MacNeil Park, Queens

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.

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Wavecrest Lake, Queens

The Rockaway Peninsula offers plenty of sights for urban explorers and historians with its alleys, old buildings, the fort at its tip, and numerous inlets on the side facing Jamaica Bay. Until recently I did not know that the Rockaways had its its own internal waterway.

Wavecrest Lake existed at the turn of the 20th century, surrounded by mansions and summer homes of the rich at a time when the peninsula served as the city’s seaside retreat.

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Francis Lewis Park, Queens

Not to be confused with the borough-spanning boulevard of the same name, Francis Lewis Park is a 17-acre waterfront parcel on the East River in Whitestone under the Whitestone Bridge. Surrounded by tract mansions, this park offers public access to the water’s edge on land that once belonged to a Founding Father.

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The park is comprised of a bowl-shaped lawn that widens towards a beach on the East River with Ferry Point Park on the opposite shore. On the west side of the lawn are a playground and sports courts.

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Rainey Park, Queens

In contrast to the shoreline of Manhattan, which is almost entirely ringed by a connected series of parks, the western shore of Queens has parks separated by power plants and other public utilities, preventing an uninterrupted walk on the water’s edge.

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Rainey Park is sizable but not so visible among the shoreline parks on account of its location and seemingly empty appearance.

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Willow Lake, Queens

Tune out the two highways on either side of this 47-acre lake, and perhaps then this wildlife sanctuary can be appreciated by visitors. Located at the southern tip of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, it is an ideal place for social distancing during this difficult time.

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The setting is naturalistic, the result of the master plan for the 1939 World’s Fair that set aside a portion of Flushing Meadows that would be left alone.

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Fewer Traces of Horse Brook, Queens

With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down public life, one can stay at home or search for outdoor spaces where there are few other people and enjoy the natural sights. One can also do research from home on hidden urban waterways by comparing historical photos, aerial surveys, and maps.

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On the corner of 108th Street and the Long Island Expressway, is a previously underdeveloped superblock where Horse Brook flowed. Construction is underway on a trio of affordable apartment towers to join the three that were built here in the 1970s. Block by block, the empty spaces where Horse Brook flowed are filling up with buildings, leaving fewer traces of this phantom waterway.

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Harbor Haven, Queens

Before JFK International Airport took up more than 5,000 acres of wetland at the northeast corner of Jamaica Bay, the site contained a golf course, fishing shacks, and bungalow communities. Harbor Haven was a collection of homes built along a mile-long canal. No trace of it remains today.

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The first photo that I’ve found of Harbor Haven is from Vincent Seyfried’s book Old Queens, showing a structure surrounded by marshland on the edge of Jamaica Bay.

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Fresh Pond, Queens

One of the mysteries for western Queens residents is Fresh Pond Road. On its 1.5-mile run between Maspeth and Ridgewood there are no hints of its namesake waterway but we know that prior to development this was a knob-and-kettle terrain of multiple ponds shaped by the most recent ice age. That the road still has its name rather than assigned number also signifies its history.

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When in doubt about the exact location of a former waterway, I usually find the nearest park as they often are designated on sites where water once flowed and building is more difficult. For Fresh Pond, the only park on this road is Reiff Playground, and the tiny Lang Triangle across the street. Could these provide clues to the location of the namesake pond?

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Sunset Cove, Queens

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. At the southern tip of this island is a smaller city-operated park that is currently undergoing restoration. Sunset Cove carries its name proudly, facing west with views towards Brooklyn and Manhattan.

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The park is under construction at this time, transforming a former marina into a restored saltwater marsh surrounding a cove that provides habitat to an oyster reef.

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Oakland Lake, Queens

In a ravine on the edge of Queensborough Community College in Bayside is a natural lake whose history is closely tied to the neighboring campus. Oakland Lake received its water from a natural spring and a feeder stream that originated at 223rd Place and Long Island Expressway, flowing in a ravine that widened into the lake. An outflow stream took excess water from the lake east towards Alley Creek, which emptied into Little Neck Bay.

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The frozen appearance of this pond in winter conceals its depth as a glacial kettle pond. The pond serves an aesthetic purpose as a park centerpiece and functional as a storm water outlet.

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