The Newtown Pentacle

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DUMABO- Down under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp

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Click here to see a Google Map of the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

Once called the Masters’ Bridge, which carried cart and wagon across the 19th century’s Jamaica Turnpike, modernity knows this crossing over the English Kills as the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge.

It lurks on Metropolitan Avenue- between Vandervoort and Varick Avenues in East Williamsburg– Brooklyn. The bridge carries a two-way vehicular roadway with sidewalks, and is a double leaf bascule type bridge erected in 1931, rehabilitated and modernized in 1976, and it received several upgrades in 1992 and 2006.


When the Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike Road was built during 1813-14, Stephen B. and Samuel MASTERS’ operated the Turnpike. under a lease for about twenty years, the toll gate stood near their mill and bridge. MASTERS’ Bridge is replaced by the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge on the old site. When the Brooklyn and Newtown Turnpike Road was built, the toll gate on the Jamaica Road was moved a little further east, to the point where the two roads crossed, Metropolitan and Flushing Avenues at East Williamsburgh in Queens County. The toll gate on the Brooklyn and Newtown Turnpike stood at the same period, about 1857, at Flushing and Knickerbocker Avenues.
Along Newtown Creek, at the junction of Metropolitan Avenue and Grand Street, was a white sandy beach, no building nearby but three boathouses. One of these was occupied by; Captain JACKSON, whose daughter was an expert swimmer, another by old Captain JAKE.
Lafayettes, eels & shedder crabs, were plentiful here and black mussels, used for bait could be picked up in any quantity.


Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Over English Kills
Metropolitan Avenue is a two-way local City street in Kings and Queens Counties. The number of lanes varies from two to four along the entire length of Metropolitan Avenue, which runs east-west and extends from River Street in the Southside section of Brooklyn to Jamaica Avenue in Queens. The bridge, the only one over English Kills, carries both Metropolitan Avenue and Grand Street. The bridge is situated between Vandervoort and Varick Avenues in the East Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The Metropolitan Avenue Bridge is a double leaf bascule bridge with a span of 33.8 m. The general appearance of the bridge has been significantly changed since it was opened in 1931. The bridge provides a channel with a horizontal clearance of 26.2 m and a vertical clearance, in the closed position, of 3.0 m at MHW and 4.6 m at MLW. The bridge structure carries a four-lane two-way vehicular roadway with sidewalks on either side. The roadway width is 16.2 m and the sidewalks are 1.8 m. There are no height restrictions on the bridge.
After the City acquired Metropolitan Avenue from the Williamsburg and Jamaica Turnpike Road Company in 1872, the existing bridge was replaced by a swing bridge, which was also used by the Broadway Ferry and Metropolitan Avenue Railroad Company. Growth in the area made the bridge inadequate by the early 20th century. The current bridge was built in 1931. Modifications since then have included upgrading the mechanical and electrical systems and the replacement of deck, bridge rail, and fenders. The stringers were replaced and new stiffeners added in 1992.

Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Over English Kills

Metropolitan Avenue is a two-way local City street in Kings and Queens Counties. The number of lanes varies from two to four along the entire length of Metropolitan Avenue, which runs east-west and extends from River Street in the Southside section of Brooklyn to Jamaica Avenue in Queens. The bridge, the only one over English Kills, carries both Metropolitan Avenue and Grand Street. The bridge is situated between Vandervoort and Varick Avenues in the East Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The Metropolitan Avenue Bridge is a double leaf bascule bridge with a span of 33.8 m. The general appearance of the bridge has been significantly changed since it was opened in 1931. The bridge provides a channel with a horizontal clearance of 26.2 m and a vertical clearance, in the closed position, of 3.0 m at MHW and 4.6 m at MLW. The bridge structure carries a four-lane two-way vehicular roadway with sidewalks on either side. The roadway width is 16.2 m and the sidewalks are 1.8 m. There are no height restrictions on the bridge.

