Silver Lake Reservoir, Staten Island

On Staten Island there are four golf courses, three operated by city, and a private one operating on state-owned land. The Silver Lake Golf Course is located on rolling terrain on the slope of the Silver Lake Reservoir.

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The shape of the lake resembles an expanded number eight with a dam across the lake’s midpoint to separate its two basins. Once a natural waterway, it was drained in 1913, lined with concrete and connected to the city’s aqueduct.

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Fresh Kills at Queens Museum

This past Friday, I was invited to speak about my book before the annual investors conference for the 22nd Annual Investors conference of the NYC Municipal Water Finance Authority. It took place at Queens Museum, which coincided with Maintenance Art, an exhibit on the ecology, history, and future of Fresh Kills by Mierle Laderman Ukeles.

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The central piece of the exhibit was a model of Landing, an overlooks inside the dump-turned-park that will offer visitors a view of the city’s largest naturalistic landscape. What’s an architecture piece from Staten Island park doing at the Queens Museum? Continue reading

Charles W. Leng’s Wonderful Map

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.

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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

Willow Brook on Bradley, Staten Island

Among the hidden waterways on Staten Island, Willow Brook is so obscure that a Google Street View isn’t good enough to tell the difference between an overgrown vacant lot and an overgrown vacant lot with the sound of a brook flowing beneath the vegetation. The only way to find Willow Brook is to see it in person.

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I had my encounter with a segment of Willow Brook while traveling down Bradley Avenue on the way to Greenbelt Nature Center, where I was conducting an inspection. Continue reading

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

Peer Reviewed Book

When an author has a book reviewed by a peer, it is an experience that is at once exciting but also anxious. What would he say about my book? Is it deserving of his review? I am proud to have had my book read and reviewed today by The Bowery Boys, a blog founded by Greg Young and Tom Meyers. Since 2007, they’ve recorded podcasts of city history available to the public on their website and through iTunes, among other platforms.

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Click on the above 1915 postcard of Staten Island’s Silver Lake to read the full review and interview on Hidden Waters of New York City by The Bowery Boys. Last month, they recently released a book of their ownBowery Boys: Adventures in Old New York is available at all online book retailers including the venerable Strand Books.

Canal Street, Staten Island

Each of New York City’s boroughs has its own Broadway. Likewise, Manhattan has a famous Canal Street, and there is also one in the South Bronx and another in Coney Island, Brooklyn. It’s no surprise then that Staten Island has a Canal Street of its own in the neighborhood of Stapleton.

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It’s a street with plenty of history but nothing to suggest that a stream once flowed along its path. Continue reading

Jack’s Pond, Staten Island

Where the street grid covered numerous ponds across the city’s boroughs, the youngest of them, Staten Island still has plenty to offer. Along the island’s south shore, numerous ponds and creeks that were once erased by mapmakers in favor of yet-to-be-built streets have reemerged within the Staten Island Bluebelt. Launched in 1990 by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, the program involves acquiring privately-owned wetlands and re-purposing them as storm water drainage corridors, essentially allowing nature to channel the excess water rather than having it travel through sewers.

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These preserved ribbons of open space function not only as storm water channels but also as parks and nature preserves in a rapidly developing borough. Among the 19 designated Bluebelt properties on the South Shore is Jack’s Pond, an apparent throwback to an earlier time in the Great Kills neighborhood.  Continue reading

Water Map for the Outer Boroughs

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.

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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

New York Post visits Silver Lake, Staten Island

Yesterday, the New York Post visited Silver Lake on Staten Island to report how its low water level is revealing decades-old debris lying on its bottom, such as discarded toys, a motorcycle, and old road signs. Formerly a natural lake in the Grymes Hill neighborhood, it was redesigned in 1917 to serve as a 56-acre reservoir. Unused since 1971, it is the centerpiece of Silver Lake Park.

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In its natural state, the lake was the headwaters of the eastern branch of Clove Brook, which continued towards the smaller Valley Lake, then into Clove Lakes Park, and then north towards Port Richmond and Kill Van Kull. Portions of the brook have since been buried by the Silver Lake Golf Course and residential development.

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