Wolfe’s Pond, Staten Island

The southernmost and perhaps least crowded public beach in New York City is at Wolfe’s Pond Park. It is a small stretch of sand on the otherwise pebble-strewn Raritan Bay. Behind the beach is a berm designed to hold back storm surges and behind it is Wolfe’s Pond, a historic waterway that nearly touches the ocean.

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Down here, there are plenty of New Jersey radio stations playing on the radio, with Keyport and Keansburg facing across the bay. Like many parks on Staten Island, Wolfe’s Pond Park expanded in a piecemeal fashion, leaving a few homes within its borders. The homeowners live inside a forest knowing that they will never have to worry about other homes being built next to theirs.

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Factory Pond, Staten Island

Among the boroughs, Staten Island has the largest number of hidden waterways, most of them still in their natural condition as this borough is often regarded as the city’s last frontier. Long before the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connected the island to Brooklyn, its north Shore was already an established hive of industry. In the West Brighton neighborhood, Factory Pond supplied water for the New York Dyeing and Printing Works, a major employer and polluter on the North Shore.

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In the undated etching above, Factory Pond is seen behind the smokestacks, with Staten Island’s Broadway in the foreground. The pond was gone by 1908, and today on its site is Corporal Thompson Park. Here’s the story of a Staten Island pond that is no longer there.

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Bard Avenue brook, Staten Island

In the West New Brighton neighborhood of Staten Island, one would see historic cottage homes with spacious lawns and quiet tree-lined streets. The largest park here is Snug Harbor campus through which Harbor Brook flows. Its western tributary is not as easy to access, flowing mostly through private properties.

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For a few blocks on Bard Avenue, Logan’s Spring Brook weaves through yards along the road between Moody Place and Wales Place. Continue reading

Silver Lake Reservoir, Staten Island

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.

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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.

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Priory Pond, Staten Island

As the last of the city’s boroughs to become urbanized, Staten Island still has plenty of sizable properties that belong to private institutions, such as the Roman Catholic Church. One example of this is Priory Pond in the Todt Hill section of the island.

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It is one of those places where one truly feels away from the city. overlooking the pond is a former Roman Catholic retreat center that gave the pond its name. Continue reading

Willow Brook on Todt Hill, Staten Island

Close to the summit of Todt Hill, the city’s highest natural point, Todt Hill Road runs through a protected strip of forest that was intended for a highway that was never built. Veering off the main road onto the two-block Sussex Avenue, the forest is on the left and single-family homes on the right.

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On the shoulder of the road appears a concrete block and an indentation in the ground with a swamp deeper in the woods. This is where Willow Brook has its headwaters. I didn’t see any frogs here, considering that the location is at Sussex Avenue and Croak Avenue.

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Brady’s Pond, Staten Island

Having visited Indian Pond, the entirely private waterway in the Bronx, I return to Staten Island, the borough with the most ponds. The borough has another superlative to share: the last freshwater pond in the city that has a beach for swimming.

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In the image above, the pond is seen from the eastbound service road of the Staten Island Expressway. Continue reading

Charles W. Leng’s Wonderful Map

When I am not getting my shoes wet by exploring streams, I look carefully at old maps and aerials in search of where the hidden waterways once flowed in the open. Last week, I conducted a park inspection in the far-off Travis neighborhood of Staten Island, where the Parks Department has a plant nursery.

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The plant nursery is a former farm, and on one of its walls is a 1968 reproduction of Charles W. Leng’s 1896 Map of Staten Island with Ye Olde Names & Nicknames by William T. Davis. There is so much information on it relating to the island borough’s history. Let’s zoom in on a few details. Continue reading

Willow Brook on Bradley, Staten Island

Among the hidden waterways on Staten Island, Willow Brook is so obscure that a Google Street View isn’t good enough to tell the difference between an overgrown vacant lot and an overgrown vacant lot with the sound of a brook flowing beneath the vegetation. The only way to find Willow Brook is to see it in person.

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I had my encounter with a segment of Willow Brook while traveling down Bradley Avenue on the way to Greenbelt Nature Center, where I was conducting an inspection. Continue reading

Alice Austen House, Staten Island

When I first read that there was an Austen House Museum on Staten Island, I mistakenly thought that it had something to do with a Victorian period British novelist. Both the novelist and this house’s namesake came from the upper class. Both Jane Austen and Alice Austen were fiercely independent women. Neither had ever married. The comparison ends there.

But what concerns me for the purpose of this blog is the landscape around Alice Austen’s House.

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There is a brook flowing on the south side of the house, emerging from the grass and descending down to the Narrows, the strait connecting New York Bay to the ocean. Continue reading