Sabrina’s Pool, Central Park

With so much excitement surrounding the lectures, tours and sales of the book, now is a good time to look back at the process behind its publication. When the Viele Map was selected as the cover image for my book, there were a couple of runner-ups. Here’s one image that depicts the subject of the book, a hidden waterway disappearing into a manhole. Nature and city together in one tight photo.

Rivulet 1.jpg

It is a tributary stream of The Loch in Central Park, a constructed brook that emerges on the edge of North Meadow, flows beneath Springbanks Arch and down a ravine into The Loch, a stream in the northwest section of the park.

Where is it?

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In its original design, Central Park was supposed to have its northern end at 106th Street but thanks to Central Park Controller Andrew Haswell Green‘s superb negotiating skills, additional land was purchased by 1860 to extend the park to 110th Street. This addition to the park preserved the ravine of Montayne’s Rivulet, the wetland carved out for Harlem Meer, North Woods, and Great Hill. The parcel also contains three fortifications from the War of 1812: Fort Clinton, Nutter’s Battery and the Blockhouse.

As a shortcut between East and West Drives, the 102nd Street Crossing connects the two roads and separates The Loch from North Meadow. It crosses a tributary of The Loch at Springbanks Arch.

Springbanks Arch

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Constructed in 1863 of stones brought from the Hudson Valley, this arch is believed to be inspired by those in London’s Regent’s Park. Prior to the park’s construction, a natural brook flowed through this ravine, contributing to Montayne’s Rivulet, which flowed from the Upper West Side towards East Harlem. When the park was designed, many of the natural springs within it were covered or dried up and the waterways were then fed from a new source: the city’s aqueduct.

Sabrina’s Pool

As much as it is a historical site, Central Park has lost some of its original Olmstead-Vaux features, including the first Gapstow BridgeCentral Park Casino, Lower Reservoir, McGown’s Pass Tavern, Marble Arch, the original boathouse at The Lake, Oval and Outset arches, and a cave that was once open to the public. Perhaps the least documented of the the park’s vanished features is Sabrina’s Pool, which I found in what appears to be an 1869 print in the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections.

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Sabrina’s Pool occupied a depression tightly sandwiched between North Meadow and Springbanks Arch. But who was Sabrina? For my generation growing up, she was a teenage witch played by Melissa Joan Hart. The sitcom was inspired by a character from the Archie comic series. Hart is a rarity in showbiz: a child actor who transitioned into adulthood with relatively little trouble, has been married to the same person for more than a decade, and a churchgoing Republican. But no, not that Sabrina.

Many place names in Central Park recall Anglo-Saxon and Celtic history, examples such as The Loch, and arch names such as Denesmouth and Greywacke. Perhaps the name Sabrina has its roots in British history. Indeed, that was the Roman name for the River Severn, which arises in Wales and drains into the Bristol Channel. The name Sabrina appears in local mythology as the daughter of King Locrine by his mistress Estrildis. she appears as a water nymph in John Milton’s play Comus, and John’s Fletcher’s The Faithful Shepherdess.

What’s there today

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What once clearly appeared as a constructed fountain and pool is presently covered with vegetation. In the background is North Meadow, a vast expanse of grass and sports fields. Water flows out of a pipe, descends down for about 10 feet and then drops into another manhole (see photo below) at Spring Banks Arch. Nothing remains of the pool at the entrance to the tunnel.

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The tunnel beneath this arch is unique because it is not flat. The other side of this arch is much lower than what we see in the photo above. On the other side of the arch, the brook that emerged from Sabrina’s Pool returns to the surface, flowing through a steep and heavily wooded terrain, meeting with The Loch and flowing towards Harlem Meer.

The section of Central Park that was secured by Andrew Haswell Green is the least visited but at the same time, the most topographically challenging, filled with natural and historical sites. In contrast to the park’s other forest, The Ramble, you won’t see selfie sticks or street performers here. Only a few true New Yorkers who know about this hidden corner of Central Park.

In the News:

Curbed reporter Nathan Kensinger takes readers on a canoe trip down the Bronx River.

DNAinfo reports that the Hudson River Park Pedestrian Path in West Village to Close for Up to a Year.

DNAinfo also reports that according to elected officials, the cost of acquiring Bushwick Inlet Park in Brooklyn could come from property taxes.

Atlas Obscura reports on the most polluted river in Mexico, the Rio Lerma (Chignahuapan) in El Salto, Jalisco.

CityLab reports on on the engineering problems at an unfinished retractable bridge in Copenhagen.

The Guardian writes about how Seoul’s daylighted Cheonggyecheon stream revived the city around it.

 

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