The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

suitable apparatus

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the redolent cargo of my camera card revealed- this “Grand Walk”, a panic induced marathon which carried your humble narrator across the East River from St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan into Williamsburg and up Grand Street to Maspeth and the baroque intrigues of the Newtown Creek– wound down into it’s final steps on Laurel Hill Blvd.

Examining the images recorded on my camera, photos which I don’t remember taking, the ineluctable feeling that something was missing from the modern scene was inescapable.

from wikipedia

Nichols, along with his son Charles W. Nichols, helped organize the merger of 12 companies in 1899 to create General Chemical. Under his leadership, the company grew its asset base and increased its earnings threefold, making Nichols a force in America’s fledgling chemical industry. His vision of a bigger, better chemical company took off when he teamed up with investor Eugene Meyer in 1920. Nichols and Meyer combined five smaller chemical companies to create the Allied Chemical & Dye Corporation, which later became Allied Chemical Corp., and eventually became part of AlliedSignal, the forerunner of Honeywell’s specialty materials business. Both men have buildings named after them at Honeywell’s headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey. His original plant along the Newtown Creek in Queens is infamous for its legacy of pollution. Nichols is rumored to have once emptied vats of excess sulfuric acid into the creek rather than sell it cheaply to a businessman he had no respect for.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nichols Chemical, from which the legendary Phelps Dodge Laurel Hill plant would someday sprout, would have been found along the Newtown Creek nearby the thrice damned Kosciuszko Bridge – which is itself doomed and consigned to the stuff of future reminiscence. At it’s apex, this industrial site employed 17,500 people and squatted along some 36 square acres of the Creeklands.

The tallest chimneys in the United States (at the time) stabbed at the sky from here, painting the Newtown sky with poison effluvium whose pH content was sufficient to cause marble and granite to melt like ice cream left to the merciless gaze of the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kosciuszko Bridge is slated for demolition and replacement in a few short years of course, and this scene will irrevocably alter when a modern structure is put in place. The high flying bridge was built large to accommodate the sort of ocean going craft which were common in the 1930’s- cargo and passenger vessels with enormous smokestacks that would have been serviced and outfitted by other corporations just up the Creek.

Additionally, the war department held certain intentions and reserved the option to sequester battleships in Newtown Creek, with the intentions of protecting the vital industrial center from a safe inlet, were an invasion of North America attempted by hostile European adversaries via New York Harbor.

from Greater New York: bulletin of the Merchants’ Association of New York, Volume 2, 1913, courtesy google books

When a manufacturing establishment decides to increase its output fivefold; when it decides to tear down its present buildings and put up new ones; and when it owns valuable waterfront which is marketable at a high price, that concern considers carefully the question whether it will remain in its present location or move to some other. Now our friends above mentioned would doubtless at once aver that, if this concern was a New York concern and found itself in this situation, there could be but one answer—”To Jersey for us”— or to some other place near land’s end where land can be purchased for a song, where government regulations are unknown and where, in addition, the manufacturer would find himself surrounded by a great and aching void.

But all these prophesies are as wormwood and the pessimists are confounded. Over In the wilds of Queens there Is a place—look it up on the map—called Laurel Hill.

Laurel Hill is not a place of beauty. The undulating hills in them neighborhood are covered with cemeteries, rocks, and ugly houses and through the midst of it all (lows the far-famed Newtown Creek, covered at all times during the day and night with busy water craft. But Laurel Hill is one of the most important manufacturing districts in Greater New York and Newtown Creek is one of the foremost commercial arteries in or about NewYork City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the aphorisms which has emerged in my studies of Newtown Creek and the surrounding communities is this: “all roads lead to Calvary“.

Whether it be ancient ferry lines which fed the street car roads, or the occluded pathways of the aboriginal Mespaetche and Decadent Dutch, all the roads of western Queens and North Brooklyn point inevitably to this spot. Semi conscious during this “Grand Walk”, your humble narrator nevertheless found himself at the corner of Laurel Hill Blvd. and Review Avenue once again, standing before the great and sacred Polyandrion of the Roman Catholic church in New York City.

also from Greater New York: bulletin of the Merchants’ Association of New York, Volume 2, 1913, courtesy google books

Perhaps the foremost industry at Laurel Hill is the Nichols Copper Company. To this factory each year come by boat and by rail thousands of tons of copper, some of it in the raw state— the ore—and much of it already in bars ready for the final refining. The copper is refined here and put into a variety of forms and shapes ready for the market. The raw material comes in from the Lake Superior region, from Mexico, and even from more distant South America. The finished product goes to manufacturers in all parts of the world. The annual value of this product is over $60,000,000, and there are between seventeen hundred and eighteen hundred men engaged in converting the raw copper into the refined product which has made this factory famous tne world over.

In this factory, located within Greater New York, there is three times as much copper refined as in any other factory in the United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here lies Tammany, the Dead Rabbits, and a good percentage of those colorful characters who populated the “Bloody Sixth Ward” of the Five Points in 19th century New York. Here lies the Newsboy Governor, the “Original Gangster“, and the rightful heirs to the throne of Ireland rest within the ground consecrated by the legendary prelate called “Dagger John” alongside the “Fighting 69th” and “the 21” and the “Abbot“. Here is the secretive cruciform shaped repository which contains the remains of thousands of priests and nuns, in a catacomb which lies some 50 feet below the Almirall Chapel.

Additionally, here might be found the grave of a man who died in 1718, lying with both his descendants and his african slaves in the only Protestant burial ground entirely contained by a Catholic cemetery in North America.

And from above, that thing in the Sapphire Megalith which neither thinks nor breathes but instead hungers, watches.

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

The Alsop family was also among the early settlers. Richard Alsop, the first of the name to locate here, came at the request of his uncle, one Thomas Wandell, who was said to have left England because he had become involved in a quarrel with Oliver Cromwell, though this report is doubtful, for it is known that Wandell was living at Mespat Kills in 1648, or before Charles I was put to death. He had secured a considerable tract of land by patents and purchase which he left to his nephew, Richard Alsop. The family he founded became extinct in 1837 when the last of the name died without issue.

9 Responses

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  1. Great conclusion to a great story, but I’m sure this isn’t the end..


    July 28, 2011 at 12:53 pm

  2. It begins at a church and ends at a cemetery by a historic waterway that still is a part of the city’s economy. Very symbolic on many different levels and certainly not at an end. A funeral procession for a lost world beneath our feet. I’d like to hear more about Gilman now.


    July 29, 2011 at 7:50 pm

  3. […] the last of these posts, titled “suitable apparatus“- “As the redolent cargo of my camera card revealed- this “Grand Walk”, a panic […]

  4. […] County Chemical works would be superfluous if describing the 19th century industries located on either side of the Newtown Creek as […]

  5. […] the right is the Phelps Dodge site, and to the left is found the lurking fear and that rampant darkness which lurks on the […]

  6. […] Plant, the Greenpoint petroleum district, the Blissville Oil spill, the Greenpoint Oil Spill, the Phelps Dodge site, the Kosciuszko Bridge, the CSO issue, the role of Newtown Creek as a mass employer, the […]

  7. […] been the pathway which workers from Sunnyside or Woodside would have taken enroute to shift work at Phelps Dodge or Alloco, down by the […]

  8. […] a byproduct of the large scale manufacture of sulphuric acid at the works of M. Kalbfleisch or William Henry Nichols – called sludge acid- was dumped directly into the water, kids would collect the stuff where […]

  9. […] Creek. Penny Bridge, of course, was replaced in 1939 by Robert Moses. Moses had to work around some pretty big land owners when building […]

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