Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fresh Creek/Fresh Kill (Canarsie), Brooklyn

The Fresh Creek was an inlet on the south shore of Brooklyn from Jamaica Bay. Today there is still an inlet called "Fresh Creek," but it seems that the creek used to flow much further inland.
Question for readers: was this purely a tidal inlet and drainage route, or was there a real creek from a source further inland?
A local landmark was the Vanderveer Mill, also known as the Red Mill because it was painted barn-red. This was a tide mill built either in the late 1600s or sometime around 1770; I haven't yet been able to deterimine when exactly it first started operating. (It may have been that an earlier mill operated in the late 17th century, and was replaced by the better-known Red Mill around 1770). It lasted until 1879 which it burned down (According to Brooklyn by Name: How the Neighborhoods, Streets, Parks, Bridges, and More Got Their Names, By Leonard Benardo & Jennifer Weiss; NYU Press, 2006). It was built by Cornelius Van Der Veer (or Van Der Veer), or possibly his descendents. He and his descendents also owned a massive farm covering much of today's Flatbush and Canarsie, Brooklyn.
Forgotten-NY's excellent page mentioning this area:
and from the same page, map showing area in 1898:
From http://www.veerhuis.org/genealogy/VanDerVeer.html
Cornelius Janszen Van Der Veer b. 1622 or ~1642 d. bef 22 Feb 1703 aka Cornelius de Seeuw, Cornelius de Zeeuw, Cornelius Dominicus

He is believed to have departed Amsterdam and arrived in America on Feb 17, 1659 on the ship De Otter , taking up residence in Midwout, what is now Flatbush, NY.
On 13 Jun 1661 Cornelius was one of six persons who petitioned Gov Stuyvesant for a patent of land, who authorized a survey.
In Feb 1678 he purchased a farm in Flatbush for about 2600 guilders.
In 1683 The Assement Roll of Midwout lists him as having 100 acres.
This land became known as the 26th and 32nd ward of Brooklyn and was owned by his descendents until 1906.
The Vanderveer Park addition was the last remaining section of the original property and is located near Brooklyn College.
He and his son-in-law Daniel Polhemus, erected a grist mill on Fresh
Kill in Flatbush, later known as Vanderveer Mills, which came into the
hands of his son Dominicus, and later his grandson Cornelius.
He died in Feb, 1703 in Flatbush, NY.

Bklyn_FreshCreek_Vanderveer Mill_or_RedMill1
(image from NYPL-- their photo/image archive also has more; if you find links to other images please post in comments.)

Map of the area:

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I am not at all sure about this, but I have seen a reference to the "Canarsie Van Der Veer House" at 106 Flatlands Avenue as part of the Fresh Creek Mill, located here:

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Old Mill Creek/Bull Creek [Brooklyn - East NY/Canarsie]

Known both as Bull Creek and as Old Mill Creek

Bull Creek was a small, tide-affected creek on the southern shore of Brooklyn in the Canarsie/East New York area, most notable for its utility to tide mills in the 18th and 19th centuries (and possibly 17th century?) Tide mills were water mills that used tide action to fill their reservoirs or mill ponds, and then when the tide went out the water drained and powered the water wheel. They could run for about 6 hours two times a day, from mid-tide as the tide was going out until mid-tide of the incoming tide (when the water was any higher, usually, the inertia of the water was too great to turn the wheel, and the differential between the stored high-tide water and the outside water was probably too little anyway.)
The area is near Spring Creek Park, and just east of the end of Flatlands Avenue. In the 18th century a tide-mill built by Van Brunt was located about a little inland along the stream, which was called Bull Creek. About 1810 the mill was taken apart and moved a half-mile south, under the ownership of Jacob Lott Van Wicklen. The creek became known as "Old Mill Creek," presumably because of the 18th-century mill, which was an old mill despite its new location; this mill was in operation at least until 1855.
The above information all comes from http://campus.houghton.edu/webs/employees/jvanwicklin/home%20page/genealogy/FamPages/jlottmill.htm, which also says the following:
(the below is quoted from the website mentioned above, which cites it as an account from area residents Peter Rapelje and his son, Jacob Rapelje, as relayed to the Wicklen family geneologist by a Richard McCool)

Description of the Old Mill at the foot of Crescent Street, Brooklyn

This community consisted of the Mill itself, a two and one half story frame hotel with cupola, a few boat houses on each side of
the creek; I wouldn't say more than six to eight on each side.

The Old Mill [Creek] ran north and south. At the south end it widened to form a landing. The bank of the creek at the landing was
protected by a timber bulkhead which ran about 150 feet southward from the southwest corner of the mill and then broke at
right angles westward for another 100 feet and then again at right angles southward to the beginning of the row of boat houses
on the west bank.

The Mill itself was a tide mill facing south, a two story frame building with a platform on the west side and double doors
opening from the mill building upon a platform and another door in the second story with a loading beam above it. The
platform was used for receiving the grain from the farm wagons and shipping the four and bran. The undershot wheel was on
the east side of the flood gates opening. As I understand, the mill pond was more or less artificial and was an offshoot of
Spring Creek to the east. The water for the mill was held back by two flood gates, one at the east end of the mill and the other
down about 800 feet south of the mill across the original Spring Creek. The straight north and south creek to the Old Mill was
a dugout. Just south of the mill and flood gate at that point was the basin where the larger boats were anchored. This basin was
roughly 200 to 300 feet square.

