In the hilly terrain separating Douglaston and Little Neck neighborhoods, Gabler’s Creek runs through a ravine on its way to Little Neck Bay at Udalls Cove. The marsh at the stream’s mouth straddles the city line. Thanks to determined local residents, the stream runs undisturbed within the Udalls Cove Park Preserve.
Although the history of Udall’s Cove since 1969 appears to be a success story, it is not resolved. With 15 privately owned lots remaining within the ravine, development remains a threat to the cohesion of the preserve. Over the past half century, the city and state have acquired private parcels in a piecemeal manner.
Where it Flows
A map of the Udalls Cove Park Preserve does not show its full course only the most visible section of Gabler’s Creek, which flows through parkland north of the Long Island Railroad. Historical surveys show the creek originating at Lake Success, a glacial kettle pond located in Nassau County, a few yards east of the city line.
The 1914 E. Belcher-Hyde map shows the stream flowing around Little Neck Hills on its way to Udalls Cove. At the time the landscape was comprised of farms and wealthy estates. Look closely and you can see a Vanderbilt and a Whitney. At Thornhill Avenue and Overbrook Street, it turned north on its way to Little Neck Bay.
The 1918 U.S. Geological Survey map of North Hempstead shows Gabler’s Creek and a smaller tributary in light blue. That tributary originates in the University Gardens subdivision in Great Neck. The ridge of hills running from Alley Pond towards Roslyn is the Harbor Hill Moraine, a result of the most recent ice age. The north shore of Long Island is a series of necks separated by fjord-like inlets carved by the glaciers. These include Little Neck Bay, Manhasset Bay, and Hempstead Harbor.
Following the annexation of Douglaston into New York City in 1898, urbanization eventually arrived in this area. The above 1939 Dolph Map of the area does not show Gabler’s Creek and Udalls Cove is not named. Neither were expected to be preserved for future generations.
In 1930, Overbrook Street was constructed above the creek between 54th and Alameda avenues. Water that falls into the gutters on this street drains directly into the creek below.
The parking lot of St. Anastasia’s Church also lies atop the buried creek. The church used to own land across Northern Boulevard as well, seeking to build a high school on the site. Instead, the city condemned the land in 1983 for a wildlife preserve. The church was awarded $1,375,000 in compensation for the land by an appellate court. At Northern Boulevard, the trail following the creek begins. Inside this section of the preserve the ravine widens and a pipe is visible from which the creek emerges.
Along the Course
This section of the ravine was designated as part of Udalls Cove Park Preserve but within its boundaries property ownership is divided between the city Parks Department, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and private owners. Dead-end streets represent an incomplete grid interrupted by the ravine.
On these streets are homes tucked inside the park that were built before these properties could be acquired by the city and state for parkland. Since the 1960s, this 17-acre section of the creek has been an ongoing battle for preservation against the march of development. Trails constructed by the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee and local Boy Scout troops made this section of the stream accessible to hikers.
Among the volunteer-built improvement projects on Gabler’s Creek is the footbridge near 40th Avenue and 247th Street.
Next to the footbridge the creek disappears beneath a stone embankment that carries the Long Island Railroad’s Port Washington Branch.
On the north side of the tracks is Aurora Pond, a manmade pond formed by Sandhill Road damming the creek. The pond’s namesake, Aurora Gareiss was the cofounder of the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee, which she formed with her neighbor Virginia Dent in 1969 to protest further encroachment on the ravine. At the time, the Queens portion of the marsh was threatened by illegal dumping and development. Across the city line, a proposed golf course would have covered the marsh with landfill. Gareiss purchased multiple copies of Audubon Magazine, mailing them out to village residents in an effort to convince them that marshland was worth preserving.
On the eastern side of the marsh, Little Neck Parkway extends four blocks north of the railroad towards Virginia Point, named after Dent. Weathered pilings in Udalls Cove stand as remnants of a past when the shore was dotted with fishing piers and littleneck clams were harvested by local businesses. By 1893, the local clam industry was forced to close as a result of pollution. Nevertheless, the term “littleneck claim” is still used as a size category, regardless of geographic origin.
At this location, Gabler’s Creek widens into Udalls Cove, which then merges into Little Neck Bay. Nassau County’s Great Neck is on the right and Queens’ Little Neck is on the left. The cove’s namesake is Richard Udall, a local landowner who purchased the Saddle Rock Grist Mill in 1833. The mill was owned by his descendants until 1950 and operates as a museum. It is located a mile downstream from Udall’s Cove in the village of Saddle Rock. As mentioned, the creek has a tributary joining it at Udalls Cove and at some point in the future I will follow its course as well. This brook has no name, but it is historically associated with Cutter’s Mill. Only a street and park keep this colonial mill on the map.
Tour the Creek: This Sunday I will be giving a tour of this stream with the Douglaston and Little Neck Historical Society. At 11a.m. at Northern Boulevard and 245th Street. Tour will take two hours to complete. Signed books will be available for sale.