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. 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 at the Five Boro Shop on Randalls Island.
It is the 1952 Department of City Planning map that shows the city as the agency envisioned it in the near future. The close-up above of central Staten Island shows the borough covered by a grid with two never-built highways traversing the borough. The map has much to teach its viewers on how much of the 1952 plan was realized at present time. Continue reading
On the road connecting mainland Queens to the Rockaway peninsula is the island community of Broad Channel. The southern half of this island is a residential neighborhood while the rest is a wildlife refuge administered by the National Parks Service. East Pond and West Pond are well-known to visitors of this park, and then there’s Big John’s Pond, which I did not know about until this week.
In a city that rewards historic landowners and political greats with places on the map, who was Big John and what is the history of this little-known pond?
On the stretch of Belt Parkway between exits 9 and 17, the scenic highway rings the shore of Jamaica Bay, crossing over six inlets of the bay. A century ago, these inlets were freshwater streams that originated further inland, each with its own history.
Among these streams is Fresh Creek, which separates the neighborhoods of Starrett City and Canarsie.
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.
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
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.
This past weekend, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to replace the 1.3-mile Sheridan Expressway in the Bronx with a boulevard in an effort to reconnect the residents of the Crotona Park East and West Farms neighborhoods with parks along the Bronx River.
The route of this short interstate spur is similar to that of nearly a dozen other highways within then city: it follows the course of a river.
On Staten Island there are four golf courses, three operated by city, and a private one operating on state-owned land. The Silver Lake Golf Course is located on rolling terrain on the slope of the Silver Lake Reservoir.
The shape of the lake resembles an expanded number eight with a dam across the lake’s midpoint to separate its two basins. Once a natural waterway, it was drained in 1913, lined with concrete and connected to the city’s aqueduct.
In the northeast corner of the Bronx, Seton Falls Park takes up nearly 36 acres of woodland and freshwater marsh with a small stream flowing through the park. Its name was a curiosity for me. How is it that a park named after a waterfall does not have any waterways appearing on maps of the area? Did the stream dry up or was it buried? How big was this waterfall?
On a winter day, the channel flowing through the park is nearly dry and covered with dead leaves. This is the surface remnant of Rattlesnake Brook that flows through Seton Falls Park
The eastern coast of the Bronx is often compared to New England with its rocky shoreline, fishing boats, and fancy mansions with views. While much of the eastern seaboard south of New York is comprised of sandbars and barrier islands, the New England coast is rocky and dotted with islands and inlets. In the Edgewater Park neighborhood, an inlet framed by a park is all that remains of Weir Creek.
The park at the head of the inlet conceals archeology going back to its time as a Native encampment.