On the South Shore of Staten Island between Arbutus and Wolfe Creeks there is a set of ponds that are part of the larger Bluebelt system, located within private, state, and city-owned land. One such example is Huguenot Ponds in the neighborhood of Huguenot on Huguenot Avenue.
The pond is part of the Arbutus Creek Bluebelt, a watershed that drains into Arbutus Creek. This 1.53-acre constructed wetland is an important element in the city’s effort to manage storm runoff through natural means rather than sewers.
Where it Is
On the city DEP’s map of the Arbutus Creek Bluebelt, Huguenot Ponds Park is comprised of two parcels bisected by Comely Street, and bound by Huguenot Avenue, Billou Street, Kingdom Avenue, and Desius Street. This parkland does not encompass entire blocks and has holdout properties within its two blocks. Nearby Kingdom Pond is also a constructed wetland, while Bunker Pond is a natural waterway surveyed by William T. Davis and Charles W. Leng in 1896. The larger Wolfe’s Pond Park and Blue Heron Park frame this watershed on its southwest and northeast, respectively.
None of the old Staten Island maps have Huguenot Ponds on them, leading me to presume that either they were not significant enough to appear on maps, or were mere marshland that was carved into a pond during the Bluebelt’s construction. The above 1924 DoITT NYCity Map aerial shows farms and undeveloped fields with a few houses along Huguenot Avenue. With very little documentation available, I could not determine the natural history of this site. As Staten Island’s residential development picked up following the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, tract houses and mansions filled up the spaces, with a few vacant lots remaining.
That’s where the DEP and Parks Department swept in, acquiring them in 1994 for the Bluebelt program.
The view west on Billou Street shows the contrast of before and after with the park on one side and tract mansions on the other.
The signature features of Bluebelt waterways include historical-themed stone retaining walls, scenic lookouts, and Adopt-A-Bluebelt, where philanthropic individuals and companies can sponsor their upkeep. The sponsors of this pond are nameless, dedicating their support in memory of Bart & Clara Barriello. I don’t know enough about this couple other than my admiration for his Elvis-like mutton chops. Find-A-Grave, the encyclopedic “Facebook of the dead” came up with nothing on these two individuals.
Below this lookout platform is a culvert that collects water from local streets and channels it into the pond. How big is this constructed watershed? I was not able to find maps online, but if a loyal reader at the DEP wishes to contribute, please email me.
When it named this park, why was it called Huguenot Ponds when there is really only one pond to see here? The answer lies on the southern side of Comely Street, where excess water flows out of the pond into a wetland. I can imagine that with enough rainfall, this half of the park can transform into a second pond.
Telling the Story
As I’ve written many times, not all NYC Parks have historical signs and brochures explaining their names. In contrast, the National Parks Service has them for all of its 419 sites in the same black-bordered design.
If I ever become Commissioner, I will do likewise for my agency. For Huguenot Ponds, I would begin with its namesake, the French Huguenots who settled across Staten Island after fleeing religious persecution in their homeland. I would then write about suburban development of the borough after it was connected by bridge to the rest of the city. The story would conclude with the Bluebelt program, a lovely example of teamwork between Parks and the DEP.
Books on Staten Island
I haven’t posted a bibliography feature in a while, so here are two good books on the Borough of Parks. Wagner College professor Lori Weintraub provides a 350-year history of the island from colonial times to the present, while Bruce Kershner’s book takes readers to the forests, meadows and hilltops of this geologically unique borough. Both of these books have been useful in my travels across Staten Island.
In the News:
Curbed published a photo essay by Nathan Kensinger on Spring Creek, which forms part of the Brooklyn-Queens border. I’ve wanted to visit this waterway for a long time, but his photo essay beat me to it.
Every explorer has a rival- Amundsen competed with Scott for the South Pole, Stanley searched for Livingstone in southern Africa, and Peary raced against Cook for the North Pole. Nathan, I’m making this comparison as a compliment. In the spirit of competition, more discoveries are made. I encourage others to take out their cameras, put on boots and wade into the muck of the city’s hidden waters. Every explorer also has a teacher and here in New York, my first footsteps into urban exploration began in tracks laid by Kevin Walsh.