When I first remember, there were not more than a half dozen of the larger sloops anchored there. One of them was the
Cornelia, owned first by Dave Van Wicklen and later by Andrus Forbell. At one time Dick Van Wicklen's schooner, Scud, was
anchored there. Sand boats and manure boats came up the creek from time to time.

A map of the region today:

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Deleware Aqueduct Inspection, 2003


Flushing Tunnel for Gowanus Canal [Brooklyn]

Alert reader Elizabeth Barry wrote:
so i've been wondering about the path of the engineered watercourse that allegedly runs beneath Brooklyn carrying water from the East River to the Gowanus Canal. Common knowledge about the "Flushing Tunnel" is that its purpose is to flush out the stagnant water at the top of gowanus canal, the remnant of a pre-red hook tidal wetlands. I've heard that the tunnel and pump has been revived in the past 10 years or so, with some work done by Hydroqual.  Its path under BK is not self-evident - I'd like to find out where the inlet is from the East River, and the course it takes.....

The Flushing Tunnel flushes water between New York Harbor and the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, to help reduce stagnation in the heavily polluted canal. It was created in 1911 using a steam-driven propeller to drive the water; it broke in the 1960s, and was repaired finally in 1999. The city offers a press release from 1999 telling about the canal:
Below is a very basic map of the tunnel, taken from gothamist, which in turn apparently got it from the DEP:

The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club has an excellent history of the canal and neighborhood:
Other links:

A nice map showing the location of the pumping station at the head of the canal:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Montanye's Rivulet, Manhattan

From Old Wells and Watercourses of the Island of Manhattan, by George Everett Hill and George E. Waring, Jr. in Historic New York: the First Series of the Half Moon Papers (New York, 1899)

    Along the southern edge of The Flats [the area north of 112th Street and east of 8th avenue, approximately] ran a considerable creek, twenty feet deep and one hundred feet wide where it emptied into Hell Gate Bay, near the foot of One hundred and sixth Street. One of its branches rose in the rocks east of Bloomingdale [present site of Columbia University], entered what is now Central Park near the line of One hundred and first Street, then curved northeast and east, and joined the main stream near where One hundred and ninth Street now enters Fifth Avenue. In its course, it flowed through McGowan's Pass, rapidly, but in nothing like so much of a hurry as the stream of redcoats which ran through it, pursued by Washington's troops, after the battle of Harlem Plains. ...to the east, upon Mount St. Vincent and a neighboring elevation, arose, at a later date, Fort Clinton and Fort Fish. This brook was long known as Montanye's Rivulet, and, in the development of Central Park, was used to feed the Pool, the Loch, and Harlem Lake. (p. 363-364)

    Montanye's Rivulet apparently still exists and still feeds the Harlem Lake at least. I don't know if the stream flows partially underground, or if it merely ends at the lake.
For more on the history of McGown's Pass, see the Parks Department page

Maiden Lane, Manhattan

From Old Wells and Watercourses of the Island of Manhattan, by George Everett Hill and George E. Waring, Jr. in Historic New York: the First Series of the Half Moon Papers (New York, 1899):
In a depression which followed the line of the present Maiden Lane from Nassau Street to the East River, a little stream of sparkling spring water rippled and danced over a pebbly bottom. The southerly bank was steep, but not abrupt, while, on the north, a gentle grassy slope extended from the water to a sharper rise just beyond. The spot presented such facilities for the washing and bleaching of linen that it became a resort for laundry women, and because of this it was first called Maagde Paetje, or Virgins' Path. (p. 311)

Broad Street Canal/Heere Graft

Broad Street Canal, also known as Heere Graft:
From Old Wells and Watercourses of the Island of Manhattan, by George Everett Hill and George E. Waring, Jr. in Historic New York: the First Series of the Half Moon Papers (New York, 1899):
    In 1671, further repairs to the big ditch were made.... but in 1676...the edict went forth that the precious canal must be made way with, and the inhabitants were ordered to cover it and fill it up level with the street....

    So De Heere Graft was buried and its place became Broad Street....

    Under the street, the canal, turned into a sewer, still serves as outlet for the drainage of about thirty-eight acres of closely built territory; and the extensive system of piling, needed to support heavy buildings on the site of the old swamp, still call to mind the original condition of the ground.

Kissing Bridges over NYC Streams

From the NY Times, 2006 - Link to article here

Published: February 12, 2006

Pucker Up

Q. I recently came
across a mention of a bridge known in the 18th century as the Kissing
Bridge, near the present Third Avenue and 77th Street. Tell me more.

That particular bridge was on or near the old Boston Post Road, and would have then been about four miles north of town. A requirement for a good kissing bridge, as with a lover's lane, is that it be picturesque, or off the beaten path to offer seclusion, or both.

