In the heart of Midtown the New York Public Library’s main branch is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Prior to its construction in 1900 the Murray Hill Distributing Reservoir stood on the site of the library. For 19th century New Yorkers the Egyptian Revival walls of the reservoir also appeared in contemporary guidebooks, attracting tourist crowds.
Between 1842 and 1900, the four-acre reservoir held 20 million gallons of water for the growing island metropolis. Its previous sources at Collect Pond and various springs across town were running dry and becoming polluted from urbanization. Water contained at Murray Hill originated from Croton Reservoir in Westchester County.
The highest city that has hidden urban streams is the former imperial capital of the Incas. At more than 11,000 feet above sea level, Cusco, Peru is a magnet for tourism and home to a thriving Native culture deep in the Andean Mountains. The main river flowing through this city is the Huatanay. A trickle in comparison to the Amazon, but that’s what its water will eventually become.
Within the city are nearly a dozen tributaries that date back to the Inca period, some of them running as ditches and other covered by modern streets.
Among the streams feeding into the East River that flow through the Bronx, Pugsley Creek is obscure, with little information available on its history. All that remains of it today is an inlet of the East River that used to penetrate much further inland.
The present head of this stream is deep inside Pugsley Creek Park, a 50-acre sanctuary of plants and wildlife separating the Soundview and Castle Hill neighborhoods. Continue reading
In the 80-year history of Meadow Lake, there have been plans for the waterway that did not go beyond the planning phase. Having examined designs for a never-built mid-lake bridge, I will now look at the 1980s plan to install a racetrack around its shores.
From the 1983 map by Wilson Racing, the outline of the lake appears unchanged, but can one imagine the impact on the park if the Grand Prix proposal had happened?
The largest city in Siberia was built on the banks of the mighty Ob River. It also has its own hidden urban stream, the Kamenka. Its once-imposing gorge was filled in the 1960s and a highway built atop its former course two decades later.
Adding to the insult, the river’s name was removed from the highway in 2007 and sets of luxury residential towers are popping up on undeveloped land that could have been used for daylighting the stream as a linear park. One hint of the Kamenka in the city is the Sibrevkom Street Bridge that spans the much shallower gorge that was carved by the Kamenka.
Last month the Parks Department and Central Park Conservancy announced a $150 reconstruction plan for Lasker Rink in Central Park. Described by the AIA Guide to NYC as the park’s most “disastrous” improvement for a modernist design that clashes with the Victorian appearance of the park.
Part of this ambitious reconstruction plan is the daylighting of a section of Montayne’s Rivulet that was covered by the pool in 1966. The rendering above looking north from Huddlestone Arch restores the view that Olmsted envisioned of the creek flowing into Harlem Meer.
The oldest active bridge in New York City isn’t Brooklyn Bridge. It is the Roman-inspired High Bridge that connects western Bronx to the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Further north there was a much older bridge that connected Manhattan to the mainland. King’s Bridge crossed over Spuyten Duyvil Creek that passed by the northern tip of Manhattan.
In the above 1906 photo of King’s Bridge, the crossing appears virtually unchanged from its appearance in 1766 when it opened as part of Albany Post Road. The creek was buried and rerouted in 1914, but are there any traces remaining of the city’s first bridge?
At the northern tip of Manhattan the 196-acre Inwood Hill Park offers a variety of natural elements- cliffs, caves, forest, and the curvy shoreline of Spuyten Duyvil Creek straightened into the Harlem River Ship Canal. Being in this park gives one a hint of the Hudson Valley further to the north.
At low tide the cove in the park appears tempting to cross, but the mud here is as soft as quicksand. In the background the Henry Hudson Bridge frames the Harlem River’s confluence with the Hudson, with the New Jersey Palisades on the horizon. The peninsula on the right used to be in the Bronx prior to the 1930s.
New York and Pennsylvania have the distinction as the only two states with seaports on the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. The Keystone State’s port on Lake Erie shares the lake’s name, and that of its Native people. Although the city does not have a subway, it has a tunnel wide enough to fit a van, running for 2.3 miles beneath the city.
The Mill Creek Tube carries its namesake waterway out of view as eternal punishment for the devastating August 3, 1915 flood that the creek wreaked upon the city. Above, a photo from a June 2014 survey of the subterranean stream by Erie Times-News shows the size of the tube and the seemingly harmless stream when it is not carrying its maximum volume.
The city’s largest freshwater lake offers enough details in its design and history to allow for multiple posts. Having previously focused on the Aquacade that stood at Meadow Lake, and the history of Jewel Avenue Bridge, I turn to its northwest corner, where Horse Brook had its confluence with Flushing Creek.
On the above image, the red triangle shows the location of my parents’ home, which will be built atop the filled Horse Brook stream bed in 1950.
In the time between this 1937 photo and the opening of the 1939 World’s Fair, the transformation of the wetlands along Flushing Creek into Flushing Meadows is one of the most unrecognizable landscape alterations in the city in the past century. Around Meadow Lake, it includes a few rejected proposals worth remembering.