Sunswick Creek, Queens

Its name appears on a popular tavern in Long Island City and despite its “sunny” name, it is nowhere to be seen on the surface. On a recent visit to Socrates Sculpture Park in Astoria, my daughter stumbled on a sizable puddle in the park that lingers long after the rain is gone.

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This puddle is as ephemeral as the sculptures in the park, but it may carry the spirit of Sunswick, the waterway that flowed across this site on its way to the East River at Hallets Cove.

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Map Oddities on City’s Eastern Edge

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.

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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

Potamogeton Pond, Queens

On the shoulder strip of parkland separating the westbound Grand Central Parkway and its service road in Hollis Hills, there is a pond tucked in the woods, once larger and with more water, reduced in size and all but forgotten.

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Even its name is unclear as signs call it Potamogeton Pond but old newspaper articles call it Pea Pond.

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Mill Creek, Queens

The flooded meadow that once separated College Point from Flushing feeds the northernmost tributary of Flushing Creek, feeding into it just a few yards shy of where it widens into Flushing Bay. Mill Creek is a common name on the regional landscape, a reminder of the role that gristmills played in supplying food to colonial settlements that became today’s neighborhoods.

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The view above from College Point Boulevard shows Mill Creek flowing into Flushing Creek at low tide. With so much of its course channeled beneath the streets, what is left of Mill Creek and its wetlands?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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?

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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.