Tune out the two highways on either side of this 47-acre lake, and perhaps then this wildlife sanctuary can be appreciated by visitors. Located at the southern tip of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, it is an ideal place for social distancing during this difficult time.
The setting is naturalistic, the result of the master plan for the 1939 World’s Fair that set aside a portion of Flushing Meadows that would be left alone.
With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down public life, one can stay at home or search for outdoor spaces where there are few other people and enjoy the natural sights. One can also do research from home on hidden urban waterways by comparing historical photos, aerial surveys, and maps.
On the corner of 108th Street and the Long Island Expressway, is a previously underdeveloped superblock where Horse Brook flowed. Construction is underway on a trio of affordable apartment towers to join the three that were built here in the 1970s. Block by block, the empty spaces where Horse Brook flowed are filling up with buildings, leaving fewer traces of this phantom waterway.
The city’s largest freshwater lake offers enough details in its design and history to allow for multiple posts. Having previously focused on the Aquacade that stood at Meadow Lake, and the history of Jewel Avenue Bridge, I turn to its northwest corner, where Horse Brook had its confluence with Flushing Creek.
On the above image, the red triangle shows the location of my parents’ home, which will be built atop the filled Horse Brook stream bed in 1950.
In the time between this 1937 photo and the opening of the 1939 World’s Fair, the transformation of the wetlands along Flushing Creek into Flushing Meadows is one of the most unrecognizable landscape alterations in the city in the past century. Around Meadow Lake, it includes a few rejected proposals worth remembering.
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.
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
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.
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!
The street behind Forest Hills Cooperative Houses skews off the grid by a few degrees and was part of the ancient North Hempstead Plank Road. Reflecting its history, the one-block road is named Colonial Avenue. For nearly three centuries, the road traversed a small island in the middle of Horse Brook. On the island were a gristmill and a hotel.
In 1930, the Long Island Expressway obliterated all traces of the mill and its island, which was no wider than the highway. So much of early Queens history is associated with this mill, perhaps even the reason why today we speak English instead of Dutch. Continue reading
On November 7, 2014, the New York City Council passed legislation to reduce the speed limit on city streets to 25 miles per hour. Generally, drivers are adhering to the new law, but on a quarter-mile stretch of Jewel Avenue between Van Wyck Expressway and Grand Central Parkway, the road widens as it travels through parkland and drivers push the pedal as they travel atop the isthmus separating Willow Lake from Meadow Lake.
The Photo of the Week below comes from the New York Public Library collection, a series of aerial surveys taken between 1937 and 1939 that recorded the construction of the city’s largest freshwater lake.
The shaping of Willow and Meadow lakes was a massive public works project that transformed more than a thousand acres of freshwater marshland into two lakes and creating a new transportation route across central Queens. The mansion at the bottom of the photo no longer stands but for four summers, it was the executive center of the city. Continue reading