The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for August 10th, 2017

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It’s National Banana Split Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Borden Avenue, where it crosses the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek nearby 27th street in LIC, was originally built in the 1860’s as a raised plank (or corduroy) road for pack animals and wagons. It was constructed to create a pathway between Maspeth, where the Borden dairy people would have been found, and the East River docks at Hunters Point. Accounts of the journey describe clouds of mosquitos rising from the swampy wetlands surrounding it that were reminiscent of smoke rising from camp fires, and the swarms of blood suckers would feast on the oxen, mules, and horses pulling the wagons. When the drivers would arrive at the section of the hill leading towards Maspeth nearby Calvary Cemetery, their practice was to stop and wipe away the wriggling gray sweater their pack animals had accrued. First hand reports describe the animals as being covered in a sheen of blood.

There’s a reason our ancestors paved over everything, y’know.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This street called Borden Avenue mirrors the pathway of the Lower Montauk Branch of the Long Island Railroad, found a couple of thousand feet to the south. As the mercantile era gave way to the second industrial revolution, and LIC became colloquially known as “America’s Workshop” the concurrence of waterborn shipping (via Dutch Kills), the easy availability of rail sidings, and a booming population of sharp elbowed immigrant labor pouring off of transatlantic boats into Manhattan daily saw massive investments by manufacturing and warehousing interests occur along the street.

Borden Avenue was raised and paved, the swamps filled in, and enormous concrete structures were erected.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the 1930’s, as the age of the automobile and it’s great proponent – Robert Moses – dawned, the highway truss pictured above was built. It soars 106 feet over Dutch Kills, and comes to ground at a vehicle tunnel which allows access into Manhattan. This “Long Island Expressway” and “Queens Midtown Tunnel” complex had a blighting effect, due to foot and vehicle traffic no longer using local streets, and effectively cut industrial LIC in half. Just to the north of Borden Avenue is 51st avenue, which is permanently shadowed by the high flying steel of the truss bridge. Further north are another set of rail tracks – the LIRR main line, and the cylcopean Sunnyside Yards – which further isolate it. The tunnel and highway officially opened in 1940.

I’ve long called 51st avenue the “empty corridor.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One could sing his usual song about the lost history of the empty corridor. Charles Pratt’s varnish works, Blanchard’s fireproof windows and doors, Battleaxe Gleason handing out the contract for fire hydrants to his brother who installed water pipes too narrow to carry a meaningful amount of liquid for firefighters to use… it goes on and on.

On an empty lot, which had once housed a factory that manufactured “lucifers” or as we would call them – books of matches – some unknown entity has planted a garden.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As I’ve mentioned before, sunflowers freak me out due to early childhood experiences with their bee addled faces. Brrr.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Untenanted occupancy, and it’s evidence, is still quite apparent in the empty corridor. I hear rumors about who, or what, may be living back here – but it’s best if the general population continues to believe that they’re just rumors.


Upcoming Tours and events

Brooklyn Waterfront Boat Tour, with Working Harbor Committee – Saturday August 12th, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Explore the coastline of Brooklyn from Newtown Creek to Sunset Park, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman, Andrew Gustafson of Turnstile Tours, and Gordon Cooper of Working Harbor Committee on the narrating about Brooklyn’s industrial past and rapidly changing present. details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – Sunday August 13th, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Two Newtown Creek Boat Tours, with Newtown Creek Alliance and Open House NY – Wednesday August 16th, 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek are home to the densest collection of these garbage facilities anywhere in the city and collectively, the waste transfer stations around and along Newtown Creek handle almost 40% of the waste that moves through New York. Join Newtown Creek Alliance’s Mitch Waxman and Willis Elkins  to learn about the ongoing efforts to address the environmental burden that this “clustering” has caused. details here.

DUPBO Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with NYCH20 – Thursday August 24th, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Explore Greenpoint and Hunters Point, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 10, 2017 at 1:00 pm

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