The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘Grand Street Bridge

haunted steep

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At the Maspeth Plank Road, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the same morning walk described yesterday, wherein one was heading over to East Williamsburg from Astoria to conduct a walking tour of My Beloved Creek, I found myself at the Maspeth Plank Road.

Whenever possible, an attempt to scout the day’s intended route is enacted, to ensure against any of the little surprises which are known to pop up in the neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek. Bridge closures, road work, chemical spills – you know, the usual.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I ran into this family of Canada Geese, whom I’ve been noticing all over the Creek for the last few weeks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not too much I can tell you about this specie, other than that like swans – you don’t want to get too close to them. Geese can be mean tempered and vast physical cowardice notwithstanding, who wants to get pecked?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The gaggle seemed to take some umbrage at their unwanted portraiture, it seemed, and they headed back to the loathsome ripples of that cataract of urban neglect known as the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My decision to scout the route was actually quite fortuitous, as the Grand Street Bridge was closed. The NYC DOT was conducting some sort of repair job here, something about fixing the deck plating on the pedestrian walkways so that it could accommodate bicycle traffic. This, of course, directs vehicular flow onto the sidewalks and directly into the path of pedestrians, but priorities are priorities for City Hall.



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Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 26, 2015 at 11:00 am

peculiar erudition

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Neither Tea nor Tiger…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After Richard Croker and the Tammany crew in Manhattan managed to beg, borrow, and steal enough support and patronage in Albany and around the independent municipalities which they successfully consolidated into the City of Greater New York in 1898, they had bills to pay. Tammany paid its way by handing out open ended municipal contracts, and in 1903, one them was called the Grand Street Bridge. The slogans bandied about by the local politicians who were not playing ball with the Manhattan crowd was “Keep the Tiger out of Queens,” or “Neither Tea nor Tiger.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the run up to the consolidation, which was decided by a special election, a banner hung nearby this spot which admonished that were the Tammany crowd to gain control of Queens and Brooklyn they would create a wasteland of noxious industries, cemeteries, and trash heaps here. Back then, it was called Whites Dock, and the swampy wetlands were described as being thick with fish and mussels as late as the 1880’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first bridge here, a wooden drawbridge was erected in 1875, followed by a second wood bridge erected in 1890. The modern day Grand Street Bridge over Newtown Creek was opened in 1903, was built by the King Bridge Co. and is a swing bridge. A swing bridge is s structure that pivots 90 degrees on a mechanical turntable, allowing maritime traffic egress by opening an aperture. Grand Street Bridge is the frontline, the DMZ, of the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens.

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Want to see something cool? Summer 2013 Walking Tours-

Kill Van Kull Saturday, August 10, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills Saturday, August 17, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

shallow mud

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Notice: the November 9th Magic Lantern Show with Atlas Obscura is cancelled for now. We hope to reschedule for sometime during the winter. Observatory, where the event is scheduled to take place, has been damaged by Hurricane Sandy and flooding.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hank the Elevator Guy and I next proceeded to the Grand Street Bridge in our survey of the Newtown Creek watershed, post Hurricane Sandy. Reports during the storm itself described the area as impassible, and knowing that the low lying areas around Metropolitan and Flushing Avenues are normally prone to flooding, it was with no small amount of trepidation that we approached DUGSBO.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the Brooklyn side of the Grand Street Bridge, there was evidence of washouts and sedimentation from the banks, and a pile of rubble and even a wooden staircase was piled up against the fence which separates the street from the bulkheads of Newtown Creek’s East Branch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally, the fire hydrant at the foot of the bridge was painted with muck and mire, indicating that the water overflowing the banks rose to at least its height. This is startling, as it is close to 15 feet over the normal waterline. However, given the presence of the enormous CSO back on Metropolitan Avenue, it would reasonable to assume that the surge rose from two directions here, one traveling eastward along the Creek from the East River, and another rising from the multiple vaults underlying Metropolitan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Clearly affected by the flooding, this low lying yard which houses a school bus company was hard at work. Most of the buses had their engine hoods open, and mechanics were seen tinkering with the machinery therein. Additionally, there were people inside the buses working with cloths and mops. Another one of the subjects which I’ll likely be called to task for in the future by political wonks and area wags, one only hopes that an enormous amount of bleach will be expended by these laborers, before children are allowed onto these buses when schools open next week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It should be noted, and admitted to you lords and ladies, that your humble narrator is embroiled by controversy and derision these days. Unsought but uncomfortably accepted notoriety has brought no small amount of joy to me, but there is a dark side to this as well. My notably unpleasant personality and aberrant disobedience to social norms, it would seem, is best taken in small doses. Fair enough, one must always remain and function as an outsider, for this is where I belong.

protecting shade

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Much to the chagrin of Our Lady of the Pentacle, an awful lot of time is devoted to “mah research”, and the recent largesse displayed by the NYC Municipal Records folks in allowing online access to their startling photographic collections has consumed an awful lot of my time.

