994) of blessed memory. On the cemetery’s northern side, a few hasidic families live and operate a visitor center. It includes a mikvah– a ritual bath that eliminates an impure status from a visitor. I am curious to know whether this mikvah relies on collected rainwater like most local mikvahs, or a groundwater source that could be related to Thurston Creek.
Speaking of Queens: If you missed my presentation last night on the hidden waterways of Manhattan, my next scheduled lecture is on Sunday April 17 at 3 p. m. at King Manor Museum in Jamaica, where I will speak in detail on the streams of eastern Queens. I hope to see you there.