The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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Creek week continues, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As promised in yesterday’s post, a different perspective on the Creek is offered today. For the last few days, we’ve been on the DEP property in Greenpoint, and a birds eye perpective on DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp – was offered. In today’s post, the POV is from onboard a NY Water Taxi, and it’s the English Kills Tributary of the larger Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, as seen from the turning basin adjoining it, looking east towards Bushwick and East Williamsburg. I call this spot DUMABO – Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp. In colonial times, this was traditionally the demarcation point between fresh and brackish water on the Creek, but back then English Kills was fed by dozens of upland streams and springs. The water bubbling up out of the earth up on the hills of Ridgewood and Bushwick are part of what drew the Germans out here, and a lot of them – like the Ulmers – were involved in the beer business.

The beer guys, who do the holy work of delivering sacrament to bars and bodegas, are still in the area but there’s mainly micro brew hipster stuff going on these days and it’s fed by the DEP’s croton water system rather than ground water. The big guys like Budweiser – pictured above – ship their product in from elsewhere. There’s a pretty big beer distributor nearby on Grand Street, whose warehouse backs up on English Kills, and that Bud Light truck is likely heading there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also on Brooklyn’s Grand Street is the former Charles J. King recycling company, which seems to have recently changed ownership. Luckily, the new owners continue to exploit their maritime bulkheads to ship their product out of the area, rather than truck it out. The sections of Brooklyn and Queens surrounding the eastern sector of the Newtown Creek have some of the highest concentrations of heavy truck traffic in the entire City of New York.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the NYC DOT’s Grand Street swing bridge in the shot above, a 1909 relic of the days when Tammany Hall came to Newtown Creek shortly after the consolidation of the City of Greater New York in 1898. It’s the titular ornamentation signifying the positioning of the currently undefended legal border of Brooklyn and Queens. On the Queens side of the bridge, Grand Street becomes Grand Avenue, which travels through Maspeth and several other communities. Despite a few interruptions in its path introduced by Robert Moses, Grand Avenue eventually enters Astoria and becomes 30th avenue which heads all the way down to the East River near Halletts Cove.

Of course – on the Brooklyn side – Grand Street more or less connects to the East River in Williamsburg.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Brooklyn side concrete company pictured above, called Empire Transit Mix, is sited on what was once called Furman Island. There used to be two islands found in the neighborhood of Maspeth Avenue, with the smaller one known as Mussel Island. Mussel was dredged away in the WW1 era, and its spoils were used to connect Furman Island to Brooklyn. This netted Brooklyn a bit of additional land mass and supposedly increased its legislative delegations by one seat.

Furman Island is the former home of Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory, Martin Kalbfleisch’s Acid and Chemical works, and Conrad Wissel’s Night Soil and Offal dock.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The area where the Newtown Creek widens out is referred to as “the Turning Basin” and it’s where you’ll find the National Grid company’s LNG facility, which sits on a former Manufactured Gas Plant which was operated by the Brooklyn Union Gas Company. There’s a lake of coal tar under the National Grid property, and a wall of the stuff clinging to their property in the water.

As a note, I have made multiple attempts to formally visit the National Grid site, using institutional means. Polity and smarmy conviviality have been met with a brick wall of denial of entry. Every attempt to learn what goes on there has been met with obfuscation and a cry of “Homeland Security.” It’s a “no cameras” zone, National Grid says. It’s a “Marsec 1” zone, National Grid says.

It’s visible from above, via the Kosciuszcko Bridge, and from the water, and from the street sides – say I. I’ve got long zoom lenses, as well. I’ve also got access to documentation on the place via the environmental review process, State DEC oversight, and the Superfund investigations.

One wonders what they’re hiding back in there. I’ll find out over the course of time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Kosciuszcko Bridge, at the western end of the turning basin, you’ll find the 1939 span and the replacement span which the State DOT is currently working on.

These shots were captured just last week while onboard a pair of sold out Open House NY tours of the Newtown Creek which I conducted with my colleague T. Willis Elkins from Newtown Creek Alliance. My practice on these tours is to narrate the excursion – discussing the past – in from the East River to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, then hand the microphone over to Willis – who discusses the future.

While he’s talking, one grabs the camera and gets busy.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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