In today’s polarized society, people often put themselves into ideological silos and see little in common with members of other political persuasions, interests, and beliefs. Although the Hamodia newspaper is designed for a certain sector of Orthodox Jews, I can argue that its material can educate anyone who picks it up. Can you imagine an Irish-American historian from Queens reading a Hamodia article?
An example of the cross-over appeal here is Yitzchok Shteierman’s Pioneers of Boro Park column, which documents the neighborhood’s history. This is the type of work that Kevin Walsh does on Forgotten-NY.
Where do the literary paths of Shteierman, Walsh, and I intersect? At Webster’s Pond, a long-buried waterway deep in the heart of Borough Park, Brooklyn.
Where it Flowed
Prior to development, Borough Park was dotted with ponds left by the retreating glaciers of the last ice age. Old articles in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archive give names to some of them: Webster’s Pond (also called Twin Ponds), Martense’s Pond, Simmons’ Pond, and Baker’s Pond. as they predate the street grid and did not appear on most maps, their precise locations may never become known.
The earliest map of Borough Park is the 1852 Matthew Dripps map, Map of Kings and part of Queens counties, where a grid of mostly paper streets indicates the limits of what was the city of Brooklyn and the farmland beyond belonging to the towns of New Utrecht and Flatbush. The farm boundaries later became streets, forming the smaller grids of Bay Ridge and Kensington. Prospect Park had not yet been designated. A small Quaker cemetery on the edge of Brooklyn would later become enveloped within the park. To the south of Green-Wood Cemetery, we see patches of forest amid the farm fields, but ponds do not appear on this map.
According to Bien
Having used it before in researching the history of Sunset Park (green rectangle), the Julius Bien atlas of 1891 offers greater topographical detail, and in the 39 years since the Dripps map, the street grid of Brooklyn has expanded to New Utrecht, which will be annexed by Brooklyn in 1894. Although the ponds of Green-Wood Cemetery do not appear on this map, to the southeast of Sunset Park, on the red borderline of Brooklyn and New Utrecht, there is a pond in a forest, at the exact future intersection of 8th Avenue and 46th Street. This was Simmons’ Pond. The railways crossing this landscape will later become subway lines, all bound for Coney Island.
In an October 1945 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article about the neighborhood’s past, old-timer Robert Ryder locates each pond:
- Long Pond- Bay Ridge Avenue at 13th Avenue
- Simmons’ Pond- 8th Avenue at 46th Street, which appears on the Bien Atlas and could also be Webster’s Pond.
- Baker’s Pond- 6th Avenue at 49th Street, which appears on the Bien Atlas.
Shteierman quotes a 1942 article about Webster’s Pond as located at 49th Street near 10th Avenue. Looking at the Bien Atlas, there is a depression on this site, so it may also have been a pond. It becomes confusing here because the same newspaper had articles in 1909 and 1910 assigning Webster’s Pond to the corner of 8th Avenue and 46th Street. Earlier in the 19th century, Webster’s Pond was known to locals as Martense Pond after the family whose farm surrounded the pond. The name is seen throughout Brooklyn, relating to a family whose roots in the area go back to the Dutch colonial period.
From the collection of Jacques Friedman, president of the Boro Park Historical Society, we see a 1901 photo of cows cooling off in Webster’s Pond. It’s a scene unimaginable in today’s borough park. Despite its name, Borough Park does not have any sizable parks within its borders. It only has playgrounds and tiny Greenstreets parks.
Webster’s Pond was filled in August 1910 and within that year ground was broken for Israel Zion Hospital, the forerunner of Maimonides Medical Center.