The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

old native

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The Carroll Street Bridge, in today’s post.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve said it so many times on the Newtown Creek “Dutch Kills” tours that I’ve conducted - “The Borden Street Bridge is one of just two retractable bridges in NYC, the other is on Carroll Street over the Gowanus.” Then I go on to talk about Chicago and what a retractable bridge does and why its special, but it occurred to me that I’ve never done a post on the Carroll Street span. Today, the remedy.

Also, just as a note, I’ll be repeating the above quotation on this coming Saturday’s tour, see the link at the bottom of this post for details.

from nyc.gov

The Carroll Street Bridge is a retractile bridge crossing the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. The bridge, which was opened to traffic in 1889, supports a 17 foot wide roadway and two 4.5 foot sidewalks.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

What’s super cool about the Carroll Street span is the wooden road surfacing that allows vehicular egress over this section of the Gowanus Canal. There’s still one more bridge before the Gowanus reaches its inevitable conclusion, Union Street Bridge, but Carroll is where the industrial canal seems to shallow out and is one of the places where its entire “raison d’être” seems to have been forgotten.

from wikipedia

Retractable bridges date back to medieval times. Due to the large dedicated area required for this type of bridge, this design is not common. A retractable design may be considered when the maximum horizontal clearance is required (for example over a canal).

Two remaining examples exist in New York City (the Carroll Street Bridge (built 1889) in Brooklyn and the Borden Avenue Bridge in Queens).

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above are the pulleys and gears which provide locomotive force to the structure, and the aperture into which the roadway actually retracts to allow theoretical maritime egress. The Gowanus Dredgers boat club is nearby, and I suspect that they can tell you everything you’d want to know about the mores and habits exhibited by the NYC DOT engineers who care for and maintain the structure. Business has called me to South Brooklyn all year, and one of the more interesting “Gowanus People” I’ve met is a fellow named Joseph Alexiou, who provides a satisfying historical narrative for the Gowanus.

from tedxgowanus.com

A journalist and history buff, Joseph Alexiou is writing a book about the Gowanus Canal. He is the author of Paris for Dummies and contributing author to Frommer’s Paris 2012 and has written for New York, the New York Press,  New York Observer, Gothamist and Paper Magazine.  He is a former associate editor at Out magazine and has a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. 

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Somebody else from the Gowanus crew that has impressed the heck out of me is Eymund Diegel. His knowledge of the Gowanus and its hydrology, history, and personality is staggering. Be forewarned and forearmed though, for if you seek his wisdom, bring a notepad or recording device with you – as the cascade of information he offers can be a bit overwhelming.

also from tedxgowanus.com

Eymund Diegel is the chair of Public Laboratory, a citizen science group partnered with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s Grassroots Aerial Photography program, where local citizen’s insights help improve Google Earth and City mapping of the neighborhood. As a Gowanus resident, he also helps out at the Hall of the Gowanus, a community historic research resource. Trained as an urban planner with a focus on watershed and environmental planning, he works with other local residents who have been tying digital cameras to kites and balloons to map and reconstruct the Gowanus Canal’s “ghost stream” network.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

There’s a Newtown Creek walking tour, and a Magic Lantern show, coming up.

Saturday, June 7th, 13 Steps around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura.
Click here for tickets and more info.

Wednesday, June 11th, Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show with Brooklyn Brainery.
Click here for tickets and more info.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 3, 2014 at 11:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. Very cool! :)

  2. Her’s some vid I shot a couple of years back of Public Lab’s Liz Barry explaining how they used kites to do the Gowanus mapping http://youtu.be/ht_akxmvXzw?t=20m4s

    Joly MacFie

    June 4, 2014 at 3:39 pm


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