Bowne Pond, Queens

To the north of downtown Flushing is the Korean commercial corridor on Northern Boulevard, and north of that, the suburban blocks of Broadway-Flushing, where one may still find sizable unattached homes with grassy lawns. Century-old restrictive covenants preserve the neighborhood’s historic appearance in a borough where undecorated brick boxes and glass condo towers are becoming the norm.

bowne1

In the center of this quiet neighborhood is Bowne Park, an 11.8-acre green space with a pond that was a private estate until 1925. For more than two centuries prior, it belonged to the Bowne family, which has roots in Flushing going back to John Bowne, who arrived in 1631. Continue reading

Fresh Kills at Queens Museum

This past Friday, I was invited to speak about my book before the annual investors conference for the 22nd Annual Investors conference of the NYC Municipal Water Finance Authority. It took place at Queens Museum, which coincided with Maintenance Art, an exhibit on the ecology, history, and future of Fresh Kills by Mierle Laderman Ukeles.

freshkills ukeles1.jpg

The central piece of the exhibit was a model of Landing, an overlooks inside the dump-turned-park that will offer visitors a view of the city’s largest naturalistic landscape. What’s an architecture piece from Staten Island park doing at the Queens Museum? Continue reading

Flushing Meadows Tour This Sunday

This Sunday October 16, I will be giving a tour of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park as part of the Open House New York presentation at the New York State Pavilion. My tour will begin at 1pm by the New York State Pavilion. So after you’re done with OHNY, you can learn more about the World’s Fairs that took place at this park with my tour, along with other details relating to the park’s history.

interlakes 3

For more details, contact Vickie Karp. 718-760-6437. If you cannot make it to my tour, there will be tours given by other park docents every hour from noon to 3pm with the last tour at 3:30pm.

Formation of Meadow Lake

The largest freshwater lake in the city covers 95 acres within Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. In contrast to the park’s central core that was an ash landfill prior to its acquisition by the city, the site of Meadow Lake was a salt marsh where Horse Brook flowed into Flushing Creek.

Coe's Mill 1940.JPG

The 1937 image above shows Meadow Lake assuming its present-day shape just before construction commenced on exhibits for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. There is so much to see in this photo, so here’s an explanatory tour back in time. Continue reading

Morris Creek, Queens

On the north shore of Queens is a former island fused to the borough. It was once a resort and today is a sewage treatment plant. The waterway that separated it from the rest of Queens was called Morris Creek.

tallman 1.png

The creek was narrow enough to jump over and the resort at Tallman’s Island is a faint memory, even more obscure than North Beach in East Elmhurst, when it comes to amusements on the north shore of Queens. Continue reading

Last word on Mussel Island

musselmap.jpgWhile visiting a Parks work shop this morning, I found a 1988 Hagstrom map hanging on the wall with Mussel Island, Newtown Creek’s phantom island making its appearance. Also on the map, Hagstrom’s Maspeth office, the now-abandoned stations on the LIRR Montauk Line, the now-defunct Brooklyn Union Gas Company…

Towards the bottom of the map is the now-forgotten Evergreen Branch, a freight rail line running along the Brooklyn-Queens border.

No one ever lived on Mussel Island, it was a small and marshy piece of land at the confluence of Maspeth Creek and Newtown Creek.

Some Hagstrom Maps put the phantom island entirely within Brooklyn waters while other maps have the island shared by the two boroughs.

Divided Phantom Island

hag bk.jpg

Relying on aerial surveys of Mussel Island from the 1920s, the island is in the middle of the stream, giving both boroughs a claim for it, but older maps show it as outside of Brooklyn. With the island’s disappearance, the borough border line appeared on most maps in the middle of Newtown Creek, where Mussel Island once was. When the island went from real to phantom, Hagstrom had it divided between the boroughs, as in the 1949 map above. Circled is Kosciuszko Bridge, the highest crossing above the stream.

Was Hagstrom Correct?

mus air.JPG

Relying on the DoITT CityMap that blends the present shorelines with a 1924 aerial survey, we see Mussel Island almost entirely within the present-day waters, with a tiny portion on what is now Brooklyn land. Back in 1924, the island was closer to Queens, and with 19th century maps as a reference, when it existed this island belonged to Queens.

Founded in 1916, Hagstrom was once the go-to authority for maps of the city and nearby cities. With the advent of GPS and satellite surveys, hand-drawn maps became obsolete. Hagstrom closed its Midtown Manhattan map shop in 2010, and was acquired by the Kappa Publishing Group that same year. Without Hagstrom, there is no Mussel Island.

Furman Island, Queens

When taking the Grand Street Bridge across Newtown Creek, one notices the avenue narrowing to two lanes as it uses a century-old swing drawbridge to cross Newtown Creek. Not known to travelers today is that this creek used to have two islands in it at its confluence with Maspeth Creek.

maspeth 2013

Nothing remains of the smaller Mussel Island, while the larger Furman Island has been fused to Queens. The former island is almost entirely industrial in use, with the exception of a small green piece of shoreline at a dead of 58th Road at 47th Street, where Maspeth Avenue once crossed over Newtown Creek. Continue reading

Barbadoes Basin, Queens

The northern shore of the Rockaway peninsula in Queens is one of industry, derelict piers and solitude overlooking Jamaica Bay with the noise of airplanes using the nearby JFK Airport.

IMG_2129

Unlike the sandy and straight ocean side, the bay side is punctured with inlets that shifted with the currents and storms but over the past century have been bulkheaded, assuming their present outlines. Continue reading

Flushing Pumping Station, Queens

At the northeastern corner of the Kissena Park Golf Course is a depression in which there is a Department of Transportation garage and a pumping station. Looking at old maps of this site, Kissena Creek passed though it before the area was urbanized. Was there ever a pond here?

kissena 1.png

The garage is located on Fresh Meadow Lane between Underhill and Peck avenues, at a point where the creek turned west on its way to Kissena Lake. Continue reading

Strong’s Causeway, Queens

On last Sunday’s bike tour of Flushing Creek, I passed beneath the Long Island Expressway overpass crossing this stream, with the overpass itself in the shadow of Van Wyck Expressway above it. An egret flies above the murky green water of the channelized creek.

strong 1.jpg

There has been a crossing of Flushing Creek at this location since the early 19th century, connecting two of Queens’ earliest towns. The highway overpass above is the most recent successor to an old crossing known as Strong’s Causeway. Continue reading