Here’s a feature that I haven’t done in a while: the selected photo of the week. While visiting the administrative office at High Rock Park on Staten Island, I observed historical photos hanging on the walls. That much of this island borough has been preserved in its natural state is not a secret as nearly a third of its land is comprised of parks.
What is fascinating about this 1930s photo of Meisner Avenue crossing Richmond Creek in Egbertville is how narrow it was and its closeness to the source of Staten Island’s largest inland waterway.
Where it is
Looking at a 1917 G. W. Bromley atlas for guidance, I circled the photograph’s location. This is where Meisner Avenue crosses the creek and intersects with Manor Road and Rockland Avenue. One can see miniature grids of villages that were absorbed into New York City in 1989 but had yet to expand and grow towards each other. The steep terrain of the ravines at Richmond Creek’s headwaters impeded farming and suburban development, keeping the area’s natural appearance into the mid-20th century while the rest of Staten Island was undergoing dramatic change.
In 1949, city planner Robert Moses commissioned a study to build highways on Staten Island in advance of the planned Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. At the time, the island had three bridges, but they all connected to New Jersey. Clove Lakes Expressway on the map above later became Staten Island Expressway (I-278); West Shore Expressway (NY-440) was not part of the original plan, it would be completed in the 1970s.
The island’s two parkways were Richmond Parkway and Willowbrook Parkway. Traveling in a twisted X, their interchange was intended to lie in Blood Root Valley, a few yards north of the Meisner Avenue bridge. The highway project would have destroyed the scenery and fortunately this project was one of the rare defeats suffered by New York’s master builder.
Wollowbrook Expressway terminated in 1968 at Victory Boulevard, the rest of its route designated as parkland. Richmond Parkway terminated in 1972 at Arthur Kill Road. So instead of a massive cloverleaf interchange, we have a simple intersection near the site of this week’s photo.
The stubs of these two parkways have since received longer commemorative names: Richmond is the Korean War Veterans Pkwy. and Willowbrook is Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway.
What’s There Today
Looking north (upstream) from the Meisner Avenue Bridge, we see a weir constructed to hold back Richmond Creek in times of flooding. The weir was built as part of the Staten Island Bluebelt project.
Not much has changed at this location since the 1930s. The roadway has been widened, paved, and the intersection has streetlights. If I were to transport a person from the 19th century into 2017, I would place that person here. To do so in say, downtown Manhattan could be disorienting as that neighborhood would appear unrecognizable to someone from 1917. Time travelers should not get lost once they arrive at their destinations.
When I am not writing about New York City’s hidden waterways, I explore unusual places on land with Forgotten-NY, where I’ve been contributing stories since 2004. For April 2017, my stories were:
- The Parks Department’s Coney Island Garage, a former public bathhouse.
- A hidden tunnel beneath W. 145th Street and Riverside Drive in upper Manhattan.
- Remnants of a subway tunnel in the Bronx that hasn’t seen trains since 1958.
In the News:
Time Out New York reports on what Manhattan looked like 400 years ago in its natural state.
Bronx Times reports on the death of a whale at Orchard Beach.
DNAinfo reports on the city’s plan to build a waterfront esplanade on the East River between E. 53rd and E. 61st Streets.
Not just time travelers; a few years ago I came out of the subway in Times Square and suddenly had no idea exactly where I was. So many new skyscrapers had been built that I was momentarily confused.
I really hate going back to formerly bucolic scenes, only to find that they’ve been paved over, citified and otherwise “improved” beyond all recognition. One such place was the Hunt Valley Inn in Baltimore. The first time I was there, it was surrounded by farms. Much later, it was in an office park, surrounded by highways and suburbia.
I especially hate how people confuse change with progress. Paving over streams (which may still be there under the surface, for instance, the stream in the basement of the Empire State Building) is anathema.
Have you covered the former Corning Glass building at 717 Fifth Avenue, whose fountain was fed by an underground stream?