In the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay, one grid-defiant road runs askew to the grid, connecting Gravesend Neck Road to the bay. Its route follows an obscure stream that used to cause flooding in the area.
As seen in this 1933 photo from the NYPL Digital Collections, a heavy downpour brought Squan Creek back to the surface. Above is the intersection of East 11th Street and Avenue Y where the creek’s course flowed until the early 20th century as urbanization covered the stream.
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. 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 at the Five Boro Shop on Randalls Island.
It is the 1952 Department of City Planning map that shows the city as the agency envisioned it in the near future. The close-up above of central Staten Island shows the borough covered by a grid with two never-built highways traversing the borough. The map has much to teach its viewers on how much of the 1952 plan was realized at present time. Continue reading
In the course of its development, the flaw in Brooklyn is that it has large parks such as Prospect Park and Marine Park, and in contrast large neighborhoods without sizable parks such as the ironically-named Borough Park and Midwood.
In an apparent attempt to correct the borough’s shortage of parks, starting with Robert Moses in the 1930s, waterfront parks were built throughout Brooklyn. Problem is that they were built together with highways, ribbons of traffic separating them from neighborhoods.
Once such example is Calvert Vaux Park, built on landfill at a point where Coney Island Creek flows into Gravesend Bay. Continue reading
Among the neighborhood historians whose work I relied on for my book is Joseph Ditta, whose Gravesend Gazette blog preserves the memory of a former municipality that was absorbed into Brooklyn in 1894. He’s asked me in the past to highlight examples of hidden streams within its borders. While researching old drawbridges in the city, I came across this old scene.
It shows a contraption-like crossing for Harway Avenue in Gravesend, found on Page 61 of Engineering Magazine, Volume XXXVII, October 1909. According to the description, it was built a decade earlier, powered by a five-horsepower engine that moved the counterweights atop the crescent rails. They resemble yo-yos. Author T. Kennard Thomson wrote that the avenue crosses Coney Island Creek, but was this really so? Continue reading
For the past forty years southern Brooklyn has been a magnet for Russian-speaking immigrants, nicknamed Little Odessa for its waterfront. One feature of this coastline is Sheepshead Bay, mistakenly nicknamed “the canal” by some newcomers but in reality, named after a fish whose image appeared on the first hotel in the neighborhood.
Formerly a tidal strait that separated Coney Island from mainland Brooklyn, it was given a seawall shoreline in 1936, as seen in this photo from the NYPL Digital Collections. Continue reading
As today is the day of April fools, I would like to share two outlandish proposals that would have dramatically affected the landscape of Queens.
Imagine a canal running on the route of Van Wyck Expressway connecting Flushing Meadows with Jamaica Bay. Continue reading
You may have noticed that in the course (pun intended) of my research, I am particularly fascinated with the sources of streams. For this week’s selected photo, the head of Coney Island Creek appears for the first time, at Shell Road and Belt Parkway. Prior to 1936, it didn’t have a head as it was an inlet separating Coney Island from the mainland of Brooklyn.
The photo was taken on November 13, 1936 and can be found in the NYPL Collection. Funding for this bulkhead project was provided by the WPA as a Depression-period public works project. Although nearly a mile of Coney Island Creek has been filled and Coney is no longer a true island, in many ways it still feels like one. Continue reading
Manhattan’s Canal Street is known worldwide, and recently I documented the history of Canal Street in the Bronx. Staten Island also has a Canal Street in its Stapleton neighborhood. The shortest of all the canal-named roads in New York City is the one-block Canal Avenue in a neighborhood historically known as White Sands. It connects Cropsey Avenue to a one-block segment of West 17th Street.
The humble road is located between the traditional-looking Parkview Diner and a gas station. In the background is a parking lot for a
Pathmark Stop & Shop supermarket. But where is the namesake canal? Continue reading