Wavecrest Lake, Queens

The Rockaway Peninsula offers plenty of sights for urban explorers and historians with its alleys, old buildings, the fort at its tip, and numerous inlets on the side facing Jamaica Bay. Until recently I did not know that the Rockaways had its its own internal waterway.

Wavecrest Lake existed at the turn of the 20th century, surrounded by mansions and summer homes of the rich at a time when the peninsula served as the city’s seaside retreat.

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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.

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Scenes of The Lily Pond, Manhattan

In preparation for an online lecture on the waterways of Central Park for the nonprofit Landmark West, I returned to the site of The Lily Pond in Central Park to follow the course of this dried-up stream.

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The shortest of the park’s manmade streams, it descended a steep cascade with outlines of pools that can be seen today. Looking down at the dirt, one can ask how much water would be needed here to make the Lily Pond cascade flow again.

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Varnichny Creek, Murmansk

What does the French region of Normandy have in common with Russia’s largest arctic city? Both are named after the Norsemen, an old English term for the Vikings whose extensive trading networks stretched across Europe’s coasts and waterways. Murmansk is also the last city commissioned by Russia’s imperial government, three months shy of the Tsar Nikolai II’s abdication.

Фото: Николай Хлабыстин

Varnichny Creek is a hidden waterway of this far-north city, once a habitat rich with fish that is today heavily polluted with most of its course channelled beneath the city’s surface. The above image is a neglected pedestrian bridge in the October district of the city, where the creek flows in a ravine.

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Francis Lewis Park, Queens

Not to be confused with the borough-spanning boulevard of the same name, Francis Lewis Park is a 17-acre waterfront parcel on the East River in Whitestone under the Whitestone Bridge. Surrounded by tract mansions, this park offers public access to the water’s edge on land that once belonged to a Founding Father.

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The park is comprised of a bowl-shaped lawn that widens towards a beach on the East River with Ferry Point Park on the opposite shore. On the west side of the lawn are a playground and sports courts.

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Hidden Waters of Great Neck, NY

Across the city line from the Queens neighborhood of Little Neck is the Great Neck peninsula of Nassau County. The name Great Neck includes the Village of Great Neck, eight other villages, and a handful of communities that share an upscale appearance with plenty of woodland and backyard space where hidden waters flow between the properties. Each stream has its own history that relates to the story of Great Neck.

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In particular, one unnamed creek flows a couple of blocks from my uncle’s house and after a few visits, I followed it from its source to the sea.

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Rainey Park, Queens

In contrast to the shoreline of Manhattan, which is almost entirely ringed by a connected series of parks, the western shore of Queens has parks separated by power plants and other public utilities, preventing an uninterrupted walk on the water’s edge.

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Rainey Park is sizable but not so visible among the shoreline parks on account of its location and seemingly empty appearance.

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Bubbly Creek, Chicago

For the Midwestern metropolis of Chicago, the city’s face is the shore of Lake Michigan, an inland sea lined with freshwater beaches within walking distance of downtown skyscrapers. Chicago’s namesake river used to flow into Lake Michigan but by 1900 was carved into a canal and had its flow reversed, taking water out of the lake, flowing southwest in a series of canals that fed into the Mississippi watershed.

One reason for this massive engineering project was the South Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River, better known as Bubbly Creek. Subject to pollution coming from the country’s largest stockyard, this hidden waterway is Chicago’s version of Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal. The above photo shows the rail bridge carrying the Heritage Corridor commuter line across the creek.

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Willow Lake, Queens

Tune out the two highways on either side of this 47-acre lake, and perhaps then this wildlife sanctuary can be appreciated by visitors. Located at the southern tip of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, it is an ideal place for social distancing during this difficult time.

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The setting is naturalistic, the result of the master plan for the 1939 World’s Fair that set aside a portion of Flushing Meadows that would be left alone.

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Fewer Traces of Horse Brook, Queens

With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down public life, one can stay at home or search for outdoor spaces where there are few other people and enjoy the natural sights. One can also do research from home on hidden urban waterways by comparing historical photos, aerial surveys, and maps.

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On the corner of 108th Street and the Long Island Expressway, is a previously underdeveloped superblock where Horse Brook flowed. Construction is underway on a trio of affordable apartment towers to join the three that were built here in the 1970s. Block by block, the empty spaces where Horse Brook flowed are filling up with buildings, leaving fewer traces of this phantom waterway.

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