On the east side of Waterbury, the post-industrial Connecticut city that used to manufacture brass products and clocks, there is a partially covered stream with a crazy name. Its flow once powered the mills that made Waterbury prosper but after the mills departed in search of cheap labor, nature returned to the banks of Mad River.
The covered portion of Mad River flows beneath a shopping center’s parking lot, a missed opportunity for daylighting. In other places, it is obscured by highways running along its course, such as McMahon Street, which itself is in the shadow of Baldwin Street, seen above.
The northernmost of Central Park’s lakes shares its name with the neighborhood to its immediate north. Harlem Meer occupies the former confluence of Montayne’s Rivulet and Harlem Creek, a point where these two freshwater streams widened into a brackish estuary on their way towards the East River.
In the initial allocation of land for Central Park, the site of Harlem Meer would have been excluded from the park, its untouched terrain would likely have been buried beneath urban development. In 1863, the park was expanded north to 110th Street, encompassing the North Woods, a set of abandoned fortifications from the War of 1812 and the marsh where the creeks met.
Since this blog was launched in December 2015, I’ve documented the city’s hidden waterways with as much detail as possible, but then after publishing the pieces, I stumble upon more old photos, maps, and postcards of the published streams.
The photo of note here is this August 1940 aerial survey of the first World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows, looking east. It is a Parks Department photo from the Municipal Archives collection. The corridor of open land between the street grids of downtown Flushing and Queensboro Hill is today’s Kissena Corridor Park, where Kissena Creek used to flow.
Having last visited Saw Mill Playground in the South Bronx in 2016, I returned to the site to take a closer look at its neighbor, Brook Park. Both of these parks commemorate in their names the long-buried Mill Brook.
The stream was entirely covered in the 19th century, with its most visible surface reminder being Brook Avenue. At 141st Street, the community garden known as Brook Park also remembers the stream although it does not lie directly atop the former stream bed.
After my visit to the site of One Mile Pond, I felt it was a good opportunity to travel downstream and document the story of Baisley Pond, the largest lake in southern Queens.
Having visited this park after a morning snowfall, the terrain was muddy and there were few people to be seen. It is a post-glacial landscape akin to when mastodons roamed the earth. In 1858, the remains of this creature were unearthed by the pond by construction workers who were transforming the pond into a reservoir.
I was recently emailed by a researcher at the DEP about street flooding in Jamaica, Queens and its likely connection to a long-gone waterway known as One Mile Pond. It is a pond so obscure that it did not make the cut into the Hidden Waters book and I could not find too many sources online for its location and name.
The clue offered to me was that this pond was located upstream from Baisley Pond. A quick comparison of historical maps led me to St. Albans Memorial Park, an 11-acre expanse of green space built atop the former One Mile Pond.
Staten Island’s unofficial nickname is Borough of Parks and as history shaped this borough, it has a disparity with most of its parks on the South Shore in contrast to its urbanized north. When an opportunity arises to transform a sizable parcel into a park, civic activists and elected officials spring into action. That is how the former Blissenbach Marina on the Kill Van Kull was transformed from an abandoned brownfield into a waterfront park.
The views from the 9.7-acre Heritage Park include the Bayonne Bridge and boats being repaired at the neighboring Caddell Dry Dock. The neighborhood here is not very residential, but the parking lot and bus stop provide access to visitors coming from further afield. Continue reading
Having accounted for Oceania in my out-of-town feature, I now turn to Africa and its equivalent of New York: a large and diverse city. The ancient seaport city of Alexandria, Egypt. While many of the cities that I’ve documented were built alongside rivers, Alexandria never had its own river, its location chosen by its famous namesake for its deep harbor that served as a port to Africa.
The city and its harbor were connected to the Nile River and the rest of Egypt by the Mahmoudeya Canal, constructed in the 1840s on the order of the powerful Turkish viceroy Muhammad Ali. Above is a scene on the canal captured in an 1890s French postcard.
Much of my research for Hidden Waters of New York City does not involve paddling, swimming, or walking away from my desk. It involves having a grasp of GIS: geographic information systems where one compares maps of the same location to determine what lies beneath the surface. When the internet is down and there is no time to take the bus to the New York Public Library, I have an excellent resource at the Five Boro Shop on Randalls Island.
It is the 1952 Department of City Planning map that shows the city as the agency envisioned it in the near future. The close-up above of central Staten Island shows the borough covered by a grid with two never-built highways traversing the borough. The map has much to teach its viewers on how much of the 1952 plan was realized at present time. Continue reading
With plans underway to transform the landfills along Jamaica Bay into a 407-acre State Park, it is an ideal time to focus on the current largest State Park within NYC, the 265-acre Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve on Staten Island. It is a post-industrial landscape reclaimed by nature as a thick forest and wetland with five named ponds and two named brooks.
The largest of these is Sharrotts Pond, glacial kettle pond near the southern edge of the park. Unlike many of the city’s parks, there are no high-rises peeking from behind the treetops, so the view is truly natural.