The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

weird and alluring

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Relics and Ruins in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The presence of the new DEP Sludge Boat Hunts Point, docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, was what got me out of Queens on a cold January day. The MTA introducing mid journey service alterations are what made me late. The weather was tolerable, but January and the East River are highly incompatible to one such as myself. A desire, for a strong cup of coffee, prevailed.

Vouched for, my escort allowed me a moment or two to observe that which lies within the ancient borders of this former ship yard, which once launched Battleships (thanks again R).

One thing that caught my attention, while waving the camera about, was a derelict rail transfer bridge.

from wikipedia

The United States Navy Yard, New York, also known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the New York Naval Shipyard (NYNSY), is a shipyard located in Brooklyn, New York, 1.7 miles (2.7 km) northeast of the Battery on the East River in Wallabout Basin, a semicircular bend of the river across from Corlear’s Hook in Manhattan. It was bounded by Navy Street, Flushing and Kent Avenues, and at the height of its production of warships for the United States Navy, it covered over 200 acres (0.81 km2).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often referred to as a gantry crane by most, the correct terminology (I’m told) is actually “a transfer bridge.” The rail guys don’t enjoy the rest of us using “Gantry,” so don’t go there.

The body of water which the Navy Yard is embedded into is Wallabout Bay, named for the vestigial Wallabout Creek. The specific section of the bay that this rusted relic abuts is actually Wallabout Channel, a canalized industrial channel with a CSO discharge on one side and the East River on the other. Supposedly, this canal roughly follows the path of a long ago Wallabout Creek, as it was known by a fellow named Joris back in the 1630’s.

from wikipedia

The Wallabout became the first spot on Long Island settled by Europeans when several families of French-speaking Walloons opted to purchase land there in the early 1630s, having arrived in New Netherland in the previous decade from Holland. Settlement of the area began in the mid-1630s when Joris Jansen Rapelje exchanged trade goods with the Canarsee Indians for some 335 acres (1.36 km2) of land at Wallabout Bay, but Rapelje, like other early Wallabout settlers, waited at least a decade before relocating full-time to the area, until conflicts with the tribes had been resolved.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An impossible amount of effort, spent over multiple centuries, has been expended in this particular place and clustering in every corner are relics and reminders of the past. There isn’t a rusty screw on this property that’s not important, from the industrial archaeological point of view. In many ways, that’s the issue in ancient locations like the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Is this a museum, or an industrial complex?

The Navy Yard is actually both, but there are plenty of old skeletons lying about the place, like this rusted out 20th century rail transfer bridge.

from 1900’s “Annual Report of the War Department, Report of the Chief of Engineers Part 2“, courtesy google books


Wallabout Channel consists of a waterway extending in a half circle around the inside of the island known as Cob Dock, which lies in Wallabout Bay, off the United States Navy Yard at Brooklyn, N.Y. and is a part of the United States property. Wallabout Channel connects with Wallabout Bay east and west of Cob Dock.

Wallabout Bay is a slight indentation of the East River at a point about opposite the navy yard.

Wallabout Channel is separated into two parts, called the east and west channels, by a stone causeway which connects the mainland with Cob Dock. The east channel which is about 2,000 feet long and from 250 to 350 feet wide and had available depths of from 15 to 20 feet along the line of deepest water, diminishing to 5 feet along the sides is the part now embraced in the approved project for improvement.

The mean range of tide is 4 5 feet

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Brooklyn Navy Yard once hosted a small nation’s worth of rail infrastructure, connecting with the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal and the Williamsburg waterfront tracks. Most of the internal Navy Yard rail, as far as I can tell, seemed to be about transporting materials from shore to ship and from place to place within the facility. I am no expert on this subject, so take a grain of salt with that statement, and click on the “” link below for the whole story.

Cryptically referred to as “Structure 713,” this railroad float bridge actually received a look, around a decade ago, from my pal John McCluskey – check his 2006 shots out here.


This float bridge was modified somewhat in 1983, when the overhead supported dual spans seen in the image above were replaced with a pontoon supported float bridge. Actually, there were two pontoon supported float bridges installed.

