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

Trump Links at Ferry Point Park

In the course of choosing which waterways to profile in my book, the city’s golf courses hold many of them, including natural streams, inlets of the sea and artificial ponds used as water traps. Generally, I avoided those designed as part of a course with no natural history predating the links.

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And then there’s Trump Links at Ferry Point Park in the Bronx, an upscale course that transformed a former trash landfill into a landscape of rolling hills reminiscent of Trump’s two courses in Scotland. 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

Photo of the Week

This week’s selected photo hangs on the wall at the Greater Astoria Historical Society in Queens.

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The view looks north towards Bowery Bay from the community of Steinway, a “company town” in northern Astoria. A convenient old map matches the 1869 landscape above. Berrian’s Island is on the far left while Rikers Island is on the far right. Continue reading

Wallabout Creek, Brooklyn

A half mile to the south of Williamsburg Bridge, the East River makes a turn to the southwest with a wide cove at this knee-shaped bend. Known as Wallabout Bay, it was the site of a notorious floating prison during the Revolutionary War and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At the northwestern corner of this property, a deep channel cuts inland as the only remnant of Wallabout Creek.

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In the second third of the 19th century, the bay had an artificial island in its middle, Cob Dock, a part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard accessible by the ferry seen in the above postcard. The bay and its feeder stream, Wallabout Creek have a long and storied history. Continue reading

Photo of the Week

Along the course of East River, there are numerous indentations in its coastline that indicate former and existing streams that flowed into it. This week’s selected photo is a Fairchild Aerial survey of Long Island City, found in the NYPL Digital Collections.

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It looks familiar but the tip of Long Island City is very industrial and low-rise, predating the condo towers by nearly 90 years. Near the edge of the industrial district was a 500-foot inlet puncturing the shore for nearly one city block. This is the story of Anable Basin. Continue reading

Jackson’s Mill Pond, Queens

Throughout the past four centuries in New York, when there wasn’t enough land available for development, land reclamation extended the city’s shoreline often for ports that connected the city with the world. The same can be said for the city’s airports, which were also built on reclaimed land. In the process not only were marshlands covered, but in East Elmhurst a millpond dating to colonial times was filled following the construction of LaGuardia Airport.

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In this 1929 photo from the NYPL collection, the shot looks east where Jackson’s Mill Pond empties into Flushing Bay. The bluff on the right is in the neighborhood of East Elmhurst while the mudflat on the left is a forgotten place known as North Beach. Continue reading

Bronx Kill

Looks like I’m playing catch-up to Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY. He’s beaten me to the city’s newest pedestrian-only crossing between two boroughs, the Randalls Island Connector which opened last November.

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A bridge beneath an existing bridge, it offers views of the northern leg of Triborough Bridge and a stream called Bronx Kill that separates the Bronx from Randalls Island. Continue reading

Little Hell Gate

What happens when two islands are fused together? Does the expanded landmass adopt the name of the larger island? Do they merge their names in a portmanteau? Or in a nod to modern relationships, retain their separate names despite becoming one island? In a section of the East River called Hell Gate, Randalls and Wards Islands were once separated by an inlet called Little Hell Gate.

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Most of it was buried by 1966, but a small section was preserved as a cove on the Harlem River, transformed into a salt marsh in 2009. Above is a view looking towards East Harlem from the isthmus that fuses the two islands. Continue reading