In preparation for my upcoming lecture at King Manor Museum on April 17, here’s another hidden southeast Queens waterway. Twin Ponds today are hidden behind thick vegetation along a shoulder of the Belt Parkway in the Laurelton neighborhood.
Prior to 1954 when the parkway was widened, the ponds were a popular ice skating venue, and prior to that they supplied water to the residents of eastern Queens and Brooklyn.
How they looked
The ponds are part of a longer stream, Old Mill Creek, also known historically as the west branch of Hook Creek and Simonson Creek. This stream’s most prominent appearance is within Brookville Park in Rosedale, where it widens into Conselyea’s Pond. Further upstream, the creek winds through the interchange where Southern State Parkway begins. In the photo above from the Queens Library archives the ponds appear in square form following an improvement project in 1896.
Brooklyn Water Works
The 14-acre big pond and the 8-acre little pond were carved out of the creek between 1856 and 1858 as part of Brooklyn Water Works, a conduit running from Hempstead Reservoir to Ridgewood Reservoir along present-day Sunrise Highway. Along the route, the conduit also collected water from other dammed streams that crossed it. The reservoirs later became centerpieces of parks including Springfield Park and Baisley Pond Park in Queens; and Valley Stream State Park in Nassau County. After Brooklyn’s absorption into New York City in 1898, the former city’s Water Works fell into decline and Twin Ponds’s keepers were laid off in 1902. It opened up to become a popular ice skating site for residents of Foster’s Meadow, later renamed Rosedale.
On the 1909 G. W. Bromley map above, Merrick Boulevard is highlighted as a reference with Twin Ponds on either side of this ancient road. To its south, the Laurelton street grid had been laid out while farms still dominated the landscape to its north. On the far left of the map near the railroad tracks is Baylis’ Pond, which I mentioned last week. As with many of the city’s waterways, Twin Ponds have their share of casualties. The bend in Merrick Boulevard above the ponds caused many accidents for early motorists and the pond itself is where Rosedale resident Edward Clark, 6, drowned on September 2, 1927 after slipping from a raft. Who remembers this young life besides his family and this author?
A Park for the Ponds
Change came in 1929 when the city approved the creation of parks along the course of Old Mill Creek. Two years later, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses looked to the undeveloped park as a link in the region’s parkway network. A short spur called Laurelton Parkway served as a connector between Belt Parkway and Sunrise Highway to the south, and Cross Island Parkway and Southern State Parkway to the north.
In the undated Parks archival photo above, taken shortly after the parkway’s completion, Twin Ponds and other ponds on Old Mill Creek are hemmed in between the highway and its service roads. Tract housing appears to be marching eastward, swallowing up the last farms in the neighborhood. Nevertheless, the ponds remained in use as skating venues and teeming with fish.
Highway grows as Ponds shrink
As the colorized 1953 photo from OldNYC shows, the postwar migration to the suburbs meant more traffic on the parkways and extra lanes added at the expense of Old Mill Creek. A stream that once supplied water to a growing city has been reduced to a ditch and soon enough will be obscured by plants.
Twins in the Bluebelt
Following up on the adaptation of Staten Island’s South Shore streams into a bluebelt system, there is now talk of doing the same for southern Queens’ streams, using them as storm water drains where water from the streets is naturally filtered and stored, flowing downstream into the ocean and reducing the burden on sewage treatment plants. Seeking public input, the proposal to adapt Twin Ponds for storm water storage has been put up for an informal vote at public hearings as part of the Governor’s Storm Recovery effort.
In the meantime, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection is expanding the sewer network in a section of Queens that still sees plenty of street flooding during heavy rains.
Twin Ponds Bakery
It has been in business for decades, located near the corner of Merrick Boulevard and 234th Street. As neighborhood demographics shifted from Jewish towards Caribbean, so has its menu, which now offers jerk chicken. When the bakery opened, it faced the Schmitt Farm across the street. The farm held out until 1947.
So next time you are stuck in traffic on Belt Parkway between exits 23 and 25, take stock of the stream running along the highway’s shoulder, but don’t get too distracted. This stretch of the Belt has its share of accidents.
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.
In the News:
There’s talk of cleaning up the Ciliwung River in Jakarta, transforming the open sewer into a park.
Michigan State University’s Great Lakes Echo maps the missing urban streams in cities along the Great Lakes.
An effort is underway to daylight a portion of Lilly Branch flowing across the campus of University of Georgia at Athens.
Harmful chemicals were found in the Des Plaines River in suburban Chicago in a state study.
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