The Newtown Pentacle

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Neato Keen, bro.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One found himself riding a southbound NYC Ferry, uncharacteristically early one recent morning (I’m not a morning person), and as mentioned last week – I can’t resist the shot above and make sure I click out a couple of exposures of it every time I see it. The shot is from Wallabout Bay, where you’ll notice the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It looks across a somewhat peninsular section of Manhattan called Corlears Hook. According to Riis and other 19th century contemporaries, Corlears Hook was the absolute bottom of the barrel when it came to poverty, disease, and the other vagaries of NYC tenement life. Oddly enough, it’s where Washington lived (on Cherry Street) in his early days as the first President, and a couple of generations later Boss Tweed lived in the same house that Washington did. There used to be a Whyos connected gang that operated out of Corlears Hook called the Sewer Rats who practiced river piracy in the 1850’s, which causally forced the creation of NYPD’s Harbor Unit. Later on, when the Williamsburg Bridge opened in 1899, the Delancey Street corridor between the East River and the Bowery saw a huge influx of Jews move in, and right up until the Great Depression maps were being printed with a legend labeling the area as “Jewtown” and or “The Ghetto.” Go figure.

To modernity, it’s known simply as the Lower East Side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wallabout Creek and Bay used to be called “Hennegackonck” by the locals before the Europeans showed up and started renaming everything. French speaking Walloons, that’s who settled here, and they were supposedly the first of the foreign newcomers to settle on Long Island. I’ve always had a hard time believing that one, personally, but “officially” that’s the story.

Wallabout Creek was the official border between the City of Brooklyn and the Bosjwick colonies to the north, which were separated from each other by a boggy swamp called the Cripplebush and from the Newtown colonies in modern day Queens by Newtown Creek and its tributaries. By the end of the 19th century, Brooklyn had absorbed the Bosjwick – or Bushwick – municipalities of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Bushwick and had expanded to its modern dimension. The Cripplebush was long filled in by this point.

The Wallabout Creek is just on the other side of that pier you see in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a concrete company which operates out of this pier in the Navy Yard, one which receives its working material by maritime delivery. You’ll often spy heavy cargo boats docked here while hundreds of tons of gravel and other aggregate materials are unloaded from them and onto the pier for processing.

Truth be told, I was fascinated by the distinct colors of the various rock piles, and the clearly delineated lines between them. I also find the cyclopean scale of the operation absolutely and totally interesting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The particular NYC Ferry line I was riding on was the Astoria one, heading for Lower Manhattan. They’ve recently added a Brooklyn Navy Yard stop to this line, which I’ve heard some grousing about online since it incurs an additional ten minutes onto the journey from Hallets Point in Queens to Pier 11 in Manhattan. Me? I’m just happy to now have the Navy Yard as part of my regular rounds.

It was always a pain in the neck to get in here, and has always been “catch as catch can.” During the First and Second World Wars, waving a camera around in Wallabout Bay while onboard a boat could have gotten you shot dead by the Marines guarding the place. Back then, the Williamsburg Bridge had wooden panels set up on the side facing the Navy Yard so that spies and saboteurs couldn’t observe military ships being built.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Although the Brooklyn Navy Yard doesn’t play the same role it used to doesn’t mean that you don’t get to see interesting vessels here. There are still operational dry docks, and the military still puts in here occasionally. The white hull vessel at the left edge of the shot above is the United States Navy’s “Pathfinder,” and the “Cape Ann” is a former privately held cargo ship (SS African Mercury, built 1962) which went to the MARAD Ready Reserve Force in 1980, and then was reassigned to be a part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet in 2002. It’s normally found on the James River in Virginia, so it must be in Brooklyn for a refitting or some other sort of service.

Maybe it needs its oil changed, or something.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just before entering into the Navy Yard, I spotted the MV Hunts Point sludge boat at the equivalent of Manhattan’s 23rd street, plying the East River.

Sludge Boat, baby, sludge boat.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 26, 2019 at 1:00 pm

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