Of particular interest to me, of course, are the historic shots of Newtown Creek and the surrounding communities at various moments in time. Today’s offering is a comparison of modern conditions with historic ones, which in the shots above and below- portray the venerable Grand Street Bridge in both eras from dissimilar but roughly analogous points of view.

My shot is closer to Queens, with the 1903 one below hugging the Bosserts lumber yard on the Brooklyn side.

Here’s the Grand Street bridge in 1903, when it was brand new courtesy NYC Dept. Of Records

Cool, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, formerly known as Masters Bridge, from English Kills looking west in modernity, and the precursor of the modern span being constructed in 1904 below (also looking west).

DUMABO in 1904, courtesy NYC Dept. Of Records

Also cool, no?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Meeker Avenue Bridge is what it was called when it opened in 1939, and it was renamed as the Kosciuszko Bridge in 1940. My shot is from the middle of the Newtown Creek, while the historic view below is right next to the Phelps Dodge bulkheads on the Queens side.

Here’s the thing in 1939, courtesy NYC Dept. Of Records

– photo by Arthur J. Foley


Click for details on Mitch Waxman’s
Upcoming walking and boat tours of Newtown Creek

July 8th, 2012- Atlas Obscura Walking Tour- The Insalubrious Valley
(note: there are just a few tickets left for this one)

for July 8th tickets, click here for the Atlas Obscura ticketing page

July 22nd, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Newtown Creek Boat Tour

obscure and cryptical

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another “Now and then” posting for you today, Lords and Ladies of Newtown, and today it’s arguably my favorite of all the bridges of Newtown Creek- the atavist Grand Street Bridge spanning the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens. The shot above is from the water, as recreating the 1910 era shot below (from the bulkheads of the eastern brooklyn side) would require probable trespass- which in our modern day age of the Terror War might subject one to legal penalties such as exsanguination or some time spent in “the boot“.

– photo from Engineering magazine, Volume 38, 1910- courtesy google books

While it does seem true that the Grand Street Bridge has changed little in the intervening century, the primary difference between then and now is that it doesn’t function as a swing bridge very often these days. The stalwart engineers and mechanics of the DOT do open it for maintenance periodically, but the City has petitioned the Coast Guard to abandon such actions due to lack of industrial need and expense of operation.

For a prior posting which will tell you literally EVERYTHING about the Grand Street Bridge and environs- an area I call DUGSBO- Down Under the Grand Street Bridge Onramp- click here


– photo by Mitch Waxman

An NCA event, which I for one am pretty stoked about:

April NCA meeting hosts Dr. Eric Sanderson

Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 6pm

Ridgewood Democratic Club, 
6070 Putnam Avenue, 
Ridgewood, NY 11385

In addition to important updates from our members – in particular the Bioremedition Workgroup has been very busy! – we will be hosting a special presentation on the “Historical Ecology of Newtown Creek”.

Dr. Eric Sanderson, senior conservation ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and author of “Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City” (Abrams, 2009), will describe recent studies of the historical ecology of Newtown Creek, describing the original wetlands, creek channels, topography and vegetation of the area. He will show a series of 18th and 19th century maps of the watershed of the creek and discuss the process of synthesizing them into an integrated ecological picture that can be used to inform and inspire natural restoration and cultural appreciation of the Newtown Creek watershed. This work is part of the Welikia Project (, an investigation into the historical ecology of the five boroughs of New York City and surrounding waters. The Welikia Project on Newtown Creek is funded by The NYCEF Newtown Creek Fund of the Hudson River Foundation.

And this Saturday,

Obscura Day 2012, Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills

Saturday April 28th, 10 a.m.

Your humble narrator will be narrating humbly at this year’s Obscura Day event on April 28th, leading a walking tour of Dutch Kills. There are a few tickets left, so grab them while you can.

“Found less than one mile from the East River, Dutch Kills is home to four movable (and one fixed span) bridges, including one of only two retractible bridges remaining in New York City. Dutch Kills is considered to be the central artery of industrial Long Island City and is ringed with enormous factory buildings, titan rail yards — it’s where the industrial revolution actually happened. Bring your camera, as the tour will be revealing an incredible landscape along this section of the troubled Newtown Creek Watershed.”

