The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

another aperture

with one comment

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An aerial shot from the former Loose Wiles biscuit factory (and modern day LaGuardia Community College) which shows the totality of the Dutch Kills turning basin and the properties which surround it. Special notice of the cement factory and the red white and blue self storage warehouse should be taken, and the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge and Long Island Expressway (just above center) which were described in earlier posts are also pointed out. Additionally, notice the two sunken barges in the lower left hand corner of the shot.

click for parts one, two, and three of this trip down Dutch Kills. This is the last of the four postings describing what I saw at Dutch Kills while on a Newtown Creek Alliance assignment.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The stated mission of this exhibition was to catalog and photograph the little known bulkheads and shorelines of Newtown Creek and it’s various tributaries, and NCA had arranged for Riverkeeper to ferry us back and forth across the troubled waterway. Troubled is a politically correct way of describing the Newtown Creek watershed which native New Yorkers would translate into local patois as “all ‘effed up”, or which a military man would call “FUBAR”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Risible, the state of decay along these shorelines is startling. Dutch Kills has been largely abandoned by maritime interests, despite its once proud role as the central artery of the industrial complex called the Degnon Terminal. The corrosive affect of estuarine water upon cement and underlying steel has rotted away the manmade shorelines and bulkheads, carving away the efforts and labor of whole generations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is no reason to say the name of the corporation which occupies the red, white, and blue self storage warehouse which sits above these pilings. It is immaterial to adjure any organization in Queens, whether it be governmental or corporate, for no one cares. It is remarkable, though, that the corrosive action of the waters of Dutch Kills have so undermined the foundations of this structure that grottoes have formed amongst its pilings.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Remember, this was swamp land as late as the first decade of the 19th century. When Degnon’s people began their work here, at the Waste Meadows, there was barely any solid land between Hunters Point and Blissville. The LIRR, of course, had built their tracks sturdily and have no doubt that Standard Oil had engineered their grounds with proper drainage and stout foundations- but the inland path along Dutch Kills was nearly worthless.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Degnon owned a construction company which was capable of doing the impossible, and his people had a special affinity for problems involving water. They made their name during the construction of the second East River (or Williamsburg) Bridge, were involved in the taming of the Wallabout Creek, and had recently been engaged by the newly consolidated City of Greater New York to complete the rail tunnels which would link Queens to Manhattan via the novel new Subway system. Those tunnels excavated a large amount of spoils and borings, which would be used to create the very ground around Dutch Kills as “landfill”.

By the first decade of the 20th century, enough compacted landfill was here to begin pouring concrete slabs, and upon those slabs the Degnon Terminal rose.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This post will not cover the entire story of the Degnon Terminal. I would refer you to trainsarefun.com, and forgotten-ny for facets of the story, or suggest a visit to the Greater Astoria Historical Society for an attempt to get them to share their expertise on the subject. The tale of Michael Degnon is the stuff of scholarly dissertation. Degnon is buried in Calvary cemetery, and I suspect he rests uneasily because of what lesser men have done to his legacy.

There are two sunken fuel barges here, rusting away into history.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the CSO Outfall BB-026 which vomits untreated storm water and sewage into Dutch Kills regularly, and it is one of the primary sources of water flowing into Dutch Kills. The boat began moving in a counter clockwise fashion at this point, swinging away from the 29th street address of the red, white, and blue self storage warehouse and toward the concrete factory.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m unfamiliar with the role and identity of the two large pipes which are found beneath the concrete facility. The enormous slab of cement the factory is situated upon was once a rail switch, where short trip rail engines would await incoming barges. Once unloaded, these short trains would make deliveries to the industrial concerns which surrounded Dutch Kills.

Apparently, no small amount of conflict has arisen between the concrete company and environmental watchdogs over the years, but your humble narrator makes it a point of staying out of this sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The concrete industry around Newtown Creek often has fingers pointed at it, but again, large industrial concerns need to be sited “somewhere” to serve the interests of Real Estate and construction. The goal of many, including myself, is to ensure that in the days following the EPA Superfund cleanup of the Creeklands is that industry still feels welcome here. White collar corporate jobs are not an option for many, which is something often forgotten by those who spend their days in air conditioned Manhattan offices imagining the future of Queens.

These dirty industries must be compelled to “clean up their act” but cannot be regulated out of business.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The boat turned away from the north eastern bulkheads of the Dutch Kills Turning Basin and we explored the bulkheads of the southern abutment. Again, the waters had carved into the underpinnings of the engineered ground. More abscesses and grottoes were observed cut into the cement and the visible wood seemed spongy and softened from the action of unknowable forms of microscopic life.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had to “bust a move” to conquer the deep shadows of early morning light here, as the merciless and burning thermonuclear eye of god itself was shining down unoccluded by cloud or atmosphere at this point. An external flash was attached to my trusty camera, which was “bounced” off the water. Anomalously, the green water created orange and red shadows in the reflected bursting of light.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Riverkeeper Captain who acted as our boatswain, John Lipscomb, checked his watch and announced that we had to beat a hasty retreat as the tidal actions of the East River would soon cause Dutch Kills to rise. Fearing that we might be trapped in Dutch Kills for a long interval, and having completed only a tiny fraction of our mission, Captain Lipscomb set course for the larger vessel which had launched our tiny “Tin Boat” which was docked at Whale Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The physical effects of the air and environment here were enormous, but the effort and risk of the journey were worth undertaking. Long have I desired to see Dutch Kills from water level, and to see the place as few others have.

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  1. […] In August of 2011, “the dark moor” presented intriguing aerial views of the Newtown Creek Watershed, and “sinister exultation” shared the incredible sight of an Amtrak train on fire at the Hunters Point Avenue station in Long Island City. “revel and chaff” explored the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in LIC’s Zone A, and an extraordinary small boat journey around Dutch Kills was detailed in: “ponderous and forbidding“, “ethereal character“, “pillars and niches“, and “another aperture“. […]


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