After the City acquired Metropolitan Avenue from the Williamsburg and Jamaica Turnpike Road Company in 1872, the existing bridge was replaced by a swing bridge, which was also used by the Broadway Ferry and Metropolitan Avenue Railroad Company. Growth in the area made the bridge inadequate by the early 20th century. The current bridge was built in 1931. Modifications since then have included upgrading the mechanical and electrical systems and the replacement of deck, bridge rail, and fenders. The stringers were replaced and new stiffeners added in 1992.

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Gears – photo by Mitch Waxman

It is, ultimately, the olfactory senses which will allow you to locate this structure amidst the industrial tangle that surrounds the English Kills. The heart of darkness, those waters which stand stagnant here return an oxygenation rate near or at zero, and can measure up to 10 degrees (celsius) higher in temperature than atmospheric conditions would predict. It is close to the bitter ending of the Newtown Creek watershed, the 3.4 mile mark, and only gelatinous horrors extend beyond the bridge- as English Kills winds into the wildest parts of legend haunted and anciently decadent Dutch Brooklyn.

from Brooklyn Eagle, April 30, 1885, courtesy

Of the 600,000 residents of Brooklyn whose happy lot it is to live south of the little shallow basin that once was known as Bushwick Creek it is not an extravagant estimate to say that quite 85 percent of them have an indifferent idea of the all but putrescent stream, navigable and the center of important industrial interests, which bounds the northern limits of the city – a stream often mentioned in the Eagle under the name of Newtown Creek. There was a time, and that within the recollection of men of middle age, when this creek, the waters of which are today poisoned with the overflow of the waste which comes from the great chemical and other works that line its bank, was the home of fish of diverse forms and flavors. It was the resort of those who delighted in placatorial recreations and rarely were those who cast their lines in its pure waters disappointed of a goodly catch. It had peculiar attractions in this respect. While the creek for nearly three miles inland was a sort of paradise for fish of the ocean kind, above that point the brooks were inhabited by freshwater creatures, a tradition being held by many of the oldest inhabitants that trout of orthodox size and weight once sported in the cool pools that were formed by the outflowings of the springs near Tarquand’s school house. Now, nor for the past two decades, not an inhabitant of the deep is there to be found in it from source to estuary.








(718) 388-0008




English Kill

Miles from Mouth:




Used by:




Max. Span:



1 – 53′ 0″


2 – 5′ 8″

Construction Cost:


Land Cost:


Total Cost:


Date Opened:

Mar. 27, 1933













Vessel Openings












Test Openings












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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Gears – photo by Mitch Waxman

Like the mighty Greenpoint Avenue (or J.J. Byrne Memorial Bridge) drawbridge before it, the titan gears of the bridge reveal themselves to the intrepid photographer when a hidden bascule mechanism is triggered by the manned post and the crossing blossoms open. Redoubtable, the tireless operators of the Newtown Creek bridges are always at the ready to allow a ship egress to the navigable extants of this fabled waterway that are the ruins of an untold and forgotten world. Once, there was more ship traffic in this place than on the Mississippi.

from New York

The four-lane Metropolitan Avenue Bridge over the English Kills, an industrial waterway in Brooklyn’s East Williamsburg neighborhood, carries 36,000 cars and trucks daily. Meanwhile, maritime traffic on the waterway below calls for opening the span once a day on average, though during winter months, when ships laden with heating oil are steaming up and down the English Kills, the span opens multiple times each day. The existing 1931 span had replaced another bridge on the site dating to the 19th Century.

