Weir Creek, Bronx

The eastern coast of the Bronx is often compared to New England with its rocky shoreline, fishing boats, and fancy mansions with views. While much of the eastern seaboard south of New York is comprised of sandbars and barrier islands, the New England coast is rocky and dotted with islands and inlets. In the Edgewater Park neighborhood, an inlet framed by a park is all that remains of Weir Creek.

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The park at the head of the inlet conceals archeology going back to its time as a Native encampment.

Where it Flowed

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Using the 1891 Julius Bien atlas as a guide, with present-day shorelines highlighted, we see Pugsley Creek, Westchester Creek and Baxter Creek flowing south into the East River. On the right is Eastchester Bay, which is fed mainly by the Hutchinson River, with two smaller streams on its shore: Palmer Creek and Weir Creek. The latter originally had northern and southern branches that merged before flowing into the bay. To the south of Weir Creek is Throgs Neck, a thin spit of land jutting into the water, separating East River from Long Island Sound.

Archaeology at Weir Creek

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, what is now the eastern Bronx was the homeland of the Siwanoy, a name of uncertain origin associated with members of the larger Munsee people of the Lenape nation. In the lands between the Hudson and Connecticut rivers, the native tribes spoke the Wappinger dialect of the Lenape language , itself part of the Algonquin family of languages. From Dutch reports, there was a Siwanoy encampment at Clasons Point called Snakapins. Following the “purchase” of Snakapins by Thomas Cornell in 1642, the Natives established an encampment on the northern side of Weir Creek, where Schley Avenue turns a corner and becomes Clarence Avenue.

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In the early 20th century, archaeologists combed the beach and marshes along Eastchester Bay and found a shell heap that yielded evidence of the Siwanoy, such as stone spearheads, pottery shards, and human remains. It was a brief stay. In 1643, a war initiated by Governor Willem Kieft pushed the Siwanoy north towards Pelham Bay. It was a war ofextermination that nearly erased the Native presence in New Netherlands. Although the colonists won, many settlers lost confidence and returned to Europe. The growth of the colony slowed.

Among the innocent lives lost was that of Anne Hutchinson, a dissident Puritan who settled in what is now Pelham Bay Park. The river flowing past Hutchinson’s former home now carries her name, as does the parkway paralleling that stream.

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Descendants of the Munsee people were pushed west to Ohio, Ontario, Kansas, and Oklahoma, where they have reservations. Closer to the Bronx, the suburban town of Monsey, and the Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville keeps the local Natives on the map. Weir Creek’s Native history was first examined in 1900 by M. R. Harrington on behalf of the American Museum of Natural History.

He returned in 1917, with Alanson B. Skinner picking up the task in the following year for the Museum of the American Indian. Skinner was assisted by Amos One Road (1887-1934). Born as Mahpiyasna (Jingling Cloud), One Road was a Native Dakotan. Their findings at Weir Creek were published in 1919 as “Exploration of aboriginal sites at Throgs Neck and Clasons Point, New York City.” A full copy of this book is available online, courtesy of Smithsonian. Below is a 1918 view of the site where the shell heaps were investigated. Weir Creek is on the right, draining into Eastchester Bay. Across the bay is City Island, the fishing village that has been part of New York City since 1896, but connected to the outside world by a single bridge.

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Revolutionary Battlefield

Blaskowitz_small.jpgIn 1775, the decade of protests over taxation and representation broke out into war and a year later the colonies declared their independence. Seeking a quick defeat to the Revolution, British commander Sir William Howe invaded New York, aiming to proceed north along the Hudson in order to split the newborn country. Although his forces won at the Battles of Long Island and Harlem Heights, each time Washington was able to avoid capture.

On October 12, 1776, Howe tried to outflank the retreating Washington by ordering General Henry Clinton to land his 4,000 men at Throgs Neck. Specifically, where East Tremont Avenue has its eastern end. It was a terrible decision. Only two roads led out of Throgs Neck, both guarded by the patriots. The rest of the landscape was too swampy for an army to traverse. Clinton stayed at Throgs Neck for six days, awaiting Hessian reinforcements and planning for an alternative landing at Pell’s Point (today known as Rodman’s Neck). In the meantime, patriot messengers from this area ran to upper Manhattan to notify George Washington that the British were planning to surround Manhattan using the Bronx. He wisely retreated north to White Plains. The British delay at Throgs Neck may have saved Washington’s life.

Above is the 1777 survey of Throgs Neck by British surveyor Charles Blaskowitz. Weir Creek appears on the map as Middle Brook on the right. Westchester Creek is on the far left, and the Baxter Creek wetland is on the bottom.

