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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Bowne Pond, Queens

To the north of downtown Flushing is the Korean commercial corridor on Northern Boulevard, and north of that, the suburban blocks of Broadway-Flushing, where one may still find sizable unattached homes with grassy lawns. Century-old restrictive covenants preserve the neighborhood’s historic appearance in a borough where undecorated brick boxes and glass condo towers are becoming the norm.

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In the center of this quiet neighborhood is Bowne Park, an 11.8-acre green space with a pond that was a private estate until 1925. For more than two centuries prior, it belonged to the Bowne family, which has roots in Flushing going back to John Bowne, who arrived in 1631. Continue reading

Flushing Pumping Station, Queens

At the northeastern corner of the Kissena Park Golf Course is a depression in which there is a Department of Transportation garage and a pumping station. Looking at old maps of this site, Kissena Creek passed though it before the area was urbanized. Was there ever a pond here?

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The garage is located on Fresh Meadow Lane between Underhill and Peck avenues, at a point where the creek turned west on its way to Kissena Lake. 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!

Harvey Playground, Queens

On the northbound Whitestone Expressway service road between 20th Avenue and 14th Avenue, there is a bowl-shaped depression in which Harvey Playground lies. The service road descends down and then rises again as it passes by this park.

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It raises the question of whether there was ever a pond or creek at this site as much of the surrounding landscape was shaped by glaciers that left kettle ponds in their wake. 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

Fountain of the Planets

Is it an artificial pond or the largest fountain in the city? Why is there an abandoned bunker in the center of this waterway? A mystery to many visitors of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the Fountain of the Planets (FOTP) is a section of Flushing Creek that generated plenty of oohs and aahs in the two World’s Fairs that took place in this park.

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The bunker in the center of this decommissioned fountain appears like an unused prop from Men In Black, but inside this structure were controls for what once was the city’s biggest fountain. Continue reading