On Long Island, there are various units of local government: villages, towns, and cities. A town can have more people than a city. These are merely legal designations bestowed by the state to describe the responsibilities of a municipality. Cities tend to have more say in their governance, and control over schools and utilities. One such city is Glen Cove, built at the head of an inlet on Hempstead Bay in 1668. That inlet is Glen Cove Creek, fed by a stream that originates further inland. In the downtown of Glen Cove that stream is hidden beneath a parking lot.
In recent years plans have been made to transform the tidal section of the creek into an upscale residential district, but the underground section remains hidden from the attention of urban planners. The creek has a boxy ferry terminal with a sail-shaped window that seeks to offer future commuter service to Manhattan and Connecticut.
Where it Flows
Glen Cove Creek has its furthest source on the Old Westbury campus of NYIT in a pond that can be viewed from the De Seversky Mansion, a popular wedding venue owned by this college. The beaux arts mansion exemplifies the Gold Coast of Long Island, a collection of upscale residences on the north shore between Queens and Suffolk counties. Its namesake is Alexander P. de Seversky, a Russian emigre of noble background who fled the Bolshevik revolution and built his career in America as an airplane inventor. He purchased this mansion for the college in 1972.
Water flows out of the creek, under Northern Boulevard and enters a freshwater wetland where it is known as Cedar Swamp Creek. Amid the sizable private properties is the Louis C. Clark Preserve, a former farm and estate that was donated to The Nature Conservancy in 1965. The preserve is accessible by Valentine Lane, named after the farming family that owned this property in the 19th century. The Village Hall of Old Brookville has an access road that crosses over this stream. Some of the properties in this village have the stream flowing underneath their lawns, out of sight. At Michaels Lane, the stream returns to the surface and falls Glen Cove Road and then State Route 107 to the city of Glen Cove.
Glen Cove Road is one of the busier roads in Nassau County, running between the downtowns of Hempstead and Glen Cove. It is an unsigned state road that was expanded in the 1960s as an approach road to the proposed Rye-Bayville Bridge that would have spanned the Long Island Sound.
As with urban streams, suburban waterways also tend to hide under sizable open spaces that are developed, such as parking lots of strip malls. At the Park Plaza shopping center in Old Brookville, there is a ditch between the parking lot and Glen Cove Road that appears on some maps at the stream. Older maps and aerial surveys show the creek flowing beneath the parking lot.
Suburban streams are given some freedom to flow on the properties of country clubs where they serve as water traps. Cedar Swamp Creek performs this role at Glen Head Country Club.
Nassau County has more than a dozen public and private courses with ponds and creeks flowing between the fairways. If one would write about the Hidden Waters of Long Island, golf course waterways would take up at least a fourth of the book.
After the golf course the creek flows enters the Orchard neighborhood of Glen Cove, a historically industrial area where developers are offered incentives to clean up the “brownfield” in favor of commercial and residential structures. The proximity of this site to the Sea Cliff train station makes it attractive as a transit-oriented development. On Sea Cliff Avenue, one can see the dip in the terrain where the creek flows.
Downtown Glen Cove
The final mile of State Route 107, also known as Pratt Boulevard, has the appearance of a highway. Built in the 1960s, it follows the course of Cedar Swamp Creek towards the downtown of Glen Cove. A few yards shy of Pulaski Street, the creek enters an underground culvert covered by parking lots. Prior to the burial of the creek, there was a milldam at Pulaski Street that descended into a millpond.
The parking lot behind this city’s police headquarters, public library, and post office is where the creek flows under the surface. Prior to 1928, there were two millponds here, Upper Glen Lake and Lower Glen Lake, separated by Bridge Street. Once the mills became obsolete, increased pollution from dumping and demand for more land resulted in the filling of these two ponds. At the time, the project envisioned a parkway on the route of the stream, which was realized more than 30 years later as the extension of Route 107.
Historical postcards show Bridge Street spanning the creek between these two ponds. Today, only the street’s name preserves their history, akin to Bridge Street in Downtown Manhattan that memorializes a colonial Dutch canal, and Bridge Street in Sydney that runs across a buried urban creek.
Looking upstream from Glen Cove Avenue, the site of Lower Glen Lake can easily be opened up in the manner of Larkin Plaza in Yonkers, where the parking lot was removed and Saw Mill River was daylighted in that city’s center. Looking back in time at an undated postcard, we see Bridge Street in the background. Next to this parking lot is the Village Square development, that transformed a set of single-story offices into a plaza facing historically-inspired residential towers.
On the Surface
On the other side of Glen Cove Avenue, the creek emerges to the surface in Pratt Park, named after Harriet Barnes Pratt, a philanthropist and horticulturist who donated land for this park to the city in 1937. Her impact in NYC includes the creation of Queens Botanical Garden at the 1939 World’s Fair, and the reconstruction of the snuff mill on the grounds of the New York Botanical Garden. This Pratt Park has no relation to the Pratt Park of Montreal which I’ve previously documented. The creek leaves the park in a cascade and under the Charles Street Bridge. On the other side of this bridge, it widens into a tidal creek that is witnessing the most ambitious development project in the history of Glen Cove.
Glen Cove Waterfront
From the 2009 presentation of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement at the Glen Cove Planning Board, the head of the tidal section was lined with industry, as it has since the late 19th century. The presentation envisions widening the creek to allow boats to turn around at this spot. In the place of industries, upscale residences with waterfront parks would line the last mile of Glen Cove Creek.
The transformation of Glen Cove Creek into a residential and recreational neighborhood is comparable to Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, which also has condos and waterfront walkways in the place of concrete factories and scrap yards.
On the Map
On the 1873 F. W. Beers map of Glen Cove, the future Route 107 is marked by the stream and its two millponds. The upper dam is today’s Pulaski Street and the Lower Dam is today’s Glen Cove Avenue. The big polluter on this map is Glen Cove Starch Works, which operated from 1855 through 1906. At the time, it was the largest corn starch manufacturer in the world. Ice works appear along the two ponds, making their business during the cold winters of that century.
On the 1939 Hagstrom atlas of Nassau County, we see the creek erased from the map between Pulaski Street and Glen Cove Avenue. The tidal section of this stream was straightened a decade earlier. The largest private property on the map belonged to the Appleby family that was later given to the county as Garvie’s Point Preserve, a forested hill overlooking the creek. The highway that follows the stream would be built two decades after this map was published. This creek served as a gateway to Glen Cove during its colonial and industrial periods. As its population grows, perhaps it can become a transportation corridor again with passenger ferry service.
Besides the NYC boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, and Glen Cove, the only other incorporated city on Long Island is Long Beach, which is on its own barrier island.
In the News:
Bronx Times reports on a new mural installed at Concrete Plant Park on the Bronx River.
San Antonio Express-News reports on the restoration and rise in property values along San Pedro Creek.