On the Bronx shore of the Harlem River to the south of Yankee Stadium is the 10-acre Mill Pond Park, which opened in 2009 on the site of the Bronx Terminal Market. The name of this park suggests a forgotten waterway on the site.
Where was the pond that gave this recent park its name?
Where it is
For Mill Pond Park, I did not have to search for a map as the park has maps on display showing its layout. It is situated on a narrow parcel sandwiched between the Major Deegan Expressway (I-87) and the Harlem River, from 149th to 153 Streets. There is no pond anywhere in the park, only the Harlem River and three carved inlets where barges once docked.
The Namesake Pond
I initially thought that the park’s name was related to Cromwell’s Creek, which entered the Harlem River at what is now the northern tip of the park. That creek had a mill pond, but it was on the site of today’s Macomb’s Dam Park, north of the bridge that shares that park’s name. Looking back at Parks press releases from the time of the opening of Mill Pond Park, I learned that Harlem River also had its own “mill pond.”
In 1813, developer Robert Macomb, received permission from the state to build a dam that would power a gristmill on the Harlem River. Along with another dam that he built further north at Kingsbridge, it transformed a section of the river between the two dams into a large mill pond. Like the East River, the Harlem River is actually a tidal strait at sea level, connecting the East River and Hudson River. The dam had a road built on top of it in 1816, maintained by tolls. The dam was supposed to have a lock on it to allow boats to pass through, but it was too small and eventually was filled in.
On September 14, 1838, local landowner Lewis G. Morris (1808–1900), led an attack on the dam, breaching it and restoring navigation on the Harlem River. His party argued that the dam was a public nuisance and the courts agreed. A replacement crossing on the site was named Central Bridge, but was known to all as Macomb’s Dam Bridge, which eventually became its official name. Morris was a leading supporter of High Bridge and Harlem River Ship Canal.
Bronx Terminal Market
Mill Pond Park is filled with historical signs that feature maps and photos, making the story of this park accessible to all. Following the removal of Macomb’s Dam, the site remained undeveloped until 1895, when the Harlem River was straightened and dredged, creating a shortcut for vessels traveling from the Hudson River to Long Island Sound. Within a decade, rail yards, factories, and warehouses sprung up along its shores.
In 1912, Mayor William J. Gaynor proposed a wholesale market for the borough at this site. The project suffered delays, being dedicated in 1925 and opening for business in 1929. Of the five borough markets proposed by Gaynor, the only other one that became reality was in Brooklyn at Wallabout Creek. In 1935, the market was expanded under the administration of Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia as a New Deal work project. The elevated Major Deegan Expressway was built above the market in the 1950s.
Looking at a 1960 plan of Bronx Terminal Market, we see that there were five slips on the property’s shoreline. Today, three remain, the others were filled since then.
From Wholesale to Retail
In the postwar years, the opening of the much larger wholesale market at Hunts Point took away most of the business from Bronx Terminal Market. In 1972, the Buntzman family received a 99-year lease from the city for the market. Over the following three decades, it gradually fell into a state of disrepair while African, Hispanic, and Caribbean food vendors kept the market going. By 2004, when the politically connected Related companies bought out the Buntzman lease, a market built for over 100 vendors was down to 30. Most of the market’s buildings were demolished and replaced with a shopping center.
Its tenants include Target, Home Depot, Staples, Bed Bath & Beyond, Marshall’s, Raymour & Flanigan, Toys “R” Us, Babies “R” Us, and BJ’s Wholesale Club. The strip of land between the Major Deegan Expressway and the Harlem River was allocated for a park.
The development of Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market took place at the same time as the construction of the new Yankee Stadium; Heritage Park on the old stadium’s site, and the new Metro North railroad station to serve this neighborhood.
Rails and Roads
One of the advantages of the Bronx Terminal Market was its location on the river, making it accessible to boats, a rail spur, train barge slip, and in the postwar years, interstate highways. Unrelated to the market is the Oak Point Link, a single-track freight spur connecting the Hudson Line with the Oak Point Yard on the eastern side of the Bronx. Completed in 1998, it offers a direct path for trains bound for that yard.
The Oak Point Link prevents anything larger than a canoe from docking at Mill Pond Park’s inlets and the park’s designers compensated by elevating its terrain so that the trestle does not block views of the Harlem River.
Major Deegan Expressway flies above Exterior Street, the generic name given to the roadway below it. Once covered with cobblestones, lined with market stalls, truck bays, and obscured by the highway, it appears friendlier these days with the mall and park on its sides. At one of the inlets is a non-bathing beach designed for playing in the sand.
The inlets of Mill Pond Park were used as docks during its wholesale market years. What is a truck doing on the Oak Point Link? It is repairing the tracks, which are welded together to reduce train noise. Across the river are the Esplanade Gardens apartments and an elevated section of Harlem River Drive.
The tracks within the former market were removed years ago, but the gantry at the undeveloped southern end of the park will likely be preserved as a historical reminder of the site’s past. In the background is the 145th Street Bridge, which connects 145th Street in Harlem with 149th Street in the Bronx. How is that possible? Because it crosses the Harlem River askew to the street grid.
Power House in the Park
Another historical structure preserved inside the park is the Power House, built in 1923 to provide refrigeration for the market. Its castle-like turrets make it an instantly recognizable centerpiece of the park, seen from across the river, and from the Major Deegan Expressway. In the building’s renovation for recreational use, it received the prestigious LEED® Gold certification. The most visible example of its sustainable redesign is the green rooftop.
As each borough has its own zoo, art museum, and botanical garden, why shouldn’t the Bronx have its own Children’s Museum? Manhattan and Brooklyn have theirs. There are plans to have the traveling Bronx Children’s Museum move into the Power House by 2018, finally giving the borough’s children their own museum. I can imagine taking my children to it and to Mill Pond Park while my wife does shopping across the street. Something for each member of the family.
Parks on Harlem River:
Throughout the city new waterfront parks are being built, man of them connected to each other. Along with Mill Pond Park, other parks on the Bronx side of Harlem River are: Roberto Clemente State Park, and Bridge Park, though one can expect more such parks being built in the years ahead as manufacturing areas are rezoned for residential use.
In the News:
DNAinfo Chicago reports on that city’s Board of Commissioners approving the removal of a dam on the Chicago River.
BBC reports on the underground River Sherbourne in Coventry.