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

People live down along the shoreline here, men with sin pitted faces that wear disgusting expressions indicating unknowable implications. Pitiful, they seem happy, with conveniences such as BBQ’s and collections of flyblown consumer goods cast off by the other spheres of existential reality surrounding them. One can often observe flocks of the higher orders of the avian specie who have mistaken the waters of English Kills for some welcome harbor- a respite from their migratory journeys.

from The History of Long Island, from Its Discovery and Settlement to the Present … By Benjamin Franklin Thompson, via google books

…The eastern portion of the town was known to the natives by the name of Wandowenock, while the western was called Mispat, or Maspeth, the latter being probably the appellation applied to a family or tribe of Indians, residing about the head of the creek, now called English Kills…

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

Grafitti along the bulkheads of this place absolutely mystifies me. In this occluded and distant ward of the Newtown Pentacle, who will see the scrawled missives rendered at the risk of total immersion in those blackened and still depths with their clawing mud bottoms? The thought of such a baptismal submergence fills your humble narrator with an unspeakable dread at what might emerge from such a font.

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

What effect does this place have on those outcasts and pariahs who maintain their semi nomadic lifestyle along the waterway (including myself, I suppose)? According to the EPA, several of the chemicals in abundant supply here are not just carcinogenic– but possibly mutagenic.

In 1917, this was the second busiest crossing between Brooklyn and Queens, with 10,944,525 crossings. That’s according to the NYTimes

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

An air of desolation hangs about the place, looking west. The colour is here in great patches, an irridescent shade of putrefaction which burns wet-hot thoughts into your mind if stared at for too long, and which calls you back to it- time and again. Once, this prime fishing territory and pristine exemplar of the aboriginal Long Island environment supported a vast woodland community, but all that remains is the weedy growth that stabs through winter shattered cement.

A discussion of the topographic and geologic qualities at Newtown Creek, its tributaries, and the logic governing both the height of the various bridges, and the according dredged depth of the soft bottom from google books

From the Annual report of the Secretary of War-‎ by United States. War Dept Volume 2, Part 1- 1893

…A revised estimate for the improvement was made in 1889 (Annual Report Chief of Engineers, 1889, Part I, p. 778), after the results obtained by the survey of January, 1889, bad been studied, and the cost was fixed at 8170,586.

In preparing the new project for the improvement it was kept in mind that the draft of vessels going above Vernon Avenue Bridge, where the most important wharves are located, was limited by the then available depth of water, and that many vessels had to be lightered at the bar to facilitate entrance at high tide, while those going out had to complete their cargoes after they reached the East Kiver. It was, therefore, thought best to provide for 21 feet from the entrance to Vernon Avenue Bridge, 18 feet to Central Oil Works, 15 feet to Queens County Oil Works, 12 feet to Nichols’s Chemical Works, and 10 feet to Metropolitan Avenue Bridge on both branches.

The bed of the creek below Veruon Avenue Bridge is variable in character below the plane of 18 feet, mean low water. Near the bar it is composed of sand or sand and clay mixed; but as the bridge is approached it g.’ows harder, like liardpan, and has large bowlders embedded in it. The creek has a very sluggish current, and where there are no bulkheads the deposits arising from the sewers and from the degradation of the soft and unstable banks cause obstructions to navigation, for which annual dredging is the only possible relief.

The river and harbor act of September 19,1890, appropriated $35,000 for continuing the improvement, and was applied throughout the main river, giving 21 feet at the entrance and 10 feet at the head of navigation. In the ” English Kills,” a northern branch of the river skirting Laurel Hill, a channel was made 700 feet long, 100 feet wide, and 10 feet deep, mean low water. The contract was closed August 24, 1891.

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

The tributary of the Newtown Creek which the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge crosses is called English Kills. Right next door to the Dutch Kills, and the Dutch town of Boswijk (Bushwick) this name speaks of a forgotten world of internecine European political warfare and New World land grabbing. Here’s how it came by that designation:

from The Eastern District of Brooklyn By Eugene L. Armbruster, via google books


In the olden times the lands on both sides of Newtown Creek were most intimately connected. County lines were unknown, the creeks were dividing lines between the several plantations, for the reason that lands near a creek were taken up in preference to others, and the creeks were used in place of roads to transport the produce of the farms to the river, and thus it was made possible to reach the fort on Manhattan Island.

