Charles W. Leng’s Wonderful Map

When I am not getting my shoes wet by exploring streams, I look carefully at old maps and aerials in search of where the hidden waterways once flowed in the open. Last week, I conducted a park inspection in the far-off Travis neighborhood of Staten Island, where the Parks Department has a plant nursery.

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The plant nursery is a former farm, and on one of its walls is a 1968 reproduction of Charles W. Leng’s 1896 Map of Staten Island with Ye Olde Names & Nicknames by William T. Davis. There is so much information on it relating to the island borough’s history. Let’s zoom in on a few details. Continue reading

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Akerselva, Oslo

Norway is a kingdom of mountains and deeply carved fjords. At the head of Oslo Fjord is the county’s capital city. Unlike London or Paris, Oslo does not have a large river flowing through it. But it has the Akerselva, (Aker River) a creek whose fast flowing current was harnessed by industries, contributing to the city’s growth over the centuries.

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The above 1926 image of the Oslo Steel Works shows the Akerselva flowing past the factories on its way to the sea. since the 1980s, most of the stream’s course has been cleaned up and lined with parks, except for the last quarter mile where it is hidden in a tunnel, as it flows beneath Oslo’s Central Station. Continue reading

Willow Brook on Bradley, Staten Island

Among the hidden waterways on Staten Island, Willow Brook is so obscure that a Google Street View isn’t good enough to tell the difference between an overgrown vacant lot and an overgrown vacant lot with the sound of a brook flowing beneath the vegetation. The only way to find Willow Brook is to see it in person.

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I had my encounter with a segment of Willow Brook while traveling down Bradley Avenue on the way to Greenbelt Nature Center, where I was conducting an inspection. Continue reading

Formation of Meadow Lake

The largest freshwater lake in the city covers 95 acres within Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. In contrast to the park’s central core that was an ash landfill prior to its acquisition by the city, the site of Meadow Lake was a salt marsh where Horse Brook flowed into Flushing Creek.

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The 1937 image above shows Meadow Lake assuming its present-day shape just before construction commenced on exhibits for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. There is so much to see in this photo, so here’s an explanatory tour back in time. Continue reading

Morris Creek, Queens

On the north shore of Queens is a former island fused to the borough. It was once a resort and today is a sewage treatment plant. The waterway that separated it from the rest of Queens was called Morris Creek.

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The creek was narrow enough to jump over and the resort at Tallman’s Island is a faint memory, even more obscure than North Beach in East Elmhurst, when it comes to amusements on the north shore of Queens. Continue reading

Alice Austen House, Staten Island

When I first read that there was an Austen House Museum on Staten Island, I mistakenly thought that it had something to do with a Victorian period British novelist. Both the novelist and this house’s namesake came from the upper class. Both Jane Austen and Alice Austen were fiercely independent women. Neither had ever married. The comparison ends there.

But what concerns me for the purpose of this blog is the landscape around Alice Austen’s House.

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There is a brook flowing on the south side of the house, emerging from the grass and descending down to the Narrows, the strait connecting New York Bay to the ocean. Continue reading

Westchester Creek, Bronx

On my travels north from home, I often use the Whitestone Bridge, whose roadway continues north as the Huthinson River Parkway. After emerging from the tangle of ramps it shares with Cross Bronx Expressway and Bruckner Expressway, it follows a stream for nearly a mile. But it’s not the parkway’s namesake. Not yet.

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It’s an obscure inlet that shares its name with the county to the city’s north. This is the story of Westchester Creek. Continue reading