Hutchinson River, Bronx

At the city’s extreme northeast is Pelham Bay Park, a vast greensward that is three times the size of Central Park. One could not feel more distant from the city when visiting the park’s destinations: Orchard Beach, Bartow-Pell Mansion, Split Rock Golf Course, and the trails of Hunter Island and Twin Islands. On the inland side of the park is the Hutchinson River, known to most New Yorkers as the namesake of the parkway that follows its course.

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The river has a history relating to the conflict among Puritan colonists in New England that led to the English annexation of New Netherlands.

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Indian Pond, Bronx

In the leafy corner of northwestern Bronx is the 140-acre residential enclave of Fieldston. seemingly a village inside the city, its private streets are open to traffic, but no parking is allowed. Its homes resemble a Thomas Kinkade painting, preserved by restrictive covenants and the city’s landmarks law. It also has its private parks, including one with a pond inside it.

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This glacial pond is tucked inside a privately-owned park maintained by fees from local residents. Continue reading

Van Cortlandt Lake, Bronx

Each of New York’s flagship Olmsted-designed parks has its own pond or lake, intended for ice skating, fishing, and boating. Often these waterways predate the parks, with long natural and human histories relating to the development of neighborhoods around the parks. One such example is Van Cortlandt Lake in the Bronx.

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In the midst of the fall season, it is an ideal place to capture the sight of the foliage as it changes colors with the cooling temperatures.

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Cope Lake, Bronx Zoo

When the Bronx Zoo was developed at the turn of the 20th century, its design was considered innovative as it preserved much of its natural terrain, giving many of the animals room to roam at a time when many zoos kept their exhibits in tight cages. The preservation of the landscape enabled the Bronx River to flow freely through the zoo, and retained some of the ponds and brooks within the zoo for the enjoyment of the animals.

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One such waterway is Cope Lake, located near the northern border of the zoo by Fordham Road. Continue reading

Trump Links at Ferry Point Park

In the course of choosing which waterways to profile in my book, the city’s golf courses hold many of them, including natural streams, inlets of the sea and artificial ponds used as water traps. Generally, I avoided those designed as part of a course with no natural history predating the links.

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And then there’s Trump Links at Ferry Point Park in the Bronx, an upscale course that transformed a former trash landfill into a landscape of rolling hills reminiscent of Trump’s two courses in Scotland. Continue reading

Bit of Tibbett on the Old Put

Prior to urbanization, Tibbetts Brook flowed south from what is now Van Cortlandt Park to Spuyten Duyvil Creek, a course marked on maps by Tibbett Avenue. In the proposal to daylight the buried section of this stream, the new course is envisioned a few blocks to the east.

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The proposed stream path runs on the route of a railway that rolled through northwestern Bronx until 1980. Since then, portions of it have become a naturally occurring wetland. With a little cleaning up and a path following it, one can imagine abandoned spaces such as the underpass above having a creek followed by a walking path.

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Bronx Zoo Boathouse

I recently found a postcard that shows a boathouse on the Bronx River but had no idea where this boathouse stood. By its appearance, it is a counterpart to the boathouses of Central Park and Prospect Park but while those parks are also located at the centers of their respective boroughs, most of Bronx Park is not an open park. For more than a century, its land was set aside for the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden.

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So if this boathouse was within the park, what happened to it and what’s there today? Continue reading

Mid-Century GIS

As you may know, 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. Even 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 down the hall from my desk at the Parks Department headquarters.

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The topographical map above is undated. Taking a closer look at what’s there and what’s not there helps narrow down the approximate time of its publication and take stock of the changes on the city’s landscape since this map appeared. Continue reading

Mosholu Parkway, Bronx

As mentioned before, many of the city’s expressways and parkways were built atop or alongside waterways as their shorelines were usually undeveloped and less steep than the surrounding landscapes. The parkway is a New York institution, pioneered by Olmsted as a road lined with generous parkland on either side, shielding neighborhoods from traffic, creating green space for local residents, and a visually pleasant setting for travelers.

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Mosholu Parkway‘s name is believed to originate from the Lenape term for “smooth stones” in reference to a stream. Did a brook ever flow on the path of this parkway? Continue reading

Frankford Creek, Philadelphia

For many New Yorkers who find themselves priced out of their hometown, the search for a comparable urban area within driving distance of the big Apple leads to Philadelphia. Similar to New York, it is an early colonial city that eventually grew to encompass the entire county that shares its name.

In 1682, the city was laid out in a grid between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. Within the larger Philadelphia County were numerous other streams, most of which were gone by the turn of the 20th century.

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The photo above was taken by the Philadelphia Water Department, appearing on the blog Frankford Gazette showing the confluence of Tacony Creek (background right), and Wingohocking Creek (emerging from the tunnel). Together they form Frankford Creek, which flows for three miles through the city on its way to the Delaware River. Continue reading