The territory along the Newtown Creek, as far as “Old Calvary Cemetery” and along the East River to a point about where the river is now crossed by the Queensboro bridge and following the line of the bridge past the plaza, was known as Dutch Kills. On the other side of Old Calvary was a settlement of men from New England and, therefore, named English Kills. The Dutch Kills and the English Kills, as well as the rest of the out-plantations along the East River, were settlements politically independent of each other and subject only to the Director-General and Council at Manhattan Island, but became some time later parts of the town of Newtown.

Here’s why it’s called English Kills, from

HISTORY OF QUEENS COUNTY with illustrations, Portraits & Sketches of Prominent Families and Individuals.
New York: W.W. Munsell & Co.; 1882.

Captain Richard Betts, whose public services appear for fifty years on every page of Newtown’s history, came in 1648 to New England, but soon after to Newtown, where he acquired great influence. In the revolution of 1663 he bore a zealous part, and after the conquest of New Netherlands’ by the English was a member from Newtown of the provincial Assembly held at Hempstead in 1665. In 1678 he was commissioned high sheriff of “Yorkshire upon Long Island,” and he retained the position until 1681. He became a bitter opponent to Director Pieter Stuyvesant and the little town of Bushwick, which he had founded. Under leave from the governor the English settlers had planted their town, but were refused the usual patent, and in 1656 Richard Betts administered a severe blow to Stuyvesant by purchasing the land for himself and 55 associates, from the red men, at the rate of one shilling per acre. The total cost amounted to £68 16s. 4d., which, with the sum of £76 9s. paid to the sachems Pomwaukon and Rowerowestco, extinguished the Indian title to Newtown. For a long series of years Betts was a magistrate. During this time he was more than once a member of the high court of assize, then the supreme power in the province. He became an extensive landholder at the English Kills. His residence was here, in what is still known as “the old Betts house.”

It is further said that here within sight of his bedroom he dug his own grave, in his 100th year, and from the former to the latter he was carried in 1713. No headstone marks the grave, but its absence may be accounted for by the fact that his sons had become Quakers and abjured headstones. The old house which we may enter by lifting the wrought iron latch of heavy construction, worn by the hands of many generations; the polished flags around the old deep well, where the soldiers were wont to wash down their rations, are still as the British left them on their last march through Maspeth. This house is but one of several most ancient farm houses still carefully preserved for their antiquity, on the old Newtown road, between Calvary Cemetery and Maurice avenue. These venerable companions have witnessed many changes, and now enjoy a green old age, respected by the community in which they stand.

For more on the Betts family, click here.

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

Walking up Metropolitan Avenue, whose sidewalks are balustrated against the oncoming traffic, one sees the Bridge house- an uninspiring box clinging precipitously to the marshy shoreline. Heavy traffic is found on Metropolitan Avenue, and odd characters can be observed loping along in a characteristic New York “gangsta lean“. These men are area workers, vagrants, and neverdowells who can be seen lounging in crumbling doorways, around storefront churches or convenience shops, or seen congregating in tight circles down weed choked alleyways- which betray the characteristic aroma of… well, I did say weed choked. I’ve never had a negative encounter down here, but a sense of being out of one’s element does emerge.


The Metropolitan Avenue Bridge is in East Williamsburg and carries substantial bicycle commuter traffic, mostly of people living in the neighborhood going to and from work, but also of this writer (from home in Park Slope to work in College Point). This has merging and diverging traffic (Metropolitan Avenue and Grand Street) at either end and rough pavement at the east end. There is ample room for a bicycle lane in both directions. This and repaving the approaches, especially at the east end, is a worthwhile project for T.A.

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

The water quality here is awful, in my observation. Stagnant and debased, even the aeration project based across the bridge, with its massive techology and modern scientific approaches, can only alleviate the surface of the pollution problems here, at the English Kills.