For tickets and full details, click here :

thickening twilight

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sickened by weariness and a youth misspent, your humble narrator nevertheless has been tormenting himself lately with regret and guilty nonsense. “Not working hard enough” is omnipresent in my mind these days, and accordingly, the length and depth of my wanderings through the Creeklands have expanded. A lack of physical exercise is deadly to a poor specimen like myself, something which is difficult during the winter months due to that certain allergy to cold which has manifested – and which has become amplified- in recent years.

It’s amazing the ways that your body changes as you grow older, sometimes it seems as if there’s some feeble alien creature within that is pushing and tearing a path to the outside world through your very flesh.


Y’ha-nthlei was not destroyed when the upper-earth men shot death into the sea. It was hurt, but not destroyed. The Deep Ones could never be destroyed, even though the palaeogean magic of the forgotten Old Ones might sometimes check them. For the present they would rest; but some day, if they remembered, they would rise again for the tribute Great Cthulhu craved. It would be a city greater than Innsmouth next time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Carrying forth, however, is something compelled rather than desired. My team of doctors has advised me of decaying homeostasis, entropic processes, and general decline. Their suggestions are to step up, exert more effort, and seek even greater frequency for these long walks while avoiding the pleasures and poisons of the west. Luckily, the ancient pathways and avenues which surround and inform that nearby slick of languid infamy known as the Newtown Creek supply ample locations to inspect, never failing to intimate some hidden meaning or vaguely shadowed terror.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?


“The nethermost caverns,” wrote the mad Arab, “are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Paranoid wonderings, lunatic ideations, unnameable desires- all haunt me during the seemingly aimless steps. Delusions of self importance, hubris, and vast ennui are my only companions on these often cobbled streets. A discarded landscape with a lost history, this is a place given to the dead, the diseased, the barren… a perfect home for one such as myself. There seems to be a current in the air, a taste of anxiety on the tip of my tongue which is all pervasive, and it feels as if something is about to happen.

Ahh… I’m all effed up.


I do not recall distinctly when it began, but it was months ago. The general tension was horrible. To a season of political and social upheaval was added a strange and brooding apprehension of hideous physical danger; a danger widespread and all-embracing, such a danger as may be imagined only in the most terrible phantasms of the night. I recall that the people went about with pale and worried faces, and whispered warnings and prophecies which no one dared consciously repeat or acknowledge to himself that he had heard. A sense of monstrous guilt was upon the land, and out of the abysses between the stars swept chill currents that made men shiver in dark and lonely places. There was a daemoniac alteration in the sequence of the seasons—the autumn heat lingered fearsomely, and everyone felt that the world and perhaps the universe had passed from the control of known gods or forces to that of gods or forces which were unknown.

putrescent juice

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

My long, indeed “Grand Walk”- a semi conscious amble whose path is revealed only by images found on my camera card sometime later- had carried me from Manhattan to the Grand Street Bridge. A revelation and totem of the political border of Queens and infinite Brooklyn, it would not be inappropriate to describe it as a former gateway to hell itself.

Not quite 100 years ago, the sky would have been black with the product of smokestacks, and every surface exposed to their fumes would be painted with a greasy residue of the worst kind of filth imaginable.

from Harper’s weekly, Volume 38, 1894- courtesy Google books


The city of Brooklyn, having purged itself of the malodorous political institutions that were so long a blot upon its southern border, might well turn its attention to some nuisances of a more literally malodorous kind that flourish along its northern border, a detailed description of which will be found in another column of the Weekly’. It appears that in an early day the valley of Newtown Creek, which is the boundary between Kings and Queens counties, was selected by various manufacturers as an eligible site for the location of factories. The location was then far on the outskirts of the city, and no doubt quite unobjectionable. A great variety of institutions were set iu operation here, including those useful and necessary but unpleasant factories whose purpose it is to transform the animal refuse of a city into merchantable produce. The gases generated by these factories had an odor almost unendurable, as any one can testify who was accustomed to travel on the Long Island Railroad from the Thirty-fourth Street ferry in years gone by. But so long as railroad passengers were the only sufferers, nothing could be done to abate the nuisance, and there were for a long time no residents near to make complaint, as the growing city very naturally held back at a respectful distance from so undesirable a neighborhood.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If one did not frequent the district, the smell would be overwhelming but the sense most offended would likely be the visual faculties. There are things which ordinary people should not see or know too much about. The customs and mores of the graveyard come to mind, and so does the imagery produced on the battlefield or on the inside of a slaughterhouse.

