The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

the sullen shore

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

One such as myself is addled by detail and lost in the phantasmagoria of history, an unending torrent of dates and numbers. The “historians” of the world pride themselves on being able to pull such numerals out of a memorized hat, reciting them in the same manner that a rabid sports fan might describe the statistics of their favorite team. On some topics I can accomplish this, but as long time readers will attest- my brain works a bit differently than most.

To me, it’s the story that counts.

from wikipedia

This bridge and the Manhattan Bridge are the only suspension bridges in New York City that still carry both automobile and rail traffic. In addition to this two-track rail line, connecting the New York City Subway’s BMT Nassau Street Line and BMT Jamaica Line, there were once two sets of trolley tracks.

The Brooklyn landing is between Grand Street and Broadway, which both had ferries at the time. The five ferry routes operated from these landings withered and went out of business by 1908.

The bridge has been under reconstruction since the 1980s, largely to repair damage caused by decades of deferred maintenance. The bridge was completely shut down to motor vehicle traffic and subway trains on April 12, 1988 after inspectors discovered severe corrosion in a floor beam. The cast iron stairway on the Manhattan side, and the steep ramp from Driggs Avenue on the Williamsburg side to the footwalks, were replaced to allow handicapped access in the 1990s.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Mathematics has always been my particular failing, its abstractions and dry logic have always evaded me. During second grade, I had the pox upon me, and missed the introduction to long division- an illness with long term consequence as I’ve never really caught up. Often, I think that I suffer from some sort of numbers based form of dyslexia, which is as close as can be described to what happens to numerals as they swirl about in my head.

The calendrical information is far less important than “the story”. It’s best to refer to careful notes on minor details like day and year, and critical to commit context and theme to memory.

from Mayor Low’s administration in New York By City Club of New York, 1903, courtesy google books

The general plan of the bridge was adjopted by the East River bridge commission on August 19th, 1896, and filed in the department of public works of each of the two cities. In May, 1897, an amended plan was adopted and filed. The first actual work on the bridge was begun on the Manhattan tower foundation on October 28th, 1896.

The tower foundations on both sides of the river rest on solid rock. The north pier on the Manhattan side sinks to a depth of 56 feet below high water and the south pier 66 feet below high water. On the Brooklyn side the north pier extends to a maximum depth of about 101 feet below high water and the south pier to a maximum depth of about 90 feet below high water. The Manhattan anchorage rests on 3,500 piles driven through clay to a bed of sand overlying the rock. The Brooklyn anchorage rests on natural sand.

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Is it important to know what day the Williamsburg Bridge was erected, as compared to the tales of those early shipwrights, dry docks, and vast maritime complexes which it obliterated?

To me, it is far more interesting to chew on the fact that the massive shipyards, which included Novelty Iron works, between here and Corlears Hook spawned a lost and forgotten world amongst the wharves and birthed a unique culture whose hidden influence affects our world to this day..

For instance-

  • Legend has it that there were once so many ladies of the evening around Corlears Hook, servicing the sailors and working men employed at these yards, that the slang term “hookers” became ubiquitous with prostitution.
  • The earliest institutional ancestors of the the NYPD, addressed with the task of cleaning up the neighborhood, were forbidden to wear uniforms by State Law and would instead identify themselves as Police by displaying a six pointed badge made of copper- which is why we call them “Cops” to this day.

also from wikipedia

In 1638 the Dutch West India Company first purchased the area’s land from the local Native Americans. In 1661, the company chartered the Town of Boswijck, including land that would later become Williamsburg. After the English takeover of New Netherland in 1664, the town’s name was anglicized to Bushwick. During colonial times, villagers called the area “Bushwick Shore.” This name lasted for about 140 years. Bushwick Shore was cut off from the other villages in Bushwick by Bushwick Creek to the north and by Cripplebush, a region of thick, boggy shrub land which extended from Wallabout Creek to Newtown Creek, to the south and east. Bushwick residents called Bushwick Shore “the Strand.” Farmers and gardeners from the other Bushwick villages sent their goods to Bushwick Shore to be ferried across the East River to New York City for sale via a market at present day Grand Street. Bushwick Shore’s favorable location close to New York City led to the creation of several farming developments. In 1802, real estate speculator Richard M. Woodhull acquired 13 acres (53,000 m²) near what would become Metropolitan Avenue, then North 2nd Street. He had Colonel Jonathan Williams, a U.S. Engineer, survey the property, and named it Williamsburgh (with an h at the end) in his honor. Originally a 13-acre (53,000 m2) development within Bushwick Shore, Williamsburg rapidly expanded during the first half of the nineteenth century and eventually seceded from Bushwick and formed its own independent city.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 14, 2012 at 1:58 am

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