The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

out into

with one comment

The Ninth Street Bridge, over the Gowanus Canal, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Yesterday, the Hamilton Avenue drawbridge which provides entry to and from the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn was described. Last Sunday, a humble narrator found his way on to an Open House NY boat trip to the troubled waterway, which penetrated as far back as the Fifth Street Basin.


This lift bridge replaced a bascule span that was in an advanced state of deterioration. The current structure provides an improved wider channel in the canal for unobstructed vessel passage. The bridge has state-of-the-art, electronically-controlled lifting machinery that should provide 50 years of reliable service. The bridge carries 3 lanes of traffic; 2 lanes westbound and 1 eastbound.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Special attention was paid to the opening and closing of the two drawbridges encountered. There are five movable bridges over the Gowanus, as well as two static ones.

There’s actually two bridges in these shots, as the Ninth Street Bridge is overflown by the Smith 9th Street Subway station viaduct.

from wikipedia

The opaqueness of the Gowanus water obstructs sunlight to one third of the six feet needed for aquatic plant growth. Rising gas bubbles betray the decomposition of sewage sludge that on a warm, sultry day produces the canal’s notable ripe stench. The murky depths of the canal conceal the remnants of its industrial past: cement, oil, mercury, lead, multiple volatile organic compounds,[10] PCBs, coal tar, and other contaminants. A 2007 Science Line report found gonorrhea  and unidentified organisms in the canal. In 1951, with the opening of the elevated Gowanus Expressway over the waterway, easy access for trucks and cars catalyzed industry slightly, but with 150,000 vehicles passing overhead each day, the expressway also deposits tons of toxic emissions into the air and water beneath.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Ninth Street span is a lift bridge, which replaced a failing drawbridge that occupied this spot for decades. The construction of all this gear was pretty recent.


Reconstruction included demolition, removal and disposal of existing rolling leaf bascule bridge superstructure, machinery and controls, piers and abutments. Construction of new lift bridge included superstructure, machinery, control house, fender system, piers and abutments. Twenty stepped diameter caissons were installed to rock depths of up to 180 feet. All work had to be performed beneath existing NYCT elevated structure requiring temporary support of existing columns.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was pretty exciting seeing the roadway just take off and start rising. The operation was nowhere near as noisy as I would have thought, but then again, I was on an idling ferry boat and the sounds of the nearby Gowanus Expressway really travel across this former floodplain.


There are five east–west bridge crossings over the canal, at Union Street, Carroll Street, Third Street, Ninth Street, and Hamilton Avenue. The Gowanus Expressway and the Culver Line of the New York City Subway pass overhead. The canal is located in a mixed residential-commercial-industrial area, and it borders several residential neighborhoods, including Gowanus, Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Red Hook. The waterfront properties abutting the canal are primarily commercial and industrial.

Environmental sampling performed before this RI revealed that the sediments throughout the Gowanus Canal are contaminated with a variety of pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and heavy metals (USACE, 2004, 2006; GEI, 2007). No environmental remediation activities have been performed to date.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Self confessed and avowed as an infrastructure freak, seeing the cable mechanisms climbing the towers was actually kind of thrilling. This is the sort of thing you normally observe from the landward side.

from wikipedia

A vertical-lift bridge or lift bridge is a type of movable bridge in which a span rises vertically while remaining parallel with the deck.

The vertical lift offers several benefits over other movable bridges such as the bascule and swing-span bridge. Generally speaking they cost less to build for longer moveable spans. The counterweights in a vertical lift are only required to be equal to the weight of the deck, whereas bascule bridge counterweights must weigh several times as much as the span being lifted. As a result, heavier materials can be used in the deck, and so this type of bridge is especially suited for heavy railroad use.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brooklyn kid that I once was, one has imagined it would be great fun to ride the roadway of one of these lift bridges as it ascended. Turns out that would be foolhardy in the extreme, as the actual tonnages and pressures being levered around are positively cyclopean and could easily squish a man flat.

Last year, in East Boston, one of these lift bridges actually ate somebody.


