Hidden Waters of Manhasset

In F. Scott FitzGerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby, West Egg is the pseudonym for Great Neck and the much more upscale peninsula facing it is East Egg, which in reality is Manhasset, a collection of villages jutting into the Long Island Sound. hidden behind the mansions are brooks and ponds whose names relate to past landowners and their once-sizable estates overlooking Manhasset Bay.

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The Leeds Pond Preserve, originally built as the Norwood farm and owned by the Sizer family, was purchased by Herman Goldman, a prominent maritime attorney and tax expert, as a retreat to entertain friends and family.

Where it Flows

Similar to my earlier essay on nearby Great Neck, I’ll begin my survey of Manhasset’s hidden waterways with a relatively long and historic one: Gildersleeve’s Creek, which flows from Plandome Pond to Leeds Pond before emptying into Manhasset Bay.

1914 map

On the 1914 Belcher-Hyde atlas, we see Leeds Pond as the largest internal waterway on the peninsula, with three brooks feeding into it. Gildersleeve’s Creek is the southern one, originating on the property of Alice Grace D’Oench. An eastern branch flowed in from the property of William Munson, and another branch near the tracks of the Port Washington Branch.

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On the NOAA chart, we see three funnel-shaped bays on the North Shore of Nassau County: Little Neck Bay, Manhasset Bay, and Hempstead Harbor. On their eastern shores are millponds of different sizes that used to have gristmills that provided food for the early settlers of this area.

Plandome Pond

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The southernmost source of Gildersleeve’s Creek is Plandome Pond, a small village-operated park on the former estate of Alice Grace D’Oench. The park consists of an upper pond that is fenced-off and a round shaped lower pond that is the park’s centerpiece. Its appearance resembles Indian Pond in Riverdale, with its grassy shoreline and upscale surroundings. Water flows out of the pond through a weir and culvert, reemerging on the surface in a forest north of this park. Behind the trees in this park is the one-track Port Washington Branch, running through a bucolic setting that is two stations outside of Queens.

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The creek makes a turn at the mansion at 100 Brookside Drive built in 1929 by architect Gordon M. Trautschold. He was a draftsman for Grosvenor Atterbury, who designed Forest Hills Gardens in Queens. The home sold in 2018 for a cool $2.799 million, with the backyard stream and pond prominently mentioned in the listing.

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On my visit to Trautschold’s backyard, the mansion and its grounds were being reconstructed. Certainly more exciting than a backyard pool is having a natural waterway for cooling off. The creek continues north along Brookside Drive flowing through the backyards of other distinguished mansions that exemplify Long Island’s Gold Coast.

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The creek widens into a deep pond dammed by Stonytown Road, where it receives water from an eastern tributary originating in the village of Flower Hill. Most of it runs underneath people’s backyards. This brook can be seen flowing under Rockwood Road near the Plandome station.

On the western side of this pond is the Hemlock Hollow mansion, built in 1927 for Leroy Latham, founder and president of Latham Lithographing Co. and the Latham & Little Printing Co. and a trustee of the Village of Plandome from 1920-22.

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Another pond in this watershed is on the grounds of Plandome Country Club. Formerly the Mitchell farm, and then the property of Warner M. Leeds in 1906. This industrialist was president of the American Tin Plate company and his name is memorialized in Manhasset’s largest pond. After Leeds passed in 1925, his daughter sold these 58 acres  to the founders of the club to for a residential development, but the market crash prevented that, and instead they developed this golf course. Next to the golf course a mansion community titled Plandome Mills has  Papermill Drive and Gristmill Lane as reminders of the historical uses of Gildesleeve’s Creek.

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As it is with Plandome Pond at the source of the creek, Leeds Pond is also a public resource, with a park on its northern shore where trails offer access to the water across from the mansions. The Leeds Pond Preserve is the former Norwood estate that is today open to the public. But even this 21-acre pond cannot maintain its natural appearance without public intervention. In late 2011, Hurricane Sandy inundated this pond with silt and saltwater, harming its ecosystem. As the sea level rises, the causeway separating the pond from Manhasset Bay may need to be raised in order to preserve the pond.

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The Leeds Pond Preserve is a county-operated park that is the former estate of maritime lawyer Herman Goldman, and previously lumber executive Robert Ryland Sizer. The former mansion stand on a hilltop overlooking the pond and bay.

Following his death in 1968, neighbors of this estate lobbied the county to purchase it so that it does not become developed. The mansion hosts the Science Museum of Long Island, which began in 1962 as a grassroots operation by Doris Leonard. Initially it was a member-run institution that moved from one mansion to another. It settled into the former Goldman mansion in 1972. Unlike a typical science museum that has regular public hours, this one is limited to reservations for schools and camps. The surrounding 36-acre preserve also hosts a day camp. In 2019, Prof. Corinne Michels wrote the book on the museum’s history and mission.

Plandome Mill - Plandome Manor, New York

Across the causeway separating Leeds Pond from Manhasset Bay is a residence that is the former gristmill. In 1906 it was abandoned and nearly demolished to widen a road. Its owner had the building moved back 100 feet to accommodate the road. Although the building has been altered greatly from its original 1690s look, it retains some of the architectural elements from the earlier centuries. The colonial name for the Manhasset Peninsula is Cow Neck with the Cow Neck Historical Society as the leading repository of local lore. On its site, the society tells the story of this historic mill.

Whitney Lake

Town of North Hempstead - Whitney Pond Park

At the head of Manhasset Bay’s funnel is Whitney Lake, named after the wealthy family that owned this land into the mid-20th century whose nearby Greentree estate is still the largest undeveloped private property on the North Shore.