The City of New York has plans for this area. Check out page 29 of this PDF

DEP proposes to construct a 9 million gallon CSO storage facility to improve water quality by reducing the CSO discharged into the English Kills during rain storms when the CSO exceeds the capacity of the combined sewers. When this occurs, the CSO would be bypassed to the storage facility.  At the end of the rain event the CSO would flow by gravity or be pumped back to the sewer system to be conveyed to the Newtown Creek Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP) for treatment.  This system was recommended by the Newtown Creek Water Quality Facility Planning Project (WQFP), a study that was part of the Citywide Combined Sewer Overflow abatement program.

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

The aeration project is in its second phase. The third and fourth are the most important- and most expensive. The ultimate villain of the Newtown Creek is New York City. The sewer system, a byzantine and somewhat archaic collection of pipes and brick lined tunnels, drains directly into the estuarine water. Since the natural tributaries which once fed fresh water and caused “flow” were cemented over by the burgeoning metropolii surrounding it, the only “flow” received in this river of tears is runoff wastewater and raw sewage.

In 2006, the firm of Edwards and Kelcey won an award for completing their work early, here in Newtown…

Best of 2006 Award of Merit in the Bridge Category – Presented by New York Construction Magazine to Edwards and Kelcey for design services rendered in the rehabilitation of the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge over the English Kills in Brooklyn, NY. The Award recognizes that the $41 million project was completed a year ahead of the anticipated completion date despite the fact that the rehabilitation work was performed on a working bascule bridge carrying 36,000 cars and trucks daily.

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle, in her infinite sadness, has heard me designate the following as “The Hundred Year Plan”. For more than a century, the logical course of action for “fixing” the Newtown Creek has been articulated in the form of the “Flushing Canal” or alternately “Flushing Tunnel”. By connecting the Newtown Creek to Flushing Bay via terraforming and aquascaping, a “Flow” would be established (and then combined with sediment dredging)- and the tidal actions of East River and Flushing Bay would sweep it clean. The combined waterway –  a grand canal- would offer Queens and Brooklyn a vastly altered and exponentially richer central corridor- neighborhoods which are currently isolated, squalid, and typified by neglect and decay.

This is the theory, and the prevailing solution to the issues surrounding the watershed favored by those hierophantic experts consulted for advice and guidance by this Newtown Pentacle.


A slideshow presentation detailing the plan for aeration (manifested in the surrounding photos) of the English Kills, dating from 2003, can be found here.

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

The City of New York has further plans for this area. Check out page 30 of this PDF

DEP is proposing to construct two Air Blower Buildings for in-stream Aeration Facilities along the East Branch of English Kills and Dutch Kills.  The Aeration Facilities were recommended by the Newtown Creek WQFP project to improve water quality in the Upper English Kills by increasing the dissolved oxygen concentration of the bottom waters.  The project will include installation of a diffuser along the bottom of the East Branch of English Kills and Dutch Kills.  Blowers housed in the buildings along the shoreline will supply air to the diffuser system.

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

But, as always, things at Newtown Creek stay the same.

Check out this view of English Kills from 1934, courtesy of NY Public Library

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

Industries will come and go, and great populations will spring up to service them. The work will go, and the communities will wither.

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

Politicians will arise and attempt to appease those who stay behind. Bread and circuses, but the grand scale and endless possibilities of earlier days will remain just out of reach.

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Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

Just beyond the west side of the bridge, the bulkheads lead back to the Newtown Creek proper, a larger waterway and industrial complex of which English Kills is but a tributary.

Newtown Creek cruise (retouch) by you.

Metropolitan Avenue Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

Here you can see the “Black Mayonnaise”- a toxic combination of raw sewage, petroleum, and coal tar bubbling to the surface from subaqueous sediments- disturbed by the spinning of a ships propellors.

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Newtown Creek Bulkheads – photo by Mitch Waxman

Head west, back along the English Kills, and you’ll be back at the Newtown Creek, quite near the former Mussel Island.