Countryside Estates to Co-Ops

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Following the Revolution, land around Weir Creek comprised of country estates that later included the politically influential Morris family, sugar magnate Frederick C. Havemeyer, and railroad executive Collis Potter Huntington. The first Irish immigrants arrived here in the 1850s as laborers constructing Fort Schuyler. Their arrival brought bungalows and beer halls to this waterfront neighborhood. In 1918, Richard Shaw rented out parcels on his 55-acre property to summer renters. The tents became bungalows, which became year-round homes.

edgepark5.jpgIn 1988, these 675 homes formed the Edgewater Park Co-op. Similar to the Breezy Point and Roxbury enclaves in Queens, its streets are private but open to the public. As a private neighborhood, it is one of the whitest in the city, which brought discrimination claims in the past.

Edgewater Park has its own volunteer fire company, private beach, and street grid that numbers from Frist to 13th Avenues, and a Main Street. The photo above was from Kevin Walsh’s visit to Bronx’s little-known Main Street in 2000. No sidewalks here.

Highway Atop Weir Creek

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Whatever remained of Weir Creek in 1957 was covered over in favor of Throgs Neck Expressway, a 1.7-mile spur connecting the New England Thruway (I-95) to Throgs Neck Bridge (I-295). The short expressway has just three exits, but worthy enough of its own auxiliary designation as Interstate 695.

According to federal guidelines, north-south interstates have odd numbers such as 91, 93, and 95. East-west interstates have even numbers such as 78, 80, and 84. Auxiliary routes branch off from  interstate highways, usually in urban areas. Those with odd numbers, depart from their parent routes and do not reconnect with any other interstate. In New York City, all of I-95‘s auxiliary highways have even numbers-

  • 295 for Clearview Expressway-Throgs Neck Bridge-portion of Cross Bronx Expressway
  • 495 for Long Island Expressway, which never touches I-95 as its extensions in Manhattan and across the Long Island Sound were never completed.
  • 695-Throgs Neck Expressway
  • 895-Sheridan Expressway, the shortest of these auxiliary spurs.

Their even numbers indicate that all of the above highways were part of grander schemes that were never realized. Throgs Neck Expressway has broad shoulder space on either side with plenty of trees to shield the neighborhood from the highway.

Bicentennial Veterans Memorial Park

The same year that the creek was condemned to make way for the highway, its mouth at Eastchester Bay was designated as parkland but left undeveloped. According to a Parks historical sign for this site, Weir Creek’s name goes back to 1643,  when local Natives taught English settlers how to make fishing weirs on the creek using plaited reeds. A weir is an old English words signifying a dam or barrier on a waterway.

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In May 1976, Mayor Abraham Beame renamed the Weir Creek Park as Bicentennial Veterans Memorial Park to honor the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution and in recognition of the sizable veteran population of the neighborhood. Signs in the park today list it as “Bicentennial Veterans Memorial Park at Weir Creek.” The park contains trails, a baseball field, and a memorial flagpole.

Resiliency

In the wake of catastrophic storms that are pounding away at waterfront neighborhoods, Edgewater Park is included in the city’s Resilient Neighborhoods initiative that offers ideas such as raising the houses to keep them dry when a storm surge happens.

 

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Here’s the full report on the resiliency strategy for Edgewater Park and Weir Creek.

Guide to Local History

When it comes to the early histories of city neighborhoods, Joseph Ditta keeps alive the memory of Gravesend, Brooklyn; and in upper Manhattan, Eric Washington does the same for Manhattanville, and Cole Thompson does that for Inwood.

For Bronx history east of Westchester Creek, the honor goes to Pelham Town Historian Blake Bell. Similar to how Mexico was once twice its present size before 1848, the Town of Pelham used to include City Island, Throgs Necks, and Pelham Bay Park before they were annexed by NYC in 1895. Bell’s Historic Pelham blog covers the history of Bronx neighborhoods, creeks, and islands that were once part of the Town of Pelham. Blake, you can’t have them back, they are ours!

In the News:

New York Post reports on the real estate boom around Brooklyn Bridge Park.

DNAinfo reports on the city’s search for a builder to construct a pavilion for Conference House Park on Staten Island

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2 thoughts on “Weir Creek, Bronx

  1. Andrew Porter February 17, 2017 / 7:37 pm

    I understand that Throg’s Neck is named for John Throgmorton, killed there by Indians in 1643.

    Another outstanding post. It’s a shame that more of the original water- and landscape doesn’t survive here.

    Like

    • Sergey Kadinsky February 17, 2017 / 7:51 pm

      Throgmorton was like Hutchinson, a dissident Puritan who settled in this area. I will soon have a photo essay on Hutchinson River.

      Like

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