Some of Long Island’s hidden streams flow through state parks (Valley Stream), and others flow alongside highways that share the name (Meadowbrook). But a truly hidden stream doesn’t have such counterparts to put in on the map. This is the story of Milburn Creek, which flows for three and a half miles on the south shore of Nassau County. Along the way, it flows past the backyards of Roosevelt, Baldwin, and Freeport.
In this scene near the headwaters of the creek, we are looking upstream at Westbrook Lane and Brookside Avenue on the border of Roosevelt and Baldwin. The stream emerges a block to the north where the eastbound ramp of the Southern State Parkway touches on Brookside Avenue.
Where it Flows
For the hidden waters of NYC, I peel back the layers of development using the DoITT NYCity Map. Nassau County has its own GIS tool for historic aerials and zoning maps, the Nassau County LRV Viewer. In this survey from 1950, most of the suburban layout has been completed with a handful of holdout farms remaining within the Town of Hempstead. I highlighted the winding route of Southern State Parkway, and the two parkways connecting it to Jones Beach, the Meadowbrook and the Wantagh, both of which follow hidden waterways to the bay. In orange is the route of the Babylon Branch of Long Island Railroad and Sunrise Highway, which run the length of Long Island’s South Shore.
In blue, from west to east are: Mill River and its tributaries Pine Stream and Schodack Brook, Milburn Creek, East Meadow Brook, and Bellmore Creek. There are other north-south creeks flowing on this map, but for now, I’m not ready to write about them. Even in 1950, Milburn Creek had the least amount of open land along its course.
I’ve written about my idea of transforming the banks of Nassau County’s hidden streams into linear parks for bikes and pedestrians. The banks of Milburn Creek are too narrow, hemmed in by private properties that leave only one purpose for the stream, to serve as a channel for stormwater runoff from the streets along its course. Brookside Avenue follows the stream for 2.4 miles and there are parcels of forested and grassy spaces that connect to the creek, and they could be developed as parkland, but there is no chance of a connected park system for this stream. Certainly not here, but there is a lengthy waterside park further downstream on Milburn Creek.
A Potential Park
A few streets to the west there is a sizable 34-acre property on Coes Neck Road that is owned by the county that has a meadow, pond, and forest, and it is closed to the public. Why hasn’t this land been developed or transformed into a park? Nor is this land officially designated as a nature preserve.
Seeing signs against trespassing on land that is owned by the public raises questions about the history of this site and its future. In 2018, Newsday reporter Paul LaRocco investigated the undeveloped properties purchased by the county that includes private estates and farms that would serve as nature preserves, but not known to the public. This parcel does not appear in LaRocco’s survey as it was acquired by the county in the early 1970s. The only information that I found online is that it was previously owned by Warren Brothers, a construction firm. The pond here is not natural, so perhaps there’s pollution in the soil that’s preventing the public from having access here. Perhaps this is an oversized recharge basin, an undeveloped property designed to allow collect rainwater for the island’s water supply.
Looking at a Google Maps aerial of this site, one can see the enormity of this last patch of nature in this empire of tract housing. Whenever I hear ambulances in this area, I presume that it is another accident on the Southern State Parkway, where drivers speed without concern for the winding route. There are too many makeshift memorials along the highway’s shoulder and there’s little room to straighten this road without sacrificing dozens of trees. Drivers must slow down on this road! Curiously to the west of the undeveloped land is Coes Neck Park, with its playground and two ballfields.. Usually places designated on the map as necks are closer to the ocean. Who was Coe anyway? Perhaps related to the colonial landowner in Queens who I documented a few years earlier?
Downstream on the Millburn
As is the case with other streams in southern Nassau County, when there is not enough rain, this creek goes dry, revealing a sandy path between the backyards.
Where Brookside Avenue runs under the tracks of the Long Island Railroad, the creek flows through a forested parcel that is the county-operated Brookside Preserve, with its trails that offer the coolness and share of a forest, a walkable getaway from the suburban monotony. Next to the tracks is a field that resulted from demolition by neglect.
Milburn Pumping Station
Like all the other streams that I’ve documented on the south shore of Queens and Nassau County, Milburn Creek also had its water diverted to serve the 19th century city of Brooklyn. An ambitious work of Romanesque revival architecture, it was completed in 1891 and functioned until 1977. At that point, the city of New York transferred ownership of this building to Nassau County, which allowed it to decay.
In 1989 the county sold this “castle” to developer developer, Gary Mileus, for $1.4 million. Plans for a condo conversion were stalled by a cooling housing market. Plans for a nursing home were blocked by the village of Freeport. In the meantime, nature, vandalism, and a fire took their toll on the ruin. In 2009, Mileus sued and won $3.5 million from the Village of Freeport, with further lawsuits pending. Prior to the lawsuit, he had lost $12 million on the property. In the following year, its last walls were demolished and the site was restored to nature.
In this undated photo, we see Milburn Creek flowing past the pumping station, crossing the train tracks into a retaining pond that is divided by Sunrise Highway. Later to become State route 27, here it appears as an unpaved country lane. The larger pond here is today the site of Freeport High School. Such is the story of Long Island, where natural sites that deserve preservation are neglected or covered up, and historical structures that deserve restoration are allowed to return to nature.
The Tidal Section
At Brookside Preserve, the stream enters a tunnel that takes it beneath the train tracks, Sunrise Highway, and Freeport High School. It stream sees daylight again at Milburn Pond Park. The county-operated park had no monuments or playgrounds. It is simply a green space with paths circling the pond. Perhaps it could serve as a more active civic space if it had additional amenities for the public.
The creek leaves this pond through a tunnel that goes under Merrick Road and then sees daylight again in the 24-acre Milburn Creek Park, which follows the stream for nearly a mile. The stream widens in this park and becomes tidal, rising and falling with the tides of the bay.
Near Atlantic Avenue, the last road to cross Milburn Creek is a dock completed in 2016 that was built after an earlier structure was destroyed in a storm. The creek here serves as the border between the village of Freeport and the community of Baldwin. The tidal creek flows past homes with docs, marinas, and boat repair shops as it widens into Middle Bay.
On the map of the South Shore Blueway, a system of designated canoeing routes, the Milburn Creek Park dock appears as number 8. The tidal creeks and bays of the South Shore of Long Island are protected from the open ocean by barrier islands. For this creek, Long Beach Island and Jones Beach serve as the buffers.