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

Clove Lake, Staten Island

Staten Island is a latecomer among the city’s boroughs when it comes to urbanization, as it retained its small-town appearance for more than a half-century after becoming part of New York City. The land around Clove Lake was proposed as a park in 1897 with its trails and facilities completed in the 1930s. It was the first large park in the borough, a local counterpart to Central Park and Prospect Park.

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A former estate of colonial governor Thomas Dongan, the valley around Clove Brook contains dense forest that hides the Ordovician period serpentine rock that forms Emerson and Grymes hills on either side of the valley.

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Moravian Brook, Staten Island

With the Republican National Convention taking place next week, I have Staten Island on my mind. Historically, the borough has been the city’s most reliable GOP stronghold and the party’s headquarters can be found at 2300 Richmond Road, a former florist shop that is used as a campaign center during elections.

Directly across the street from this urban elephant outpost is Moravian Cemetery, one of the city’s elite burial grounds, mentioned in the same dying breath as Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery or Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

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The cemetery has a stream flowing through it, but where does it originate and what is its destination after it enters the underworld upon leaving the cemetery? Continue reading

Mid-Century GIS

As you may know, much of my research for Hidden Waters of New York City does not involve paddling, swimming, or walking away from my desk. It involves having a grasp of GIS: geographic information systems where one compares maps of the same location to determine what lies beneath the surface. Even when the internet is down and there is no time to take the bus to the New York Public Library, I have an excellent resource down the hall from my desk at the Parks Department headquarters.

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The topographical map above is undated. Taking a closer look at what’s there and what’s not there helps narrow down the approximate time of its publication and take stock of the changes on the city’s landscape since this map appeared. Continue reading

Peer Reviewed Book

When an author has a book reviewed by a peer, it is an experience that is at once exciting but also anxious. What would he say about my book? Is it deserving of his review? I am proud to have had my book read and reviewed today by The Bowery Boys, a blog founded by Greg Young and Tom Meyers. Since 2007, they’ve recorded podcasts of city history available to the public on their website and through iTunes, among other platforms.

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Click on the above 1915 postcard of Staten Island’s Silver Lake to read the full review and interview on Hidden Waters of New York City by The Bowery Boys. Last month, they recently released a book of their ownBowery Boys: Adventures in Old New York is available at all online book retailers including the venerable Strand Books.

Photo of the Week

This week’s selected photo from the NYPL Digital Collections is from Staten Island, with a place name very commonly used throughout the city, Mill Pond. The first question then is which Mill Pond is depicted here and where was it located?

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Previously, I reported on the mill pond located near the mouth of Bodine Creek on Staten Island’s North Shore, but I haven’t seen images of the mill pond. What exactly is the abbreviation W.N.B.S.I. in the undated postcard above? Continue reading