The northernmost of Central Park’s lakes shares its name with the neighborhood to its immediate north. Harlem Meer occupies the former confluence of Montayne’s Rivulet and Harlem Creek, a point where these two freshwater streams widened into a brackish estuary on their way towards the East River.
In the initial allocation of land for Central Park, the site of Harlem Meer would have been excluded from the park, its untouched terrain would likely have been buried beneath urban development. In 1863, the park was expanded north to 110th Street, encompassing the North Woods, a set of abandoned fortifications from the War of 1812 and the marsh where the creeks met.
I’ve been reluctant to write too much online about Manhattan’s Minetta Creek as it is certainly the least forgotten of the city’s hidden waterways. It flows entirely under the surface these days from source to mouth, but above the surface there are many items that keep its memory alive.
The all-but-invisible Minetta Brook was flowing in the city’s public consciousness nearly as soon as it was buried, appearing in local folklore, books, poems, magazines, and street names. Earlier this week I stumbled on a walking tour of Minetta Street where the guide allowed me to say a few words about its namesake stream.
At the northern tip of Manhattan island, the scenery is reminiscent of the Hudson River Valley at Fort Tryon and Inwood Hill parks. Thick forests, steep hills, and views of the Palisades across the Hudson River. The east side of Inwood on the Harlem River receives fewer visitors, but has a rich natural and human history of its own.
Sherman Creek and Swindler Cove offer a connection to the water’s edge, serving as examples of a waterfront restored to its natural appearance. Continue reading
Among the most helpful Twitter accounts that relates to New York City history is @Discovering_NYC, run by a local tour guide who shares old photos, maps, and illustrations of the city’s past. Over the weekend, it posted a map of Lispenard’s Meadow, the long-forgotten wetland in what is now the Tribeca neighborhood of lower Manhattan.
At the turn of the 19th century, the meadow was on the northern periphery of New York City. Above is an 1800 illustration of the meadow by Alexander Anderson, looking towards the Hudson River. It contained three creeks within it, occluding one that drained from Collect Pond. That creek became the route of Canal Street.
It has been a few months since I’ve had the Photo of the Week feature relating to the waterways of the city. With a little over a week left before the show ends, I stopped to see the photography exhibit My Father’s Son at the Arsenal parks headquarters in Central Park.
The exhibit showcases works by Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP and his late father Irwin Silver. The father’s black and white works show life in 1950s New York, while the son’s photos show the natural beauty of the city’s parks.
An experienced urban explorer knows that when an object appears unusual, it has a long history behind its appearance. One such example is the wall behind the 86th Street Shop in Central Park. This is where the Parks Department fuels and repairs its vehicles.
The wall behind the shop’s parking lot is slightly inclined and runs straight between the shop building and the Central Park Precinct. This wall is a remnant of Central Park’s Lower Reservoir, which contained the city’s drinking water from 1842 to 1929.
In selecting the waterways featured in my book, the question on reservoirs determined how much of the city would be covered in the book and the size of the book. Over the centuries, the city’s thirst was quenched by reservoirs placed on high location from which gravity took the flow to homes and businesses. Some reservoirs were given naturalistic appearances, such as the one in Central Park. Silver Lake on Staten Island was transformed into a reservoir; Mount Prospect Reservoir was eliminated after becoming obsolete. But only one former reservoir in the city was transformed into a public swimming pool: the one in High Bridge Park.
As upper Manhattan does not have as many historical streams as its middle and downtown parts, a chapter on Highbridge Reservoir puts the neighborhood of Washington Heights on the Hidden Waters map. Continue reading
In the northern section of Central Park, a recreated natural stream called Montayne’s Rivulet flows into Harlem Meer, a lake with a Dutch name. Prior to the development of Central Park, this stream flowed into Harlem Creek, a waterway that shaped the development of Harlem in its first two centuries, flowing towards the Harlem River along what is today East 107th Street, just south of the recreational pier.
The only above surface image I have of this hidden waterway is a sewer opening on Harlem River at East 107th Street. When there is too much rain, this is where water collected in Harlem Meer and the streets of East Harlem flows out. Continue reading
Following my recent post on The Loch in Central Park, park goer Steve Weintraub of the Blockhouse Run Club asked about a forgotten water feature at the park’s northern end that appears as a former stream on the 1994 Greensward Foundation map of Central Park. It was known as The Lily Pond, the smallest of Central Park’s original water features.
Descending from the Great Hill alongside The Cliff, it terminated by East Drive just shy of Central Park North. Steve wanted to know whether there are any photos of this truly hidden waterway. Continue reading
When a Circle Line tour boat circumnavigates Manhattan, tourists crowd on the deck to snap photos of Lady Liberty and other recognizable downtown landmarks. I prefer to crane my neck uptown when the boat travels up the Harlem River and Spuyten Duyvil Creek. That’s where the forgotten aspects of the city’s history can be seen, or not as in the case below.
Here’s a 1923 photo of the Johnson Iron Works from the My Inwood blog. The foundry sat on a peninsula on Spuyten Duyvil Creek halfway been the Hudson and Harlem rivers, facing Inwood Hill Park. In the backgrounds is the Palisades cliff of New Jersey. In the 1930s, the factory and the entire peninsula were eliminated. Continue reading