The Newtown Pentacle

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Dag, I really got my $2.75 worth out of this ferry ride, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Continuing my maiden voyage on the NYC Ferry’s new Soundview route, the boat left its (Manhattan) East 90th street dock and proceeded towards Hells Gate. This is a spot I often visit, but always from the landward side in Queens. Living in Astoria, a frequent destination when I’m out for a constitutional walk is Shore Road, which adjoins Astoria Park and provides commanding views of two bridges which I’m rather enamored with – the Triborough and Hell Gate. The former is just one part of a complex of automotive bridges built under the guidance of Robert Moses which opened in 1936. The latter is a rail bridge (OK, technically it’s a complex of bridges too) which opened in 1917, designed by Hornbostel and Lindenthal, and constructed by Carnegie’s American Bridge Company for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

Hells Gate is formerly the most treacherous section of the East River, due to whirlpools and strong currents which wrecked hundreds of ships during colonial and early republic times. Its name is an anglicization of the old Dutch “Hellegaat” which refers to “a bright passage.” The hazardous conditions in this section of the East River were caused by the topography of the riverbed beneath the water, a situation which was dealt with by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in several stages during the 19th century. The USACE efforts culminated with an 1885 detonation of mined explosives that broke up the riverbed, an explosion which was the largest intentional detonation in all of human history until the Hiroshima atomic bombing in 1945 (debate about certain WW1 military actions does exist on this topic, btw.)

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the Ferry moved northward towards its destination at the northern side of the Bowery Bay section of the river, we passed by the “Astoria Energy” power plant located on the forbidden northern shore of Queens. That nomen is one of my own little inventions, indicating the frustration a humble narrator often expresses when discussing the coastlines of the Borough. There’s a solid wall of “not allowed” secure sites along the shoreline, which is ultimately prosaic and appropriate, but still frustrating. You’ve got the power plant, then a sewer plant, then Rikers Island, and then LaGuardia Airport. The first time you might be able to get close enough to even see the water is at Flushing Bay.

Fingers crossed for an East Elmhurst or Flushing Ferry line, anyone?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve seen this POV a few times over the years, but it’s still pretty uncommon for me. That’s Randalls/Wards Island on the right, which used to be seperate islands until Mr. Moses made them one landmass as part of the Triborough project. Hells Gate and Triborough’s East River span are at center, and the former Politti Power Plant (which the Astoria Energy outfit now uses as its campus) are on the left.

More tomorrow, at your Newtown Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 27, 2019 at 2:00 pm

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