Amidst the farms of oil tanks and forests of chimneys, without gazing too deeply, one would notice the mounds of dead horses and dogs first- then, the tons of human shit would come into focus.

from The Sanitary Era, Volume 1, 1887, courtesy google books

Newtown Creek — No city in the Union has so foul a pest hole at its boundaries as Brooklyn. The sludge acid discharged from the works of the Standard Oil Company seems to possess an ominous potency for stirring up the sewage in the creek, and its black and thickened current seethes with bubbles of sulphuretted hydrogen. The shores, banked with this acid and with nameless filth, empoison the atmosphere at low water, while every rising tide seems to free a new supply of sludge. When to the oil industry is added the manufacture of fertilizers and a plenitude of pigs along Queens County shore, the sources of supply for a great nuisance or a grievous plague are discernible to all but official eyes and nostrils. Newtown Creek should be filled up, though not with sludge acid, and the nuisance makers removed to a distance. Our, Health Commissioner is authority for the statement that “You might as well try to fight the devil as the Standard Oil Company.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At this spot on the Newtown Creek, where the bone boilers and fat renderers rubbed shoulders with glue factories and manure manufacturers and acid factories, infernal mountains of organic waste materials were gathered. Necessary for the industrial pursuits of these corporate entities- the rail brought Manhattan and Brooklyn’s putrescent garbage, human waste, dead animals and anything else which once lived to them.

There was one company whose particular specialty was recovering useful chemicals from rotting cow and pig blood, produced in fantastic amounts by the armies of butchers staffing the slaughterhouses of New York and the abattoirs of Brooklyn.

from Report of the Commissioner of Bridges to the Hon. GEORGE B. McCLELLAN, Mayor of The City of New York, 1904, courtesy google books

No. 4—Grand Street Bridge—

The contract for the construction of this bridge was awarded to Bernard Rolf, on August 7, 1900, at an estimated cost of $173.379.90. The bridge should have been completed on October 21, 1901, but it was fourteen months later, December 26, 1902, before it could be used, and then for only part of the day; and it was not until February 5, 1903, that it was accepted and declared open for traffic.

The contractor presented claims for extra allowances, and a committee, consisting of the late Mr. C. C. Martin, Consulting Engineer; the then Deputy Commissioner, and the Engineer in Charge, reported a finding, which was accepted by the contractor and the City. The total cost of the bridge was $172,748.06.

Several important changes were found necessary in the operating machinery; New end wedges have been put in place and steel bearings have replaced certain cast-iron ones. One hand-turning gear has been installed. Stationary signal lamps, showing white and red, have been placed at the ends of the draw span. Hanging platforms have been erected at the ends of the draw span, and a platform built around the centre pier. These platforms have more than paid for themselves in the cost of repairs and erection. The railing has been painted, and the draw is working satisfactorily.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Maspeth, troubled motherland of Queens, lays claim to this corner of the Creeklands in modernity and when exiting the Grand Street Bridge onto Grand Avenue (it changes to Avenue as it enters Queens, transmogrifies into Broadway at the heart of historic Newtown at Queens Blvd., and loops into Astoria finally terminating nearby Hallets Cove at the East River) one can say one has been there, although the lovely hills and quaint homes by which one might normally distinguish Maspeth are not present here.

Heaps of fecal matter and rotting pestilence, along with storm clouds of buzzing insects, are mentioned in first hand accounts gathered over a multiple decade period regarding this area.

from Illustrated history of the borough of Queens, New York City, 1908 courtesy google books

The untold thousands who travel every year to and from the places of amusement on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, or to and from the large race-tracks, ride along the anything but beautiful banks of Newtown Creek, and gain from them their impression of what the borough is. This is the first impression, and therefore the strongest, and it is difficult to dispel it, for the majority of people stick to a conviction once formed, and are loath to change it, even in the face of powerful arguments. Nobody likes to admit that he was wrong or mistaken in his judgment; it is rather human to defend a position once taken.even after one has begun to doubt its correctness. And it is no exaggeration to state that perhaps ninety per cent of all the people passing through Queens Borough know nothing of it except that it contains dismal swamps, railroad yards and factories distributing evil smells and ugly to the last degree.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Odd, the shot above and others not published indicate that my so called “Grand Walk” took an unexpected turn at this point, leaving Grand and turning North at Page Place. This is the first deviation from common street car and trolley routes which my dreaming gait carried me through.

