The southernmost and perhaps least crowded public beach in New York City is at Wolfe’s Pond Park. It is a small stretch of sand on the otherwise pebble-strewn Raritan Bay. Behind the beach is a berm designed to hold back storm surges and behind it is Wolfe’s Pond, a historic waterway that nearly touches the ocean.
Down here, there are plenty of New Jersey radio stations playing on the radio, with Keyport and Keansburg facing across the bay. Like many parks on Staten Island, Wolfe’s Pond Park expanded in a piecemeal fashion, leaving a few homes within its borders. The homeowners live inside a forest knowing that they will never have to worry about other homes being built next to theirs.
Its name appears on a popular tavern in Long Island City and despite its “sunny” name, it is nowhere to be seen on the surface. On a recent visit to Socrates Sculpture Park in Astoria, my daughter stumbled on a sizable puddle in the park that lingers long after the rain is gone.
This puddle is as ephemeral as the sculptures in the park, but it may carry the spirit of Sunswick, the waterway that flowed across this site on its way to the East River at Hallets Cove.
As downtown Flushing becomes more crowded with condo and hotel towers pushing the skyline as high as airplanes from nearby LaGuardia Airport allow, it is difficult to imagine the neighborhood as it was when the first Quaker settlers arrived there in 1643.
In 1908, John H. Innes designed a map of late 18th century Flushing for the City History Club of New York. A copy of this map can be found at the Library of Congress, along with similar maps for Queens’ other early settlements, Jamaica and Newtown. Looking at these maps is like taking a tour back in time to when Queens was emerging from the American Revolution, still rural with street patterns that are still here today.
Prior marrying me, my wife resided in the Outremont section of Montreal, where we took strolls in Pratt Park. It is one of eight parks designed between 1910 and 1931 by a legendary local trio: engineer Émile Lacroix, landscape architect Aristide Beaugrand-Champagne and horticulturalist Thomas Barnes.
Three of them, Saint Viateur, Outremont, and Beaubien, have artificial ponds with fountains. Pratt Park was the most special of these, not only because this is where I dated my wife-to-be, but also because it has two ponds connected by a stream, with an isle, and a waterfall. It is a miniature Central Park within a single city block.
On the Bronx shore of the Harlem River to the south of Yankee Stadium is the 10-acre Mill Pond Park, which opened in 2009 on the site of the Bronx Terminal Market. The name of this park suggests a forgotten waterway on the site.
Where was the pond that gave this recent park its name?
My fascination with all things GIS often brings me to take a closer look at the old maps hanging throughout NYC Parks facilities. They have so much to show for things that are no longer here, things that never got built, and the altered shorelines of the city’s waterways.
Long before the tractors and construction cranes arrived, most of the city’s streets were mapped out in a grid pattern that demonstrated little respect for the landscape and the waterways. Continue reading
On the shoulder strip of parkland separating the westbound Grand Central Parkway and its service road in Hollis Hills, there is a pond tucked in the woods, once larger and with more water, reduced in size and all but forgotten.
Even its name is unclear as signs call it Potamogeton Pond but old newspaper articles call it Pea Pond.
The flooded meadow that once separated College Point from Flushing feeds the northernmost tributary of Flushing Creek, feeding into it just a few yards shy of where it widens into Flushing Bay. Mill Creek is a common name on the regional landscape, a reminder of the role that gristmills played in supplying food to colonial settlements that became today’s neighborhoods.
The view above from College Point Boulevard shows Mill Creek flowing into Flushing Creek at low tide. With so much of its course channeled beneath the streets, what is left of Mill Creek and its wetlands?
Here’s a feature that I haven’t done in a while: the selected photo of the week. While visiting the administrative office at High Rock Park on Staten Island, I observed historical photos hanging on the walls. That much of this island borough has been preserved in its natural state is not a secret as nearly a third of its land is comprised of parks.
What is fascinating about this 1930s photo of Meisner Avenue crossing Richmond Creek in Egbertville is how narrow it was and its closeness to the source of Staten Island’s largest inland waterway.
Among the boroughs, Staten Island has the largest number of hidden waterways, most of them still in their natural condition as this borough is often regarded as the city’s last frontier. Long before the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connected the island to Brooklyn, its north Shore was already an established hive of industry. In the West Brighton neighborhood, Factory Pond supplied water for the New York Dyeing and Printing Works, a major employer and polluter on the North Shore.
In the undated etching above, Factory Pond is seen behind the smokestacks, with Staten Island’s Broadway in the foreground. The pond was gone by 1908, and today on its site is Corporal Thompson Park. Here’s the story of a Staten Island pond that is no longer there.