The first pontoon supported float bridge was a through plate girder type, believed to have been floated over from the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad’s Hoboken, NJ facility. However, this float bridge developed an as yet undetermined conflict before being use, necessitating a replacement. It is understood, that the float bridge or pontoon was too wide to between the gantry foundations, but this is unconfirmed.

The second pontoon supported float bridge, a pony truss would be installed instead, and the plate girder would be abandoned next to the bulkhead to the left. This pony truss float bridge was taken from the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal’s North 9th Street location, following the closure of that facility in August 1983.

This float bridge was last used in 1995 by New York Cross Harbor RR for a subway car rebuilder that located to the Navy Yard.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once upon a time, there were many locations on the western coast of Long Island wherein a rail car might find a spot to board a boat and head to points north and west, but 20-30 years ago the “powers that be” decided to turn their backs on industry, and expensive equipment like this float bridge was just allowed to rust away. Rail tracks were wrenched away from the ground to make way for residential real estate development, an action played out all across the greater harbor, and not just in Brooklyn and Queens.


At the time of its construction, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was one of six such yards commissioned by the United States Navy. In its initial years, the Brooklyn Navy Yard functioned primarily as a depot for supplies, but during the early 19th century, it served as the Navy’s primary shipbuilding and repair facility. Shipbuilding activity increased during the War of 1812, when the yard fitted out more than 100 naval vessels. During the mid-19th century, the growth of shipping and port activities in New York City further enhanced the Navy Yard’s development. During the Civil War, the Navy Yard served as a key depot for the distribution of stores and supplies to the Union fleet, and the Naval Laboratory prepared most of the medicines used by the Union Navy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in prior posts, your humble narrator attends a lot of meetings and presentations which are offered by the modern day “powers that be.” Other than their enormous affection for bicycling and an epic level of hubris, one of the topics often bemoaned by the planners and pundits is the inability suffered by modern industry to move their goods about by any means other than automotive truck. Serious investment in rail, and particularly rail to barge transportation, is something they’ll often mention as a curative for the congested nature of area roads.


The origins of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, officially known as the New York Naval Shipyard, date back to 1801, when the United States Navy acquired what had previously been a small, privately owned shipyard in order to construct naval vessels. Historic vessels constructed or launched at the Navy Yard include Robert Fulton’s steam frigate, the Fulton, the USS Arizona, the USS Missouri, and the USS Antietam. During the Civil War, the Navy Yard employed about 6,000 people. By 1938, it provided jobs for over 10,000 people. When the Defense Department ceased shipbuilding activities at the Navy Yard in 1966, 88 vessels had been manufactured at the facility. It had also grown to encompass 291 acres with 270 major buildings, 24 miles of railroad tracks, 23,278 linear feet of crane tracks, 18 miles of paved roads, 16,495 feet of berthing space, 9 piers, 6 dry docks, and 22 shops housing 98 different trades. In 1967, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was acquired by the City of New York and was converted for private commercial use.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In modern times, the Navy Yard is run by a private entity, one which has embraced a somewhat asymmetrical viewpoint on how to best utilize the property. Movie production houses like Steiner Studios, warehousing businesses like BH Photo, even an urban farm operation are found within the gates of the Navy Yard. The friend who got me in through the security check has a small venture here, one which I’m going to describe in a future post at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) are preparing a NEPA Tier I Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate alternatives to improve the movement of goods in the region by enhancing the transportation of freight across New York Harbor. Given the existing freight movement system, forecasted increases in demand translate directly into increased truck traffic in the freight distribution network. The region’s ability to serve its markets is increasingly threatened by its heavy reliance on trucking goods over an ageing and congested roadway network, while non-highway freight modes, particularly rail and waterborne, remain underdeveloped and underutilized.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 21, 2014 at 8:39 am

3 Responses

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  1. You are one of the very few Americans to mention the war of 1812. Not surprisingly, I’ve heard a few Canadians reference it.
    Love the abandoned stuff…….. more please.


    January 21, 2014 at 5:32 pm

  2. […] Red Hook all the way to Astoria Park with just a few interruptions offered by obstacles like the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and certain unpleasantries – such NYCHA housing projects or Newtown […]

  3. […] a January 2014 visit to Brooklyn Navy Yard, he came across this industrial relic, an abandoned rail transfer bridge on Wallabout Channel that faces north towards Williamsburg […]

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