Willow Lake, Queens

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.

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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.

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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!

Gutman’s Swamp, Kew Gardens Hills

Prior to its acquisition by New York City, the borough of Queens was a rural county with Flushing and Jamaica as its two oldest towns. Connecting them was an ancient route that corresponds to today’s Kissena Boulevard, Aguilar Avenue and Parsons Boulevard. That obscure avenue that connects the two boulevards has a history that relates to a buried stream, one that originated in an inland wetland known to planners as Gutman’s Swamp.

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In the photo above from the Municipal Archives, Aguilar Avenue bends towards Parsons Boulevard, where they both intersect 73rd Avenue. The short blocks of stone indicate a bridge. This is where Gutman’s Swamp emptied into Kissena Creek, which then ran across Fresh Meadows and Kissena Park on its way to Flushing Creek. Continue reading

Photo of the Week

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.

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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