Flushing Creek Between the Bridges

In recent years there has been plenty of talk about the proliferation of self-storage warehouses across the city, large boxy structures that provide few jobs, take up land and skyline, but in their defense, pay their taxes, provide a service to the public, and use otherwise neglected industrial properties. In Queens, no self-storage facility is as iconic as the downtown Flushing U-Haul with its clocktower that faces Flushing Creek.

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Flowing as a tidal estuary between the Flushing Bridge and Roosevelt Avenue Bridge, this section of Flushing Creek has seen plenty of change over the centuries perhaps with more on the way.

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Mill Creek, Queens

The flooded meadow that once separated College Point from Flushing feeds the northernmost tributary of Flushing Creek, feeding into it just a few yards shy of where it widens into Flushing Bay. Mill Creek is a common name on the regional landscape, a reminder of the role that gristmills played in supplying food to colonial settlements that became today’s neighborhoods.

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The view above from College Point Boulevard shows Mill Creek flowing into Flushing Creek at low tide. With so much of its course channeled beneath the streets, what is left of Mill Creek and its wetlands?

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Formation of Meadow Lake

The largest freshwater lake in the city covers 95 acres within Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. In contrast to the park’s central core that was an ash landfill prior to its acquisition by the city, the site of Meadow Lake was a salt marsh where Horse Brook flowed into Flushing Creek.

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The 1937 image above shows Meadow Lake assuming its present-day shape just before construction commenced on exhibits for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. There is so much to see in this photo, so here’s an explanatory tour back in time. Continue reading

Strong’s Causeway, Queens

On last Sunday’s bike tour of Flushing Creek, I passed beneath the Long Island Expressway overpass crossing this stream, with the overpass itself in the shadow of Van Wyck Expressway above it. An egret flies above the murky green water of the channelized creek.

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There has been a crossing of Flushing Creek at this location since the early 19th century, connecting two of Queens’ earliest towns. The highway overpass above is the most recent successor to an old crossing known as Strong’s Causeway. Continue reading

Photo of the Week

This week’s photo is a last chance reminder to sign up for my bike tour of Flushing Meadows that will take place on the day after tomorrow. Below is a Percy Loomis Sperr photo looking south at the Head of the Vleigh, where Flushing Creek emerges from the ground and begins its northward course towards Flushing Bay.

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Circled in this NYPL Digital Collections photo is the drain opening from which the creek flowed. It’s still there today.

In 1937 the Grand Central Parkway had just opened, connecting the RFK Triborough Bridge with points east. The bridge in the foreground is the trestle leading into Jamaica Yard, where trains from the Queens Boulevard subway line are stored.

Behind it is the double arch crossing of Union Turnpike above the highway. This old road stretches from Myrtle Avenue in Glendale east towards the city line.

The hilltops in the back is today’s Briarwood neighborhood, situated at the top of the terminal moraine that separates the watersheds of Long Island Sound and the open Atlantic Ocean.

I hope to see you on the bike tour!

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

Tidal Gate, Queens

Prior to development, a storm surge could inundate the entirety of Flushing Meadows, transforming the expansive salt marsh into an arm of the East River. In advance of the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, the marsh was filled in and transformed into a fairground.

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To keep out storm tides, a bridge was constructed across Flushing Creek in 1938, separating the saltwater section downstream from the tide-free freshwater section on the other side of the bridge. Continue reading

Court of the States, Queens

In the transformation of Flushing Meadows from a salt mash and ash dump to the site of the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, the meandering Flushing Creek was diverted into a straightened channel on the park’s eastern side. In contrast to the 1964 World’s Fair, where it was partially buried and hidden from view, the first World’s Fair relied on the creek as a visual feature, incorporating it into the exhibits.

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One example is the Court of the States, where a section of the creek was transformed into a rectangular pool flanked by flags representing the 48 states. At the north end of this section, a replica of Independence Hall represented Pennsylvania. Continue reading

Aquacade, Queens

In advance of my upcoming public walking tour of Flushing Meadows on May 8, here’s a World’s Fair attraction that faced Meadow Lake, a stadium torn down in April 1996. From my childhood, I remember it as a ruin.

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In the above photo from Queens Chronicle columnist Ron Marzlock, the seats haven’t been finished yet as the park prepared for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. Continue reading

Cow Kill Pond, Queens

Having written about it earlier, I mentioned that Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens had a Sunnyside Plot on the north side of Queens Boulevard that was acquired by the city in 1934 for a park and the Van Wyck Expressway route. On an old map of the cemetery this plot had an unnamed pond at its northeastern corner.

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Prolific Queens history author Carl Ballenas tells me that it did have a name, based on an 1878 letter to a newspaper editor. Continue reading