Wallabout Creek, Brooklyn

A half mile to the south of Williamsburg Bridge, the East River makes a turn to the southwest with a wide cove at this knee-shaped bend. Known as Wallabout Bay, it was the site of a notorious floating prison during the Revolutionary War and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At the northwestern corner of this property, a deep channel cuts inland as the only remnant of Wallabout Creek.

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In the second third of the 19th century, the bay had an artificial island in its middle, Cob Dock, a part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard accessible by the ferry seen in the above postcard. The bay and its feeder stream, Wallabout Creek have a long and storied history. Continue reading

Harway Avenue, Brooklyn

Among the neighborhood historians whose work I relied on for my book is Joseph Ditta, whose Gravesend Gazette blog preserves the memory of a former municipality that was absorbed into Brooklyn in 1894. He’s asked me in the past to highlight examples of hidden streams within its borders. While researching old drawbridges in the city, I came across this old scene.

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It shows a contraption-like crossing for Harway Avenue in Gravesend, found on Page 61 of Engineering Magazine, Volume XXXVII, October 1909. According to the description, it was built a decade earlier, powered by a five-horsepower engine that moved the counterweights atop the crescent rails. They resemble yo-yos. Author T. Kennard Thomson wrote that the avenue crosses Coney Island Creek, but was this really so? Continue reading

Bassett Creek, Minneapolis

In the northern Midwest near the headwaters of the great Mississippi River are the “Twin Cities” of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The former is the largest city in Minnesota while the latter is the capital city. On account of its post-glacial landscape, the state is nicknamed Land of 10,000 Lakes, and Minneapolis’s name is a portmanteau of the Sioux word for water and the Greek word for city.

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One such example is Bassett Creek, which flows for 12 miles from its source at Medicine Lake to its confluence with the Mississippi near downtown Minneapolis. The photo above shows the creek emerging from its sewer in a cove just a few yards shy of the Mississippi River. In the suburbs, the creek runs through a few parks, but its final 1.7 miles are in a tunnel, constructed in the early 20th century beneath an expanding city.  Continue reading

Clifton Lake, Staten Island

As the last borough in the city with substantial undeveloped land, Staten Island also has the largest number of hidden waterways in the city. On a dead-end one-lane road just north of Fort Wadsworth is a rare privately-owned pond.

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Located in the Shore Acres residential enclave, this kettle pond is situated entirely within private land, divided between three properties. In 1924, photographer William J. Grimshaw was given access to the pond, which hasn’t changed much over the decades, except for a fence to keep outsiders out of the water. Continue reading

Mosholu Parkway, Bronx

As mentioned before, many of the city’s expressways and parkways were built atop or alongside waterways as their shorelines were usually undeveloped and less steep than the surrounding landscapes. The parkway is a New York institution, pioneered by Olmsted as a road lined with generous parkland on either side, shielding neighborhoods from traffic, creating green space for local residents, and a visually pleasant setting for travelers.

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Mosholu Parkway‘s name is believed to originate from the Lenape term for “smooth stones” in reference to a stream. Did a brook ever flow on the path of this parkway? Continue reading

Frankford Creek, Philadelphia

For many New Yorkers who find themselves priced out of their hometown, the search for a comparable urban area within driving distance of the big Apple leads to Philadelphia. Similar to New York, it is an early colonial city that eventually grew to encompass the entire county that shares its name.

In 1682, the city was laid out in a grid between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. Within the larger Philadelphia County were numerous other streams, most of which were gone by the turn of the 20th century.

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The photo above was taken by the Philadelphia Water Department, appearing on the blog Frankford Gazette showing the confluence of Tacony Creek (background right), and Wingohocking Creek (emerging from the tunnel). Together they form Frankford Creek, which flows for three miles through the city on its way to the Delaware River. Continue reading

Photo of the Week

When a Circle Line tour boat circumnavigates Manhattan, tourists crowd on the deck to snap photos of Lady Liberty and other recognizable downtown landmarks. I prefer to crane my neck uptown when the boat travels up the Harlem River and Spuyten Duyvil Creek. That’s where the forgotten aspects of the city’s history can be seen, or not as in the case below.


Here’s a 1923 photo of the Johnson Iron Works from the My Inwood blog. The foundry sat on a peninsula on Spuyten Duyvil Creek halfway been the Hudson and Harlem rivers, facing Inwood Hill Park. In the backgrounds is the Palisades cliff of New Jersey. In the 1930s, the factory and the entire peninsula were eliminated. Continue reading

The Loch, Central Park

Among the hidden waterways of Central Park, the one that most closely resembles its pre-park appearance is The Loch, a creek that flows from The Pool towards Harlem Meer in the park’s northwestern section.


If you haven’t seen it without water, now is your chance as the path following this stream is undergoes reconstruction. Above is the Glen Span Arch, with a dried-up waterfall emptying from The Pool. Continue reading

Conner Creek, Detroit

The city of Detroit derives its name from the French word for the strait that connects Lake St. Clair with Lake Erie. At 24 miles, it is among the shortest of the country’s urban rivers, but it carries water between the Great Lakes and forms the U. S. – Canada border lending to its significance. Once a French colonial trading post, Detroit expanded as a city, along the way covering up some of the smaller streams that drained into the Detroit River.

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The above photo was taken by the advocacy group Conner Creek Greenway, which seeks to create a continuous bike and pedestrian path that approximates the course of this hidden Detroit waterway. Continue reading

Photo of the Week

Among the public beaches of Brooklyn, Plumb Beach is the least known, tucked behind the dunes on the eastbound Belt Parkway between exits 9 and 11. The beach was once an island, separated from mainland Brooklyn by Hog Creek.

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This week’s selected photo was taken by prolific city photographer Percy Loomis Sperr and found in the NYPL Digital Collections. It shows a footbridge connecting the mainland with Plumb Beach but the tide is low enough to render the bridge redundant. It led to an independent-spirited squatter community that was razed in the 1930s to make way for Belt Parkway. Continue reading