Newtown Creek is a part of the New York – New Jersey Harbor Estuary that forms the northernmost border between the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. In the mid 1800s, the area adjacent to the 3.8 mile Newtown Creek was one of the busiest hubs of industrial activity in New York City.  More than 50 refineries were located along its banks, including oil refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards.  The creek was crowded with commercial vessels, including large boats bringing in raw materials and fuel and taking out oil, chemicals and metals.  In addition to the industrial pollution that resulted from all of this activity, the city began dumping raw sewage directly into the water in 1856.  During World War II, the creek was one of the busiest ports in the nation. Currently, factories and facilities still operate along the creek. Various contaminated sites along the creek have contributed to the contamination at Newtown Creek.  Today, as a result of its industrial history, including countless spills, Newtown Creek is one of the nation’s most polluted waterways.

Various sediment and surface water samples have been taken along the creek. Pesticides, metals, PCBs, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are potentially harmful contaminants that can easily evaporate into the air, have been detected at the creek.

In the early 1990s, New York State declared that Newtown Creek was not meeting water quality standards under the Clean Water Act.  Since then, a number of government sponsored cleanups of the creek have taken place. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection has sampled sediment and surface water at a number of locations along the creek since 1980.  In 2009, EPA will further sample the sediment throughout the length of Newtown Creek and its tributaries.  The samples will be analyzed for a wide range of industrial contaminants.  EPA will use the data collected to define the nature of the environmental problems associated with Newtown Creek as a whole.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 9, 2009 at 2:05 pm

grassy cobbles

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one described the circumstances of a navigation of Newtown Creek on September 27th during which the photos in today’s, and prior postings, were captured. The small boat I was riding in had been navigated all the way back to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge by it’s Captain – Carter Craft. There’s still a bit of navigable water beyond this span, a double bascule drawbridge owned and operated by the NYC DOT, but I seldom go back there in anything larger than a rowboat and I don’t do that often at all.

Down Under the Metropolitan Bridge Onramp or DUMABO, that’s how I “tag” anything which I’ve written about this bridge, or the area directly surrounding it in Brooklyn. The English Kills tributary of Newtown Creek is entirely contained within the political boundaries of the Borough of Brooklyn, in its East Williamsburgh section.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

English Kills is entirely hidden from view on the surrounding streets. A once natural waterway canalized by the various Corporate entities which once housed themselves here, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. From the surrounding streets, you’d never know it was there if it wasn’t for the industrial noises and horrific smell. The odor is not unlike what you’d expect were you were to shit into a bucket of rubber cement thinner, and then set it out to sit in direct sunlight, while a running diesel engine out gassing exhaust. The sound is a “constant din” as in there’s no specific point source for it, rather there’s an atmosphere of noise echoing off the factory and warehouse walls.

The canalized shape of English Kills follows the jigsaws grid of the surrounding streets, which causes its waters to stagnate around the right angled turns. The presence of CSO’s – or Combined Sewer Outfalls – all along Newtown Creek means that the only fresh water entering English Kills comes from these upland drains. This flow is a mix of storm water, road runoff, and sewage. The latter is full of piss and poop, if you need me to point that out. The runoff and storm water washes through the neighborhoods first, carrying garbage and whatever might have dripped out of vehicles passing by on the roadways, and then into the stagnant water column of the tributary.

Because of the stagnation, a bed of sedimentation sits 15-20 feet thick under the surface of the water, sometimes poking out into the air at low tide. The sediments are referred to as “Black Mayonnaise.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Historic records suggest that the natural waterway that was once here, prior to colonization by the Dutch, was fed by upland streams and rock springs running down into the waterway’s basin from the highlands surrounding it, in modern day Maspeth, Ridgewood, and Bushwick. It’s the availability of that fresh water bubbling up from the rock springs that drew German beer breweries to establish themselves in these areas. The springs were capped, and the ground water claimed. That was the first industrial nail in the coffin of this part of the larger waterway. Contaminants and pollution from industrial plants literally miles away on the Creek would end up getting pushed back here and since there was nothing tidally pushing back, the bad stuff settled to the bottom. The Black Mayonnaise encountered “here” can be very different from conditions encountered “there,” despite the fact that it’s the same water body. Even on English Kills, the section you’re looking at in the shot above is entirely different from the hellscape found a half mile away in the zone around the apocalyptic Montrose Avenue Railroad Bridge nearby Newtown Creek’s terminus, at Bushwick’s Johnson Avenue.

