The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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The empty corridor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Borden Avenue, or at least the section of it pictured in today’s post, was officially designated as such in 1868, after an engineered “plank road” was erected through the swampy low lands surrounding the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. It was primarily designed as a commercial corridor, connecting the upland farms and dairies of Maspeth and Woodside with the docks in Hunters Point at the East River. Borden… Borden Milk… Roads were named for where they went back then.

The wetlands of Dutch Kills were filled in at the start of the 20th century, and the railroad took advantage of all the new dry land to hurl spurs out to the various industrial buildings which were erected on the reclaimed flatlands. LIRR still crosses Borden Avenue several times a day at street grade, about a mile west of where these shots were gathered.

The Long Island Expressway truss defines the section of Borden between Greenpoint Avenue and Review Avenue, and the blighted area beneath it is something I refer to as the “Empty Corridor.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills itself was rendered into its current form and course at the start of the 20th century, shortly after NYC consolidation in 1898. A huge land reclamation project was being conducted by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company – the creation of the Sunnyside Yards – was occurring about a half mile to the north and west and a construction magnate named Michael Degnon began buying up the wetlands surrounding Dutch Kills from the estate of a former Governor of New York State. Degnon used excavated fill from another one of his projects – the East River subway tunnel which carries the modern day 7 line train – to create dry land around Dutch Kills. Concurrently, the United States Army Corps of Engineers was busy creating industrial bulk heads and “canalizing” the entire Newtown Creek and its tributaries.

That’s the Borden Avenue Bridge pictured, the existing version of which was erected in 1908. It’s not the first Borden Avenue Bridge, but it’s the one that’s stood the test of time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While all this tumult and “terraforming” was going on, the Long Island Railroad was investing in the LIC area as well. The Lower Montauk trackage, as it’s known today, connects the Fresh Pond Yard with the East River along the northern shore of Newtown Creek. There are two railroad bridges spanning Dutch Kills. One is DB Cabin, a turnstile bridge which is still quite active but cannot turn or open, and it provides a direct track link between the Blissville and Wheelspur Yards on the lower montauk right of way. The other is Cabin M, which leads to the Montauk Cutoff elevated tracks that formerly connected to the LIRR Main Line tracks at the Sunnyside Yards. Before all this end of the world stuff started, MTA indicated it was going to demolish Cabin M. Somehow, I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon.

As I always say, despite the fact that I call it the “empty corridor” there’s quite a lot going on down here and lots of interesting things to see on a walk in LIC.

Also, on this day in NYC history: The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire occurred in 1911.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next couple of weeks at the start of the week of Monday, March 16th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“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.

One Response

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  1. While the rest of the world that is NYC adjusts to isolation and empty roads, the sight and experience of it are not new to me, nor Mitch. Always enjoy these. Nepenthe, indeed.

    Tommy Efreeti

    March 30, 2020 at 11:15 am


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