The Newtown Pentacle

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A bit of the Newtown Creek which I’ve oddly enough never shown you – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a bunch of streets around the Newtown Creek which are cul-de-sacs, as in there’s only only way in and one way out. One of these cul-de-sacs in Queens is just beyond “Deadman’s Curve” in industrial Maspeth, on the LIRR Lower Montauk Branch tracks, which these days are freight only. The street is either called 57th Avenue or Galasso Place, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s a private or public way. The property to the south, I’ve always been told, belongs to the Galasso Trucking people, but I can’t pronounce that for certain.

If I was trespassing, I can’t say or not.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a rail spur that leads off of the Montauk Line on the rail bed, and the roadway to the north – Rust Street – follows the ancient property line of the LIRR tracks. I always say that when you find a street that exhibits a long arcing curve, you’ve found a relict of the locomotive city.

The 20th century “automotive city’s” streets follow straight lines, the 19th century’s “locomotive city’s” are all parabolas.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is looking back to the west where you can see the old spur leaving the main Lower Montauk tracks. That’s the end of “Deadman’s Curve” you’re looking at. It’s called that because of “The Berlinville Railway Disaster,” and because laborers at Phelps Dodge used to run across the tracks here, and once upon a time, this was a VERY busy rail center that saw long freight trains moving back and forth between Long Island City and points east.

Lots and lots of people got killed during the dash across the tracks, but they were willing to take their chances rather than clock in a minute late and lose an entire hour of pay.

– fire insurance map from Belcher Hyde “Newtown, 1916” 

As you can see in the 1916 map above, which is a fire insurance map, the shoreline of this area was VERY different a century ago than it is today, and the only thing which hasn’t changed one little bit is the pathway of the Lower Montauk Branch tracks. There’s nowhere near the number of rail spurs there used to be of course, but then again there’s nowhere even close to the amount of industry present that there was back then.

Modern day 57th avenue corresponds to “Creek Street (Hanover Avenue)and these shots were gathered in the region which once hosted the now demapped Berlin Avenue back to Munich Street. That’s the 19th century street grid you’re looking at, lords and ladies, before the United States Army Corps of Engineers did their thing to the shorelines and bulkheads of Newtown Creek during the First World War.


– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just beyond the property between the 57th avenue and the water is Newtown Creek’s intersection with its tributary Maspeth Creek. I couldn’t resist focusing in on this banged up construction equipment, incidentally. It’s a weakness of mine, can’t resist this sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were a few pieces of such heavy equipment laying around back here, all exhibiting broken windows. This is one of the most out of the way and remote spots in Western Queens… can’t imagine somebody coming here to just vandalize the odd machine, it’s weird.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was quite a bit of construction debris in the area visible from the road.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the spot at which I might have stepped off the public way, or not? 57th avenue had a bit of sewer work going on at the unfinished and unpaved end, which terminated at a barbed wire fence. It seemed as if this fenceline was the western side of the plot occupied by a plumbing supply company which borders most of the length of Maspeth Creek whose street entrance is found on 49th street, but I could be wrong.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The rail spur actually had a chain link fence built over it, which was kind of interesting for a couple of reasons. Partially, it was because the rest of the fence is pretty much gone.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If I’m reading the old maps correctly, this entire area – about half of the length of 57th avenue – is the former footprint of National Enameling and Stamping company, as you’ll notice in the map above. There was all sorts of nasty happening along this stretch a century back, including a phosphates works.

For those of you not in the know, a phosphate mill was in the fertilizer and gunpowder business, and in the business of mining nitrogen out of manure and animal carcasses. It was considered a “low” profession, as the workers in this sort of industry picked up a horrible stink from particulates that became embedded into their skin, and you couldn’t bathe it out nor perfume it away.

A lot of Union supporters found their jobs at more attractive industrial occupations dry up after they announced their intentions to organize, and phosphate mills ended up being their only option. They were called “stinkers,” and weren’t allowed into saloons or church due to the reek. Nobody would want to associate with them, lest they share their fate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now, as to the reason why you don’t see many posts from a humble narrator exploring the cul-de-sacs around the Newtown Creek. The simple reason is that I’m on foot, rather than vehicle or bicycle. If something goes wrong back here – whether it be guard dogs or somebody offended at the idea of a photographer wandering through, I’m hosed. There are places along the Creek in which you want to tread softly, this is one of them.

Could you explain to a 911 operator where you were, if you break a bone or get chewed on by a Rottweiler, on what was formerly Creek Street?

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 7, 2016 at 11:00 am

5 Responses

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  1. Fascinating. Always something new and informative from Mitch Waxman,

    georgetheatheist . . . appreciatively appreciative

    March 7, 2016 at 11:37 am

  2. PS Why the German monikers: Berlin, Munich, Bremen, Hanover in that particular area?

    georgetheatheist . . . appreciatively appreciative

    March 7, 2016 at 11:40 am

    • You know how I always refer to the area east of Calvary as “Berlin?”

      Mitch Waxman

      March 7, 2016 at 12:51 pm

      • Yes, but WHY those names? Any clue?

        georgetheatheist . . . appreciatively appreciative

        March 7, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      • They were Duetche, and named the streets for their home country. It’s topped being “Berlin” about 1917, and became West Maspeth instead. When the City renamed all the streets and avenues in Queens to conform to the Philadelphia plan (streets north south and avenues east west) it was all lost except in areas like Sunnyside where Locust, Bliss, and so on were remembered and embraced.

        Mitch Waxman

        March 7, 2016 at 1:03 pm


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