The Newtown Pentacle

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Welcome to DUBABO, Down Under the Borden Avenue Bridge Onramp, along the loathsome Dutch Kills tributary of the Newtown Creek. Dutch Kills is an ancestral waterway which once suffused into the swampy tidal flats which the Netherlands colonists stumbled across in the 1640’s, and which are described in the historical record as having been “malarial, and mosquito ridden”. The waterway once ran as far inland as modern day Queens Plaza, but the entire coastline of western Long Island was riddled with shallow waterways back then, which fed a thriving wetland. Sunswick, Jack’s, Wolf’s, English Kills, Maspeth, Bushwick, and the largest- Newtown- Creeks macerated the shoreline and allowed tidal nutrients to suffuse into the soil.

from a 2011 newtownpentacle posting, “uncommented masonry

Borden Avenue is one of the older pathways in New York and particularly so for Queens, as the modern street was designated as Borden Avenue in 1868. It allowed egress from the docks at Hunters Point to the incalculably far Newtown and passed by the thriving village of Maspeth along the way. Originally a plank road set roughly into the swampy lowlands which adjoined the Newtown Creek, what would become Borden Avenue eventually progressed to the point of regular horse drawn (and then electric) street car service by the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th. It became a natural place for heavy industries to gather, and in the 1870′s and 80′s, rail road switches and “rights of way” followed their customers here.

The Long Island Railroad terminal at Hunters Point is and was on Borden Avenue, and rail tracks run parallel to Borden Avenue’s path, along what would have once been known as Creek Street. Critically, these were both freight and passenger tracks.

As of 1908, a retractile vehicle bridge crossed Dutch Kills, which we call the Borden Avenue Bridge (and which replaced the earlier wooden plank road drawbridge).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

No secret, Borden Avenue Bridge is my second favorite of the many movable spans around the Newtown Creek watershed (Grand Street is tops). The entire surface of the structure is designed to physically roll away from its piers, on rails, and retract into a pocket- ostensibly allowing maritime traffic egress to commercial docks. Dutch Kills used to be a well used and quite busy thoroughfare for such traffic, although lately- not so much.

from the NYC DOT site

Borden Avenue is a two-lane local City street in Queens. Borden Avenue runs east-west extending from Second Street at the East River to Greenpoint Avenue. The Borden Avenue Bridge over Dutch Kills is located just south of the Long Island Expressway between 27th Street and Review Avenue in the Sunnyside section of Queens. Borden Avenue Bridge is a retractile type moveable bridge. The general appearance of the bridge remains the same as when it was first opened in 1908. The bridge structure carries a two-lane two-way vehicular roadway with sidewalks on either side. The roadway width is 10.5m and the sidewalks are 2.0 m. The west approach and east approach roadways, which are wider than the bridge roadway, are 15.3m and 13.0m respectively. The bridge provides a horizontal clearance of 14.9m and a vertical clearance in the closed position of 1.2m at MHW and 2.7m at MLW.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The water quality at Dutch Kills is fairly nightmarish, with “floatables” and wind blown trash collecting along the bulkheads. The water betrays itself with the odd colors (and colour) it displays, ranging from a reddish brown after rain events to a cadmium green during the heights of summer and depths of winter. Unnaturally still, the only flow of water here is driven by the tepid tidal flow of the larger Newtown Creek or by the expulsion of waste water and storm runoff from the Combined Sewer Outfalls found along its banks.

from wikipedia

Dutch Kills is a sub-division of the larger neighborhood of Long Island City in the New York City borough of Queens. It was a hamlet, named for its navigable tributary of Newtown Creek, that occupied what today is centrally Queensboro Plaza. Dutch Kills was an important road hub during the American Revolutionary War, and the site of a British Army garrison from 1776 to 1783. The area supported farms during the 19th Century, and finally consolidated in 1870 with the villages of Astoria, Ravenswood, Hunters Point, Middletown, Sunnyside and Bowery Bay to form Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scientific analysis of the water, offered in now decades old reports by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the far ranging Hydroqual studies of the watershed in the 1990’s, describe the presence of a millimeter thick layer of fats and lipids overlying the water. This medium allows bacterial specie to survive in the open water, and such sewage borne pathogens are abundant. Typhus, cholera, and gonorrhea- for instance- are all mentioned. Additionally, like all the waters of NY Harbor, but especially concentrated at Dutch Kills (and all around the larger Creek) due to the abundance of CSO’s- one can expect to find elevated levels of prescription drug residue carried in by sewer discharge.


About 1900, most of the Newtown Creek was bulkheaded and occupied by about fifty industrial properties. Undeveloped or less developed sections without bulkheads included Dutch Kills, about 2,000 feet of shoreline in Queens just above Dutch Kills with two LIRR lighterage piers, about 1,000 feet of shoreline in Queens near the Penny Bridge, and about 3,500 feet of shoreline downstream of Maspeth Avenue in Brooklyn.15 Dutch Kills, and the Queens side of Newtown Creek, just upstream of Dutch Kills, were developed circa 1905-1912, largely through the efforts of the Degnon Terminal & Realty Company. The Degnon firm created an industrial park with rail and marine access around Dutch Kills between about Hunters Point and 47th Avenue, Dutch Kills subsequently was included within USACE dredging projects. Without federal assistance, Degnon created a 150-foot-wide channel with 2,400 feet of bulkhead, including a turning basin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DUBABO was one of the spots recently targeted by the IEC organization during “Shoreline Cleanup day”, and event in which Newtown Creek Alliance participated. IEC musters crews of volunteers who literally pick up the trash. Other harbor groups participated in the cleanup in Queens, and efforts were made literally all along the east river coast of the borough, from Astoria Park all the way to Hunters Point. Arrangements were made with a carting firm, in our case Waste Management, to dispose of the collected materials, after it had been weighed and categorized. NCA’s mission is to “Reveal, Restore, Revitalize” the Newtown Creek, after all, and “a great starting point for any project is picking the crap up off the floor first”, as my dad might have said.

from a 2011 newtownpentacle posting, “ponderous and forbidding

All across Dutch Kills, everything bore that unmistakable colour which typifies the lament and sickness of the Newtown Creek watershed. Iridescent, it is neither black nor white nor any normal color, rather it’s is like something alien coating everything in rotten decay. Metal corrodes, wood molders, stone and cement simply crumble away.

The swampy wetlands which existed here in aboriginal times were known as the Waste Meadows in the 19th century, and perhaps this is still the appropriate terminology for them.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 25, 2012 at 11:39 am

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