Cow Kill Pond, Queens

Having written about it earlier, I mentioned that Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens had a Sunnyside Plot on the north side of Queens Boulevard that was acquired by the city in 1934 for a park and the Van Wyck Expressway route. On an old map of the cemetery this plot had an unnamed pond at its northeastern corner.

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Prolific Queens history author Carl Ballenas tells me that it did have a name, based on an 1878 letter to a newspaper editor.

The Source Document

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A slide produced by Ballenas takes us back to December 8, 1878, when an “Old Reader” wrote a letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle naming the glacial kettle pond as Cow Kill Pond. Unless one of Queens’ extinct newspapers such as Long Island Press, Long Island Farmer or Newtown Register can back it up, I’m not sure if I’m ready to bestow Cow Kill to this long-forgotten pond.

Why “kill?”

Throughout New York, small streams are known as kills, from an old Dutch word for creek. Did the pond’s name indicate a stream that I haven’t seen before on any map?

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As there are no photos of the pond from the time of its existence, the only visual aid that we have is the 1924 DoITT NYCityMap aerial survey. Queens Boulevard pierces the landscape here. The cemetery is on the left and to the right is a thick forest on the slopes of what would become the Briarwood neighborhood. So if the pond is named Cow Kill it likely means either of two things: a bovine was slaughtered here at some point, or a creek (kill) flowed into or out of this pond.

Projecting a stream

Topography expert Eymund Diegel looked into it by drawing stream lines into every low point on the landscape. His elaborate projection shows that Briarwood and Maple Grove Cemetery are on the watershed boundary separating Flushing Bay from Jamaica Bay. The red circle indicates where the pond was located. Today, it is a concrete ball field in Hoover Playground.

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So if there was a Cow Kill stream, it probably would follow Diegel’s projection on what is now the Wan Wyck Expressway descending north towards Willow Lake. It shows that the Head of the Vleigh was not the source of Flushing Creek, but simply a confluence of smaller brooks that originated further uphill at places such as Maple Grove Cemetery and Cow Kill Pond. The sports field in the above aerial is Archbishop Molloy High School. But I can’t say for sure as there were plenty of kettle ponds in Queens that did not have outlets serving as the centers of their own miniature watersheds.

Where the northbound Exit 9 ramp of the Van Wyck Expressway makes its turn is where the pond once way, a highway shoulder space called Maple Grove Park. To its east across the expressway is Hoover Playground.

 

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