Flushing Pumping Station, Queens

At the northeastern corner of the Kissena Park Golf Course is a depression in which there is a Department of Transportation garage and a pumping station. Looking at old maps of this site, Kissena Creek passed though it before the area was urbanized. Was there ever a pond here?

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The garage is located on Fresh Meadow Lane between Underhill and Peck avenues, at a point where the creek turned west on its way to Kissena Lake. Continue reading

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Opływ Motławy, Gdansk

Along the southern Baltic Sea coast are a number of port cities that were members of the Hanseatic League, a coalition of German-speaking ports located at the mouths of major rivers draining into the sea. From the time of the Teutonic Knights’ conquest of the city in 1308 until the surrender of Germany in 1945, Gdansk appeared on maps as the German name Danzig.  Its main waterway is the Motlawa and as the city grew, its network of waterways included canals and defensive moats.

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The most prominent of the city’s moats is the Opływ Motławy, seen in a 1931 aerial photo above and largely unchanged since then. Continue reading

Photo of the Week

This week’s selected photo comes from a 1917 report on the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

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Depicted in the photo is the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, designed by architect Takeo Shiota in 1915. The pond is the most popular attraction at this garden but its architect’s fate was quite undeserved. He died in a wartime internment camp, a victim of racism. Continue reading

Harlem Creek, Manhattan

In the northern section of Central Park, a recreated natural stream called Montayne’s Rivulet flows into Harlem Meer, a lake with a Dutch name. Prior to the development of Central Park, this stream flowed into Harlem Creek, a waterway that shaped the development of Harlem in its first two centuries, flowing towards the Harlem River along what is today East 107th Street, just south of the recreational pier.

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The only above surface image I have of this hidden waterway is a sewer opening on Harlem River at East 107th Street. When there is too much rain, this is where water collected in Harlem Meer and the streets of East Harlem flows out.  Continue reading

Strong’s Causeway, Queens

On last Sunday’s bike tour of Flushing Creek, I passed beneath the Long Island Expressway overpass crossing this stream, with the overpass itself in the shadow of Van Wyck Expressway above it. An egret flies above the murky green water of the channelized creek.

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There has been a crossing of Flushing Creek at this location since the early 19th century, connecting two of Queens’ earliest towns. The highway overpass above is the most recent successor to an old crossing known as Strong’s Causeway. Continue reading

Shady Lake, Queens

The corner of Corona Avenue and 108th Street has the most famous Italian Ice vendor in the city. Most of its customers do not know that a century ago there was a pond on this location used primarily for ice harvesting.

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Looking at a 1902 atlas from the New York Public Library, we see Corona Avenue running past this pond and Central Avenue (present-day 108th street) ending at the pond. As a reference, the triangular block later designated as Moore Park has been marked. Continue reading

Ribeirao Arrudas, Belo Horizonte

In the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais is a city with a hidden river running through its center. Instead of serving as a visual feature, it was driven underground as a result of rapid urbanization. When the country’s monarchy was overthrown in 1889, state leaders sought a new beginning for Minas Gerais with a new capital in a location conducive to urban expansion. The former Curral del Rei mining town was selected, redesigned by planners and subsequently renamed Belo Horizonte (Beautiful Horizon).

In 1897, the new state capital was officially inaugurated. The Ribeirão Arrudas flowed through the center of the city, permitted to flow freely by urban planner Aarão Reis, who laid the city out in a checkerboard pattern.

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The stream was a nuisance, frequently overflowing its banks. Between 1974 and 1997, the river was forced into a concrete channel and in some sections, completely concealed beneath the traffic.  Continue reading

Photo of the Week

This week’s photo is a last chance reminder to sign up for my bike tour of Flushing Meadows that will take place on the day after tomorrow. Below is a Percy Loomis Sperr photo looking south at the Head of the Vleigh, where Flushing Creek emerges from the ground and begins its northward course towards Flushing Bay.

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Circled in this NYPL Digital Collections photo is the drain opening from which the creek flowed. It’s still there today.

In 1937 the Grand Central Parkway had just opened, connecting the RFK Triborough Bridge with points east. The bridge in the foreground is the trestle leading into Jamaica Yard, where trains from the Queens Boulevard subway line are stored.

Behind it is the double arch crossing of Union Turnpike above the highway. This old road stretches from Myrtle Avenue in Glendale east towards the city line.

The hilltops in the back is today’s Briarwood neighborhood, situated at the top of the terminal moraine that separates the watersheds of Long Island Sound and the open Atlantic Ocean.

I hope to see you on the bike tour!

Moravian Brook, Staten Island

With the Republican National Convention taking place next week, I have Staten Island on my mind. Historically, the borough has been the city’s most reliable GOP stronghold and the party’s headquarters can be found at 2300 Richmond Road, a former florist shop that is used as a campaign center during elections.

Directly across the street from this urban elephant outpost is Moravian Cemetery, one of the city’s elite burial grounds, mentioned in the same dying breath as Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery or Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

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The cemetery has a stream flowing through it, but where does it originate and what is its destination after it enters the underworld upon leaving the cemetery? Continue reading

Mid-Century GIS

As you may know, much of my research for Hidden Waters of New York City does not involve paddling, swimming, or walking away from my desk. It involves having a grasp of GIS: geographic information systems where one compares maps of the same location to determine what lies beneath the surface. Even when the internet is down and there is no time to take the bus to the New York Public Library, I have an excellent resource down the hall from my desk at the Parks Department headquarters.

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The topographical map above is undated. Taking a closer look at what’s there and what’s not there helps narrow down the approximate time of its publication and take stock of the changes on the city’s landscape since this map appeared. Continue reading