The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

verdant valley

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

While preparing the slideshow which was recently presented at the Ridgewood Democratic Club, which is one of two updated versions of the thing (differing lengths), I’ve been churning the content waters deeply. One of the little collections of images which I pulled together was called “Kosciuszko Bridge”.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

For awhile now, special attention has been paid to this decaying structure, due to those plans held by State employees and agencies to replace it with a modern bridge designed to overcome many of the flaws exhibited by the 1939 era “Meeker Avenue Bridge” – which was later renamed as the Kosciuszko Bridge in 1940.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s a lumbering and brutish design, inelegant, undistinguished, and strictly utilitarian. Which sort of makes sense given its construction during the latter half of the Great Depression.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Literally, and figuratively, this is Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp, DUKBO. This is on the Brooklyn side, incidentally.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This post isn’t intended to carry any deep insight or reveal some historical truth. To confess, I’m showboating a bit today, and featuring something that won’t be here too much longer.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing you will notice in these shots is the horrific amount of corrosion which the bridge displays. This is, of course, why the State plans on replacing it in a few years time.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Naked, the bridge shows the lines of force which it’s engineered around, and for a structure that carries something like 200,000 vehicle crossings a day- that’s a lot of force. The Kosciuszko Bridge trusses are just so damned ugly about it, unlike the graceful curvilinear shaping of the Hellgate or Bayonne arches.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason it’s so high, around 150 feet of clearance at low water, is that ocean going ships used to come all the way back here. Not sail, although that was a consideration in 1939, but the smokestacks of ocean liners were what it was flung into the sky to accommodate.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Sliding over to the Queens bank, where the piles are driven into compacted mud and sand instead of bedrock, the legs of the bridge straddle the former home of Phelps Dodge. The neighborhood around these parts formed the border between the villages of Berlin and Blissville.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

From what I’ve been told, the former Phelps Dodge site is in private hands, but parts of it will house the new bridge which will replace the 1939 model. From the planning statements I’ve read, the new Kosciuszko Bridge won’t be quite so high.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that the needs of the trucking industry will be acknowledged in the design of the onramps, which will not present quite as steep a grade to the angle of their approaches. I’ll miss the scale of the current bridge, I fear.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Like the nearby Megalith at Court Square in Long Island City, the Kosciuszko Bridge provides a geographical frame of reference for miles around. The only other bridges of sufficient scale to provide such service span the East River or provide connection to… Staten Island…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kosciuszko Bridge, on the Queens side, follows the shallow valley between Laurel and Berlin Hills, both of which are graded down shadows of their former selves. There must have been dense woods here once, bisected by a shallow stream that fed into the Newtown Creek.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Maespetche Indians who lived here were mostly wiped out by Smallpox by the 1700′s, and by that time the Dutch had already established a few homesteads here. When the English arrived, often overland from Eastern Long Island, they mocked the degenerate Dutch with their old fashioned customs and bizarre beliefs.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The English had plenty of controversies in this area themselves, with the bizarre adherents of the “Friends” cult showing up time and again from New England via the Long Island Sound, the presence of accused witches, and all sorts of odd religious experimentation by commoner and courtier alike going on.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

All that sort of nonsense ended in the early 1800′s, when the post revolutionary industrial boom got started here in DUKBO. General Chemical came in the 1840′s, and joined with the distilleries and fat renderers who had been here for years to participate in what we would call “the industrial revolution”.

Things really kicked into gear when the Long Island Railroad laid down track in the 1860′s and 70′s.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, in 1848, Dagger John Hughes buried Esther Ennis and consecrated Calvary Cemetery as the official burying ground of the Roman Catholic Church. Construction of the cemetery on Laurel Hill was largely finished by the late 1850′s, which removed approximately 360 million tons of topsoil from the hill and installed an enormous drainage system within it to dry the swampy land.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

In the 1890′s, there were still homes and saloons, schools and churches here. Calvary grew by land acquisition and donation, and industrial pursuits rendered the whole area around these parts a smoky, soot stained mess.

And then, there was the smell.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The smell is legendary in the historical record, it seems that it’s all that the riders of the Long Island Railroad could talk about. Health Department records preserve complaints presented by residents of Manhattan who opined that the stink actually extended all the way to Turtle Bay (approximately 34th street).

- photo by Mitch Waxman

All that is gone now, although on humid days after heavy rains, the stink is still more than just a memory.

As are the chemicals in the ground and water which all that industrial growth left behind for the future.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Definitely. I’m going to miss the big K when it’s gone, wonder what interesting things will be found in DUKBO when the shovels hit the dirt.

After all- who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

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4 Responses

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  1. Smoke stacks of “ocean liners”? Passenger ships in the Newtown Creek? Why? Freighters maybe. Mitch, are there any extant photos of really tall vessels going under the purportedly-needed high-elevated span? (Thanks for the fascinating post.)

    georgethe atheist

    February 29, 2012 at 9:35 am

  2. Mitch, just curious about the zig-zagging girder supports of the bridge and roadway. Above the main portal over the creek, the zig-zagging is above the roadway. Other places, it’s underneath. Are the engineered forces equal throughout the structure? Or is “over” weaker/stronger than “under”?

    georgethe atheist

    March 2, 2012 at 11:09 am

  3. [...] The Kosciuszko Bridge at sunset. credit: Mitch Waxman [...]

  4. [...] for transit into the most literal interpretation of the term “DUKBO”, literally “Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp” is 54th avenue. Not unlike the sensation experienced on the spiral footbridge examined in [...]


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