At the eastern end of Jamaica Bay, where the Rockaway Peninsula widens into the mainland of Long Island is one of New York’s smallest and least developed State Parks. At 12 acres of wetland, shoreline and lawns, Bayswater Point State Park seems like an unexpected member of a family that includes Niagara Falls, Bear Mountain, and Montauk Point.
The park is one of more than a dozen along Jamaica Bay that are managed by the city, state, Nassau County, and the National Parks Service. This park was previously a private estate that was given to the public in the will of its last owner and then purchased by the state.
A recent move by a friend from New York to Los Angeles inspired me to look at the hidden waterways of this West Coast City. The climate here is hot and arid for most of the year, not a city where I would feel comfortable outdoors. But it has seasonal streams that carry water from the city’s mountains and streets, most of which have been confined to concrete channels and culverts. The longest and most famous example is the Los Angeles River, which has its conservancy groups and is undergoing restoration efforts.
The Dominguez Channel on the city’s south side isn’t as famous, and only a small portion of it flows through Los Angeles, which has a narrow panhandle extending south to its harbor. Most of this stream is within the smaller cities of Inglewood, Hawthorne, Gardena, Torrance, and Carson, before emptying into Los Angeles Harbor.
A former short-lived naval port was returned to the city in 1994 and nearly two decades a new waterfront park opened in the Stapleton neighborhood of Staten Island where a hidden waterway used to flow into the harbor. In contrast to its southern shore, the side of Staten Island that faces Brooklyn does not have a long string of parks. This Stapleton Waterfront Park is part of a larger effort citywide to open the waterfront to the public.
In this view, we see an inlet where stormwater from the streets flows out into the harbor. As with many coves and inlets on the city’s shoreline, the one at Stapleton Waterfront Park hints to a creek that originated nearly a mile inland from this park.
In the shadow of Queensborough Bridge is a ten-acre waterfront park tucked between the bridge, public housing, and a power plant. Queensbridge Park is one of seven unconnected parks on the western shore of Queens facing Manhattan.
The water’s edge here is riprap, rocks deposited along a seawall to reduce erosion from waves and currents. These rocks were dropped here in 2014 after the seawall suffered damage from Hurricane Sandy in late 2012. As is the case with much of the East River facing Manhattan, the shoreline is almost perfectly straight, resembling a canal rather than a tidal strait.
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.
Having written previously about Pine Stream and Mill River that flow through the suburban community of West Hempstead, there is a third hidden waterway here that begins its course alongside a train station that may have been named after this stream, or perhaps not.
This very obscure stream appears on the surface in a ravine next to the Lakeview station on the West Hempstead Branch, looking south from Eagle Avenue, which crosses this single-track line at the source of the stream. The sources of this stream have been paved over and developed as tract homes marched across this landscape of gardens and farms. Water appears here only after a substantial rainfall. Lakeview is not an official village, and most letters addressed to this community have it as part of West Hempstead, itself not an official village but part of the larger town of Hempstead. So the question here is whether Lakeview is named for a long-forgotten pond on Schodack Brook, or the much larger Hempstead Lake that is a ten-minute walk east of this station?
On Long Island, there are various units of local government: villages, towns, and cities. A town can have more people than a city. These are merely legal designations bestowed by the state to describe the responsibilities of a municipality. Cities tend to have more say in their governance, and control over schools and utilities. One such city is Glen Cove, built at the head of an inlet on Hempstead Bay in 1668. That inlet is Glen Cove Creek, fed by a stream that originates further inland. In the downtown of Glen Cove that stream is hidden beneath a parking lot.
In recent years plans have been made to transform the tidal section of the creek into an upscale residential district, but the underground section remains hidden from the attention of urban planners. The creek has a boxy ferry terminal with a sail-shaped window that seeks to offer future commuter service to Manhattan and Connecticut.
In my effort to document some of the city’s landforms that just out into the water, the tip of College Point offers a landscape of hills with views of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Rikers Island. Hermon A. MacNeil Park honors a famous local sculptor, but it also obscures the previous owners of this tip, the Chisholm family who had a mansion on the site of this park with great views of the East River.
The tip of College Point appears on old maps as Chisholm Point, after the family that owned it from 1848 through 1930. On the left is Hunts Point and on the right where Whitestone Bridge has its Bronx landing is Ferry Point. Between them are the mouths of Bronx River, Pugsley Creek, and Westchester Creek. The resolution is small, but there is a NYCFerry boat on the other side at the Soundview landing. Also visible here is College Point Reef, a rock topped by a signal.
The largest city in the western third of Massachusetts has one of the most common names among American places: Springfield, and much of its history is the result of a stream with a very generic name: Mill River. This Springfield happens to be the first in the country to have this name, although I’m not as sure about Mill River.
Having documented nearly all of New York City’s named hidden waterways, I’m taking this opportunity to tell the story of land forms that jut out into the water whose locations impacted the development of neighborhoods and the city. Tips such as Hunters Point, Breezy Point, Throgs Neck, and Clason Point appear as neighborhood names, but then there are forgotten ones such as Stony Point, the southernmost place in the Bronx, the city’s mainland borough.
As the tip of Stony Point is on private property ringed by fences and watched by security cameras, the nearest public access to it is the dead-end of East 132nd Street, the southernmost street in the Bronx. At this location, one is looking east towards Rikers Island and Lawrence Point, the northern tip of Astoria, Queens.