I must have seen one of the odd cats which frequent or inhabit the area, a polydactyl line which has been mentioned in prior postings of this, your Newtown Pentacle.

from The City record, Volume 6, Part 4, 1878, courtesy google books

Newtown creek ior many years has been a source of nuisance. It receives the contents of several of the large sewers ot Brooklyn. From above Penny Bridge to the East river are factories of various descriptions, oil refiners, fat inciters, gut cleaners, distilleries, car stables, super-phosphate factories, ammonia works, varnish works, and last, but not least, immense piles of stable manure, stored for future shipment, the refuse from all of which runs into the creek, and polluting the waters to such an extent as to have killed all the fish. At low tide acres of land, covered to the depth of several inches with fat, the refuse of the oil-stills, are exposed. At high tide the oily portion of this refuse floats on the surface of the water, still giving forth its characteristic tarry odor. To add to this, many oil works, when the storage tanks are full, run their waste alkali and even their sludge-acid into the creek ; in the latter case giving rise to the well known sludge smell. During the visit of Drs. Chandler and Janeway, on the 14th inst., the material flowing from the drains at the Franklin Oil Works and at Pratt s Refinery was tested and found to be decided acid, affording proof that the sludgeacid was being discharged as above stated. 

Frequently during the agitation of the oil with the oil of vitriol the covers of the agitating tanks are left open and the tfl-smefling fumes are allowed to escape into the air.

Near by are also melters boiling fat in open kettles, a method long since abandoned in New York. The stench from all these various operations is very offensive. There is a preference on the part of the manufacturers of fertilizers to manipulate the sludge-acid in the vicinity of the oil works, especially during hot weather, since it is asserted that if sludge-acid is diluted soon after its flow from the agitator, about twenty-five per cent, of it readily separates as tar, but if allowed to stand for forty eight hours in warm weather it becomes thick and ropy, the tar rises slowly and is removed with difficulty and only in small quantities. Moreover, transportation of the extra bulk of tar increases its cost to the consumer. On the other hand, as the acid is sold by yearly contract, as soon as the storage tanks are full, the refinery has no object In its further preservation and naturally allows the surplus to run into the creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Imagine the scene, a century past, in this place where the industrial revolution happened. Further, let us speculate whether the bone boilers and fat renderers would sell their services as “recycling” in our modern context with it’s sophisticate euphemism. See the smoking stacks atop the mills, smell the rich perfume offered by the offal docks, hear the machines and pumps grinding away, touch the cadaverous piles of rot, taste the world which was.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

from Annual report of the State Board of Health of New York, 1883, courtesy google books

Simon Steinfel’s rendering establishment, which is on Furman’s island in Newtown creek (and within the limits of Newtown), gives off very offensive emanations for a long distance in the course of the railway route. Great quantities of decomposing animal matters were found upon the premises in barrels and otherwise packed in readiness for rendering.

  • Kirkman & Sons’ rendering establishment, near Steinfel’s, boil and render fat and scrap in open kettles.
  • At John C. Muller & Co.’s bone-black factory, at the same place as above mentioned, imported and domestic bones are burned, after being boiled in open kettles to remove all fat. The bone-tar, one of the results of bone varnish, is mixed with soft coal and burned as fuel. It is very offensive.
  • C. Meyer’s bone-black factory, at the same place and of essentially the same business, is very offensive. The odor is described by the inspectors, who are expert chemists, as being extremely pungent and sickening. They say: It is doubtful if this industry can be carried on without being offensive constantly. The drainage of all these works on Furman’s island, on Newtown creek, as here described, passes out through an open ditch into the creek.
  • Henry Berau’s rendering establishment on Newtown creek has the contract for removing dead animals from Brooklyn. This place is tributary to that of Preston’s, already described. His business is exceedingly offensive, and too near the populous cities and their suburbs.
  • These several places are sources of constant offensiveness to railway travelers, and few have any idea of the sources whence the stenches come.
  • Brooklyn Excavating Co.’s dumping of night soil is carried on near the border of Brooklyn city-lines, between Grand street and North Second street, only 300 feet from the railroad track. The stench from the nuisance is exceedingly offensive.
  • Benjamin Eosenzweig’s fat rendering near Newtown creek, near the railroads, is excessively offensive, the work being carried on from seven in the evening till five in the morning.
  • G. W. Baker’s fertilizer factory, close by the railroad track, between Grand street and Metropolitan avenue, is excessively offensive. It manufactures rotten bone manure, tank sediment manure and neatsfoot oil.

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