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.
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?
Where it Was
Harway Avenue today splits off from Cropsey Avenue at Bay 37th Street in Bath Beach and runs in a southeast direction towards Stillwell Avenue. Nowhere does it appear to be near Coney Island Creek. Adding to the mystery is a 1931 Eugene de Salignac photo of the Harway Avenue Bridge receiving an upgrade.
Looks like quite an ambitious bridge for what is these day’s a dead-end inlet of Gravesend Bay, but let’s recall that prior to development, Coney Island Creek was a tidal strait extending to Sheepshead Bay, and in the first third of the 20th century there were plans to transform the creek into a canal. So that merited the drawbridge upgrade.
According to Bien
Looking at the 1891 Joseph Bien map of Kings County (then comprised of Brooklyn, New utrecht, Gravesend, Flatbush, and Flatlands), Harway Avenue did not yet exist and the northern side of Coney Island Creek was a vast salt marsh fed by smaller creeks. The only roads connecting the mainland to Coney Island were Shell Road, Ocean Parkway, Coney Island Avenue, and Emmons/Neptune Avenue.
According to Robinson
Published a year before Bien’s atlas, mapmaker Elisha Robinson’s map of Gravesend shows Stryker Basin, Gravesend Basin, and Harway Basin (fed by Hubbard Creek) extending on the north side of Coney Island Creek. Road connecting to the mainland are highlighted and we now see Cropsey Avenue (then still in planning) connecting to Stillwell Avenue. On the bottom, the meandering creek is planned as a canal.
Notice how each of the basins would have been straightened into docks had the Gravesend Ship Canal become a reality. Instead, the basins were filled in, their headwaters drained by the pumping station at 84 Avenue V. Gravesend became the Coney Island Yard, while others had housing built atop the fill.
According to Hyde
The final map that helps us solve the mystery of Harway Avenue Bridge is the 1916 E. Belcher Hyde atlas which shows plenty of dotted-line paper streets and far-reaching bulkhead lines that would extend the city atop the former wetland and Gravesend Bay itself.
Notice the highlighted Y: at the time, Harway Avenue deviated from the Bath Beach grid and crossed the creek, while Cropsey kept straight on its way to Stillwell Avenue. Adding to the mix inside the Y split is Mill Road, a really ancient path that is still there today (for just a block).
What it means is that at some point in the 1930s, Crospey and Harway switched names with each other, so that the former Harway Avenue Bridge is today’s Cropsey Avenue Bridge.