When I am not getting my shoes wet by exploring streams, I look carefully at old maps and aerials in search of where the hidden waterways once flowed in the open. Last week, I conducted a park inspection in the far-off Travis neighborhood of Staten Island, where the Parks Department has a plant nursery.
The plant nursery is a former farm, and on one of its walls is a 1968 reproduction of Charles W. Leng’s 1896 Map of Staten Island with Ye Olde Names & Nicknames by William T. Davis. There is so much information on it relating to the island borough’s history. Let’s zoom in on a few details. Continue reading
Staten Island is a latecomer among the city’s boroughs when it comes to urbanization, as it retained its small-town appearance for more than a half-century after becoming part of New York City. The land around Clove Lake was proposed as a park in 1897 with its trails and facilities completed in the 1930s. It was the first large park in the borough, a local counterpart to Central Park and Prospect Park.
A former estate of colonial governor Thomas Dongan, the valley around Clove Brook contains dense forest that hides the Ordovician period serpentine rock that forms Emerson and Grymes hills on either side of the valley.
In 1874, a map like none other was unfurled before city planners by Col. Egbert Ludovicus Viele. Designed in a time when the city was rapidly expanding north thanks to advances in public transportation, Viele captured for posterity the locations of the island’s springs, brooks, creeks, and swamps, where land meets landfill, tracing former shorelines and hilltops. To this day, this map is used by structural engineers in Manhattan, who check it for buried streams when constructing buildings, tunnels and utility lines.
With 82 of the 101 hidden city streams in my book located outside of Manhattan, what map did I use to find these waterways? Continue reading