The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

inaccessible locality

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

It would be nice to own a piece of Newtown Creek real estate, don’t you think? I know this sounds like an odd dream of mine, but I’d really love to buy some waterfront parcel were I financially capable. The whole lot would be fairly feral after a short time, of course, except for the teams of archaeologists I’d invite to dig there for treasure. Captain Kidd is supposed to have buried a chest of pirate booty somewhere on the Brooklyn side, don’t you know?

from ANNUAL REPORT OF THB CHIEF OF ENGINEERS, UNITED STATES ARMY, TO THE SECRETARY OF WAR, FOR THE YEAR 1889 IN FOUR PARTS. PART I., courtesy google books.

The creek is the receptacle for all the refuse from the sewers, factories, and slaughter-houses of the east of Brooklyn; constant deposits are therefore forming in it, especially at the upper end, from these causes and from the caving in of the unprotected banks, which consist of marsh mud. To remedy this difficulty, annual dredging will be needed until the banks are protected by bulkheads throughout their whole length. The commerce of the creek is so large that this improvement should be pushed at least 3 mile.s up from the mouth as soon as possible, so that vessels drawing 20 to 23 feet may pass in and out of the creek with full cargoes at or near low water.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Wouldn’t live there, of course, but there would be a public dock. Assuming that a multi million dollar property like this was within my reach, I’d probably have enough left over for one of those flat bottom boats with the big propellor on the back that they use in the swamps of Florida and Louisiana to hunt gators. Of course, I can’t afford the nice zoom lens that I covet, and that’s just a couple thousand, so I can just forget about owning a valuable industrial bulkhead. The last people who let this land go cheap were the aboriginal Lenape, and they were largely wiped out by Smallpox by the 1680′s.

from “Queens Borough, New York City, 1910-1920; the borough of homes and industry, a descriptive and illustrated book setting forth its wonderful growth and development in commerce, industry and homes during the past ten years … a prediction of even greater growth during the next ten years … and a statement of its many advantages, attractions and possibilities as a section wherein to live, to work and to succeed” at Archive.org

Some further idea of the immense commerce of this waterway can be obtained from the figures compiled by the Department of Plant and Structures of New York City, which show that during the year 1918, 59,389 boats passed through the Vernon Avenue Bridge, 56,735 passed through the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, 27,000 through the Meeker Street Bridge and 5,007 through the Grand Street Bridge.

Steamers schooners and unrigged vessels are the principal freight carriers. Their drafts range from 5^ to 20 feet; 2 to 19 feet; 2 to 18 feet respectively. Some steamers of still larger draft lighter in their cargoes.

Among the larger plants on the Queens shore of Newtown Creek are the National Sugar Refining Company, Nichols Copper Company, National Enameling and Stamping Company, General Chemical Company, Standard Oil Refineries. American Agricultural Chemical Company, and the Wrigley Chewing Gum Company.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s a stupid aspiration, and even dumber to think that I’d just let scholars “have at the place”. What could possibly be learned by turning over a few shovels of dirt in this place, where the only tale to tell is about a certain oil spill or endemic pollution? What else has ever happened here?

from junipercivic.com

On September 15, 1776, General Lord Howe decided to attack Manhattan Island. He ordered three Ships of War to sail up the North River and get the American’s attention while he launched his entire First Division in flatboats against Kips Bay. The flatboats were embarked from the head of Newtown Creek as General Lord Howe and General Warren watched from the Sackett-Clinton House (later Gov. DeWitt Clinton’s mansion) in Maspeth. The Americans on Manhattan Island under General George Washington made their retreat to Harlem and escaped the British attack.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Can you imagine how cool it would be to restore just a single section of the Newtown Creek to its natural state? To see the salt marsh grasses rippling in the wind, and stout trees sprouting, beneath the golden rays of the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself? What could possibly go wrong with that?

from 1901′s “Forest and stream” Volume 57- By William A. Bruette, courtesy google books

Mosquitoes Galore

Lieutenant Schwatka’s experience with mosquitoes reminds me. Years ago I crossed the Newtown salt meadows on a horse car. It was from a point where Williamsburg left off and Newtown then called Maspeth began. Both are now included in Greater New York. The sun had set and in the twilight from the surface of the meadows could be seen innumerable coils of smoke each one as clearly defined and separate as if emanating from the dying embers of a redman’s camp fire.

First would the dark mass of smoke leave the ground in a slender spiral thread to broaden out as it ascended keeping up the spiral twining of the cloud.

This phenomenon could be seen upon the entire stretch of meadow ahead of us. It was a curious and interesting sight to watch those thousands of small camp fires giving forth their spiral canopies of smoke.

The air had been still and quiet and the smoke ascended slowly and gracefully from the grass. Suddenly a gust of wind passed over the meadows blowing toward us and instantly the spiral harmony of the situation was changed into a grayish atmosphere and as it reached the open car in which I sat a realization that we were looking at spiral clouds of mosquitoes arising from the grass instead of smoke was forcibly thrust upon myself and the well filled car of passengers.

The woodwork of the car the inside of the roof the backs of the seats the hats and clothing of the passengers instantly assumed a dark gray color. The horses were covered from head to foot and became almost unmanageable The car became as some one once remarked all bustle and confusion.

While the passengers with handkerchiefs whipped the mosquitoes from their necks and faces the driver urged the frantic horses to their utmost speed and after a race of about ten minutes we emerged from the meadows and spent the remainder of the trip gradually getting rid of the mosquitoes that were traveling in our car.

I know nothing about Alaska mosquitoes but if they are as thick every summer’s day in Alaska as they were that particular evening twenty years agp on the Newtown Creek meadows then I wonder how grizzly bears moose or any other furred animals can live in Alaska and thrive

-Charles Cristadoro

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