According to the New-York Historical Society, there seem to have been at least three Kissing Bridges on the Boston Post Road in 18th-century Manhattan. The one by present-day 77th Street was also called the Sawkill Bridge, from the name of the stream it crossed. There was one around what is now East 51st Street and one at Roosevelt Street, which no longer exists, but ran southeast from Pearl Street at Park Row. (The Gov. Alfred E. Smith Houses are there now.)

The bridge at Roosevelt Street crossed the Old Kill, or Old Wreck Brook, and the 51st Street bridge crossed the De Voor's Mill Stream.

A 1740 English visitor to New York, Archdeacon Burnaby of Leicester, kept a
diary of his travels and mentioned that the Kissing Bridge was so-named
because etiquette had it that a gentleman was supposed to kiss a lady
in his company when upon the bridge,'' Eric Robinson, a reference
assistant at the society, wrote in an e-mail message. ''Although it is
somewhat unclear to me, it seems the archdeacon was referring
specifically to the crossing around Roosevelt Street.''

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Exploring Tibbets Brook, Bronx

Below-- Images of Tibbet's Brook today. After running
underground through a section of Van Cortlandt Park, it merges with a
large double-channeled arched brick sewer for the rest of the route
Amazing brick construction.


Sawmill River, Yonkers

Around 1650, long before Yonkers was established as a city and well
before New York became New York, a Dutch lawyer and landowner named
Adriaen van der Donck built a water-powered sawmill on Nepperhan Creek,
near the spot where that creek flowed out into Hudson River. That
sawmill became the center of a growing town on van der Donck’s land.
Eventually the town become known as Yonkers, a name that was derived
from van der Donck’s Dutch honorific “Jonkheer” (which roughly
translates as “gentleman" or "squire”).

The sawmill that Van der
Donck built also gave a new name to Nepperhan Creek, and it has known
as the Sawmill River ever since. The Sawmill is the Hudson’s longest
tributary, at 23 miles long, but it is still a fairly small river, and
as Yonkers grew, it grew around and over the small river. As more
industrial and residential buildings were built in the 19th century,
some straddled the river. Sections of it were shunted through
underground flumes, and road bridges were built across other parts of
it, until eventually the city decided to simply cover over the last
exposed sections of the river. By the early 1900s, the river was
completely underground for the half-mile section that passes through
downtown Yonkers.

See posts related to the Sawmill River

Linden Brook, Queens

From Long Island City by Thomas Jackson & Richard Melnick:

Cove was the site of a Native American settlement. Fresh water came
from a small stream, later called Linden Brook, that flowed along
Astoria Park South. Here, they cleared woodlands to grow corn,
harvested oysters and clams, and caught fish.

Linden Brook is hard to find on maps. Apparently it was a small
stream, and by the time the area was settled enough for good maps to be
produced, it had mostly disappeared underneath urbanization. However,
the 1873 Beers maps of Long Island City and region show it, though just
barely. Below is a large section of the map. Pot Cove is the area
directly below Hell Gate and Ward's Island, above the spur of land that
juts out above Hallet's Cove.


Below is a closer crop of the Pot Cove area. The Linden Brook is visible as a wavy line in the upper right, below Linden Street.


And below is a very close crop of the area; Linden Brook is the wavy
line on the right, and outlets into the water on the left. Linden
Street, obviously, is named after the brook; today this is the line of
Hoyt Avenue and Astoria Park South.


See posts about Linden Brook

Indian Spring & Tiemann's Fountain, Manhattan

In his book Springs and Wells of Manhattan and the Bronx (New-York Historical Society, 1938; written in 1916), James Ruel Smith documented several springs in the area near Broadway and 125th St which were still flowing at the time-- between 1890 and 1915. The Tiemann drinking fountain, Smith says, "was one stop that nearly every driver of the old Broadway stages and trolleys might be counted upon to make several times during the day..." (p. 59). The source was a large spring; a Mr. Daniel Tiemann, 73rd Mayor of NYC, had built a color works/dye factory on the site in the mid-19th century, and the water from this spring was used in the factory. The nearby "Indian Spring" was noted for its quantity and purity of water, though it was not built into a drinking fountain but remained in a bed of rocks, covered with a wooden grating. As of 1897, Smith said that the spring "is used only for drinking purposes, and the requirements of the rough shanty accomodations for several truckman's horses that are grouped about it a few yards to the south." As of 1898, the Board of Health condemned the spring as too polluted to be potable (p. 55).
Some of Smith's plates below, with their captions giving locations:




Below are images of the same area from Viele's water map.



Though it's hard to be sure which original watercourse from pre-urban times became a specific spring seen in the 19th or 20th century, I believe that the small pond outlined below, on 124th St just west of Amsterdam Ave, is the site of Ruel Smith's Indian Spring.


Prentis Hall, a Columbia University building on the south side of 125th St just west of Broadway, has seen the modern incarnation of one of these springs flowing through its basement for many years. The story i've heard is that after the building was constructed, the basement kept flooding, until eventually a tunnel was dug in a basement wall and the water now flows into a channel in the basement and out through a pipe that connects it with a sewer along 125th. The photo below is this basement river in 2006. (photo by steve duncan).


See other posts about the Indian Spring & Tiemann's Fountain area