September 9, 2017 the Williamsbridge Oval in the Norwood section of the Bronx observed the 80th anniversary since it opened to the public as a park. Prior to that it was a 120 million gallon reservoir built into a bowl-shaped depression on a hilltop.
As seen on this 1937 Parks archives photo of the park under construction, the earthen embankment that ringed this manmade waterway was preserved in the park’s design.
Nearly every sizable European city dating to the Middle Ages or earlier had defensive moats on accounts of wars waged between various duchies, kingdoms, and empires. Some of these moats were manmade and others were modified natural streams. Along with moats, every city had a millstream whose water was harnessed to produce grain for the residents. When moats and milldams became obsolete, they were reduced in size, filled, or retained as water features in parks.
Above is the Kaitzbach stream flowing through the Große Garten park in Dresden, Germany. Here, it widens into the Carolasee lake before disappearing under the city’s streets. The postcard dates from 1914, the year when imperial Germany plunged into the First World War.
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. East Pond and West Pond are well-known to visitors of this park, and then there’s Big John’s Pond, which I did not know about until this week.
In a city that rewards historic landowners and political greats with places on the map, who was Big John and what is the history of this little-known pond?
When I am not exploring the city’s hidden waterways, I like to give attention to the its lesser known waterfront parks. One such example is Barretto Point Park, which opened in 2006 in the Hunts Point neighborhood in the Bronx.
Surrounded by manufacturing facilities, it is a welcome patch of green on a bend in the East River.
When the Bronx Zoo was developed at the turn of the 20th century, its design was considered innovative as it preserved much of its natural terrain, giving many of the animals room to roam at a time when many zoos kept their exhibits in tight cages. The preservation of the landscape enabled the Bronx River to flow freely through the zoo, and retained some of the ponds and brooks within the zoo for the enjoyment of the animals.
Among these waterways are the Northern Ponds and the brook that sends the water downstream from these ponds into the Bronx River.
In a wide valley to the east of Grymes Hill is a 17-acre park containing three glacial kettle ponds tucked in a preserve that is its own miniature watershed.
In contrast to the island’s south shore that has dozens of preserved ponds and creeks, Eibs Pond is on the eastern side of Staten Island, a short drive from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Along the glacial terminal moraine that stretches the length of Long Island are numerous kettle ponds that formed from chunks of ice that fell off the ice cap and melted in place. Some of these ponds are there today, such as Strack Pond and Potamogeton Pond, and other were buried such as Redder’s Pond and Jackson Pond.
Then there was Delta Lake, the triangular pond deep inside Cypress Hills Cemetery that was photographed by a city worker in 1927 ahead of its condemnation in favor of a parkway that would slice through the cemetery.
When researching cities with hidden waterways, most have examples that were forced underground in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the western French city of Bordeaux, there are two hidden streams that haven’t seen daylight in centuries.
Above is a map of Bordeaux drafted shortly before the French Revolution. Two rivers are seen flowing towards it. The Peugue in dark blue and the Devèze in aqua. At the city’s edge, they disappear beneath the streets on their way to the Garonne River.
Here’s a photo that may be a stage set for an Aladdin revival, an idealized Middle Eastern city. The caption in this 1920s postcard and the flags identifies it as Basra, Iraq, a city on the Shatt Al-Arab waterway that contains many canals within it, earning the nickname Venice of the East.
I don’t expect to be visiting Basra during my lifetime, but I know that this postcard image dates to a more peaceful time in this storied city.
On the stretch of Belt Parkway between exits 9 and 17, the scenic highway rings the shore of Jamaica Bay, crossing over six inlets of the bay. A century ago, these inlets were freshwater streams that originated further inland, each with its own history.
Among these streams is Fresh Creek, which separates the neighborhoods of Starrett City and Canarsie.