Police say the woman was crossing the Meridian Street Bridge, which spans East Boston and Chelsea, at about 12:21 p.m. Tuesday. As she started across, the lift operator opened the bridge so a boat could pass beneath the span, the Boston Globe reported.

The movement jolted the unidentified woman off her feet, leaving her hanging from one open end of the bridge, cops say. The woman began screaming for help and the operator, cops say, closed the span in response. Instead of helping, the woman was crushed to death between the massive steel plates.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For some reason, the NYC DOT is rather vague about certain things.

Once upon a time, they’d brag to anybody that would listen about how many thousands of times a drawbridge opened or closed, citing the smooth exchange of maritime and vehicular traffic streams as a proof of public monies being well invested. These days, they proudly proclaim automotive traffic numbers, as in this 2010 report which describes the Ninth Street Lift Bridge as having allowed some 13,362 toll free automotive crossings.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

May of 1910 saw a true conflagration right around here. A 4 alarm fire erupted at the Cranford Company, immolating oil and gasoline tanks, which drew the attentions of both terrestrial and maritime firefighter. Check out the NY Times piece below for all the sordid details. The losses are described as $150,000, which would be around $3,695,387.30 today.

from at

Firemen from engine companies responding to four alarms and the members of three fireboat companies last night fought a blaze which completely destroyed the building of the Cranford Company, contractors in asphalt and tar work, at Ninth Street and the Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As far as I’ve been able to dope out, the spot that this Ninth Street Bridge occupies is in the vicinity of where the colonial era “Cole’s Mill” was located. A mill and mill pond supposedly built by John Rapelye and an army of slaves out of the aboriginal marshlands, it then came into the possession of a fellow named Jordan Cole – hence “Cole’s Mill.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

More recently, roughly a century ago, we’d be enjoying a nice view of the Tartar Chemical Company’s works.

Tartar is something that most modern people would associate with a sauce used on fried fish, but it was one of the wonder chemicals of the 19th century. Essentially, the Tartar Chemical works were an acid factory.

from 1909’s “Contributions From The Sanitary Research Laboratory And Sewage Experiment Station,” courtesy google books

The upper part of the canal is badly polluted by sewage. At the lower end the pollution is largely industrial wastes mixed with more or less sewage.

As a rule the amount of nitrogen present varies directly with the amount of sewage. The other constituents of sewage vary with the nitrogen. Therefore when the nitrogen is greatly increased without a corresponding increase in the other sewage substances it is an indication of industrial wastes. This is exactly what happens in that portion of the canal opposite the Tartar Chemical Company. On talking with one of their employees, we learned that crude argol is digested with sulphuric acid, and that the waste product is an acid sludge running high in sulphates and nitrogen.

In the first series below, Ninth Street the oxygen consumed curve went up rapidly. In the second series the curve had a downward tendency. The starch factory, not running on Sunday, had no waste to discharge at that time. The abnormal values for the oxygen consumed are probably due to gluten in the wastes discharged by the starch factory.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Three out of five down. Guess that we’re heading over to Third Street, on foot this time, in tomorrow’s post.

from wikipedia

Tartaric acid and its derivatives have a plethora of uses in the field of pharmaceuticals. For example, tartaric acid has been used in the production of effervescent salts, in combination with citric acid, in order to improve the taste of oral medications. The potassium antimonyl derivative of the acid known as tartar emetic is included, in small doses, in cough syrup as an expectorant.

Tartaric acid also has several applications for industrial use. The acid has been observed to chelate metal ions such as calcium and magnesium. Therefore, the acid has served in the farming and metal industries as a chelating agent for complexing micronutrients in soil fertilizer and for cleaning metal surfaces consisting of aluminum, copper, iron, and alloys of these metals, respectively.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

There’s a Newtown Creek walking tour, and a Magic Lantern show, coming up.

Saturday, June 7th, 13 Steps around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura.
Click here for tickets and more info.

Wednesday, June 11th, Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show with Brooklyn Brainery.
Click here for tickets and more info.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 5, 2014 at 11:00 am

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] Beloved Creek has recently let a humble narrator know that she knows about several summertime visits I’ve paid to the Gowanus, and she’s pissed at me. I tell her that it’s unnatural […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: