In a ravine sandwiched between a house and an apartment building in the Douglaston neighborhood of Queens, there is a pond that I was not aware of when I wrote Hidden Waters of New York City. I knew that Alley Pond Park has many ponds and lakes within it, but I never knew about Old Oak Pond.
I was informed about it by local resident Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY. He advised to wait until the winter season when there is less vegetation blocking views of the pond, a fewer ticks. But I could not wait.
Where it Flows
None of the historical maps show Old Oak Pond and I wasn’t sure if it was simply a marsh or a true pond. Looking at the OasisNYC Map, we see the pond on the eastern edge of Alley Pond Park near the triangular intersection of Douglaston Parkway, Pine Street, and 235th Street. As the property lines within the park show, these were once undeveloped private parcels that were saved from development when they were acquired by New York City Parks.
Joseph B. Hellman Overlook
It took a civic leader who knew all the corners of the neighborhood to appreciate Old Oak Pond. That was Joseph B. Hellman. What some saw as a thickly forested wetland, Hellman recognized as a unique habitat with trees as old as two centuries. Seeing the gradual creep of tract housing into the Udalls Cove ravine and edges of Alley Pond Park, he lobbied elected officials to save the undeveloped parcels around this pond. While Hellman negotiated with the property owners, State Senator Frank Padavan came up with $850,000 to save the site. In 2006, it was acquired by the city.
In August 2012, the Parks Department named the bluff overlooking the pond as the Joseph B. Hellman Overlook. The naming ceremony included Joan Hellman, Senator Padavan, Community Board 11 Chair Jerry Iannece, and Queens Parks commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski. The group photo above was taken by Community Board member Susan Seinfeld. It’s nearly impossible to see the Old Oak Pond from the Hellman Overlook on account of the vegetation, so I hiked down the slope to get a closer look.
Covered with algae, its flat green surface stuck out amid the trees. I tried to get closer to the water’s edge but the terrain was too steep and unpredictable as the surface was nearly impossible to see, so after taking this photo I returned to Douglaston Parkway.
Historic Old Oak Pond
With the pond missing on old maps, I relied on the DoITT NYCity Map‘s 1924 aerial survey and another from 2012 to see how much the pond has changed. As a reference, I highlighted Douglaston Parkway. Other common features here are the LIRR Port Washington Branch, Northern Boulevard (NYS-25A) and Alley Creek.
Changes on the landscape include the development of the golf driving range, the rerouting of Douglaston Parkway around the train station, with the dead-end 235th Street taking its old path; and tract housing on the northern side of the tracks. Otherwise, the scene hasn’t changed all that much since 1924. Except for Old Oak Pond, which appears larger. Did the golf range and train station parking lot trap some of the water resulting in a larger pond? Did the growth of trees atop a former salt marsh make the pond more visible on the 2012 survey than in 1924? Those are my only two hypotheses.
Three Little Parks
Returning to the street, we look north at the triangular intersection of 235th Street, Douglaston Parkway, Prospect Street, and Pine Street. Here’s a trivia question: how many Parks do you see in the photo above? The answer is three: the plaza at the “do not enter” sign, another on the parkway’s median, and another in the background with the flagstaff mast.
They are Greenstreets parks– tiny green spaces, some with unique names, some unnamed that are run by same city agency as Central Park and other more famous parks. You can’t picnic or play ball in a Greenstreet park, their role it to capture stormwater, beautify places too small to develop and give space for trees to grow. They too are Parks and I’m here to give them their due.
Looking west, the tracks cross Alley Creek on their way to Bayside. It’s difficult to believe that this scene is in New York City. Not a skyscraper in sight. The city is that big.
Looking south from the eastbound platform is the wetland where water flows from Old Oak Pond towards Alley Creek. From there, the creek widens into Little Neck Bay, an arm of the Long Island Sound.
The Douglaston Little Neck Historical Society is the go-to source for every inch of history in this corner of Queens. On Sunday July 16 at 2 p.m. I will be giving a tour of the nearby Udalls Cove Ravine for this organization. For more details, visit www.dlnhs.org