Flowing out of Whitney Lake, the water goes beneath Northern Boulevard and then widens into Manhasset Valley Pond, the centerpiece of Manhasset Valley Park. One side of this park is Olmstedian woodland and footpaths, and the other side has athletic fields. At the north side of this park is a dramatic one-track trestle carrying the Port Washington Branch across Manhasset Valley. It was completed in 1898 at a length of 679 feet and a height of 181 feet, the highest and longest railroad bridge on Long Island. Beyond this bridge, the creek widens into Manhasset Bay.

Mill Pond

Port Washington and Cow Bay From Mill Pond Road, ca. 1875 - Port ...

North of Plandome is Port Washington, a terminal stop on its eponymous LIRR line. This village has its own Mill Pond that dates to 1791, when Dodge’s Inlet was dammed to form a millpond.

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Cow Neck, as Manhasset was known in colonial times, is much longer than neighboring Great Neck. As a result, locations on it were indicated as “down neck and up neck in 19th century writings. This pond today does not have any mills or buildings along its banks. It is ringed by parkland on all sides.

Baxter Pond

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A short walk south of Mill Pond is the more scenic Baxter Pond, named after a landowning family whose former property is the village of Baxter Estates. This pond is fed by a brook that originates deep in the hills of this village. The pond has its own conservancy, Baxter Pond Foundation, that provides education, funding, and volunteering opportunities in maintaining this waterway. Baxter Pond Park is co-named for Barbara Johnson, the local county legislator who led the effort to restore the pond at the turn of the millennium.

Stannards Brook

A smaller waterway to the south of Baxter Pond is Stannards Brook, which has a county park on a portion of its course. 

The brook’s namesake is Captain Elbert Stannard, who owned land here in them id-19th century. His business involved salvaging parts from wrecked Civil War vessels. His shipyard was located at the mouth of this brook, on the site of the Port Washington Yacht Club.

The park’s present landscaping is thanks to the civic advocacy group Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, which led the effort to transform a county-owned drainage ditch into an attractive park. The country acquired the brook in 1944, and did little with it until 2003, when Myron Blumenfeld organized the campaign to beautify the brook. The group’s offshoot Friends of Stannards Brook Park Preserve, serves as the conservancy for this park.

The brook goes underground at Carlton Avenue, with the park on one side of this street and a ravine with homes and backyards on the other side.

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As with many hidden urban and suburban waterways, a dip in the terrain indicates a much deeper ravine where the stream once visibly flowed. In this scene looking north on Carlton Avenue, Stannards Brook Park is on the right, and the ravine is on the left. Running on the bottom of this ravine is the dead end Anchorage Road, named after Stannard’s mansion, which stood until 1956.

Sheets Creek

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Perhaps some’s idea of a pun, the waterway separating the village of Manorhaven from the rest of the Manhasset peninsula is called Sheets Creek. Formerly a dump for abandoned boats, this tidal inlet was cleaned up in the 1990s and designated as a nature preserve. The northern section of this creek is almost entirely within parkland that features nature trails and informative signs on its history and wildlife.

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Manhasset Avenue runs on landfill atop the creek, entering the former Manhasset Isle, as seen looking south in this 1927 aerial survey. The road separates the creek into two sections. The section in the foreground is today’s Manorhaven Preserve. Once a hilly island, the isle’s terrain was reduced by sand mining. It later hosted a seaplane base and docks before its redevelopment as a residential neighborhood.

Towards the tip of the Manhasset peninsula are East and West creeks, surrounded by sizable private properties; an unnamed pond on the grounds of the Sands Point Preserve; and unnamed ponds on each of the five golf courses as well.

In the News:

New York Times reports on the natural history of the Bronx River with Eric W. Sanderson.

Staten Island Advance reports on the persistent algae growth in Jack’s Pond. This pond recently appeared in a photo essay on Forgotten-NY.

The Gazette reports on the project to restore Fountain Creek in Colorado Springs.

KHON reports on the restoration of the historic turtle pond at Waimanolo, Hawai’i.

2 thoughts on “Hidden Waters of Manhasset

  1. Tom Walsh August 23, 2020 / 11:15 pm

    Years ago, I kayaked extensively in this area. Upon entering the creek by Manorhaven Beach I saw a sign placed exclusively so boaters could see it. “Sheets Creek,” (no apostrophe) placed there by the town. It had to be a joke. I’d never seen a sign identifying the name of a waterway anywhere else. Also, a section of the southeast corner of the Manorhaven landfill was not just a seaplane base, but was the location of NY’s first international airport – prior to the building of the Marine Air Terminal at LGA. Aircraft large enough to carry fuel and enough passengers to be profitable could not take off from runways… only a large expanse of water would do. It’s still undeveloped. Look on Google Earth to see the remains of the ramp enabling planes to access the hangars.

    Like

  2. Pete September 2, 2020 / 5:13 am

    Thanks for this wonderful collection of information and images.
    I lived in Port Washington from 1964 -1974. Often hiked around these waterways and the bays. Most had not been developed.
    There were foundations and other signs of great estates among the overgrown vegetation.
    Foolishly as a young teen, a few friends and myself crossed the train trestle on foot in Manhasset.
    Went to school with descendents of earliest dutch settlers. This area has an incredible amount of history due to its location.
    I too was fascinated by the waterways that could be found among the suburban sprawl that had covered most of the area after moving there from Queens.

    Liked by 1 person

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