Few of the modern businesses on English Kills use their maritime bulkheads, once amongst the most valuable in NY Harbor or even the world due to the nearby Evergreen Line Railroad tracks – which are today’s Long Island Railroad Bushwick Branch tracks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Open sewers dating back to the Civil War are seen here.

English Kills is the extermination of ration and hope, and a cautionary tale about municipal indifference. The NYC DEP, who operate those CSO drains mentioned above, found themselves under regulatory scrutiny by New York State a few years ago due to the low levels of oxygen present in these waters. The low oxygen situation is caused by sewage bacteria, which they allow into the Newtown Creek via the CSO’s. The answer DEP came up, since doing anything at all about the outflows themselves would be very expensive to the City, was to instead build an aeration system into the waterway. Giant bubble wands, reminiscent of a hobbyist aquarium’s setup, pump air into the water, which causes surface turbulence. These bubbles theoretically cause atmospheric oxygen to diffuse into the water.

The air flow also introduces mechanical energy into the bottom sediments and causes them to rise and coat the shorelines, where the so called black mayonnaise becomes exposed to the air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Grand Street Bridge, a swing bridge, is pictured above. The center of that bridge is where the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens is found. If hostilities ever break out, this will be a flash point and no man’s land where campaigns of armed attrition will play out.

Our time on Newtown Creek was nearing an end and my pal Carter captained us back toward Greenpoint, and the Manhattan Avenue Street End where he picked us up earlier in the day. A humble narrator was on an emotional roller coaster, it should be admitted.

“Every time might be the last time.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along our journey back in the direction of the East River, nearly three miles back on the Maspeth side, we saw a guy fishing in Newtown Creek.

Tomorrow, more! And then even more! More all the time, now with extra more! Now – more than ever – more!

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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 for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 31, 2022 at 11:00 am

brief note

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Fog? Rain? Newtown Creek at night? Yep, that’s me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sunday last, one was just itching to get out of HQ and go shoot some pix. Unfortunately, the soaking rain that permeated the daylight hours precluded this sort of pursuit, so around eight o’clock when the storm had transitioned from precipitation to a precipitating mist – one headed out for Greenpoint with the night kit and got busy.

My first stop was at the hidden cul de sac formed by the terminus of Kingsland Avenue and North Henry street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a minor tributary of Newtown Creek found here, which is called “unnamed canal” on navigational maps. My colleague Will Elkins (project manager at Newtown Creek Alliance) prefers the friendlier sounding “no-name canal.” There’s a defunct DSNY marine transfer station here, and the point of view it offers looks across the main body of Newtown Creek towards Long Island City and the Sapphire Megalith.

The rain had decayed into what my Grandmother would have described as a “shpickle” by this point, with occasional droplets forming out of the fog and hitting the water. The air temperature was quite warm, atypical for this time of year in fact, and since the waters of the Newtown Creek are still at near freezing – there was quite a bit of mist in the air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My decided upon path would carry me eastwards along the Newtown Creek, from the area I call DUGABO (Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp) which is where you’ll find the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant pictured above, to the one which I have assigned the name DUMABO (Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp). It was serendipity that the cool atmospherics coincided with a Sunday – the one night of the week when the 24/7 industrial and trucking activity along the Creek is at low ebb.

Nevertheless – I had one of those reflective “construction guy” safety vests on, worn over the filthy black raincoat, as I headed towards into darkness towards DUMABO.

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formula filled

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My creek also puts on a show when I’ve been away from her too long.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my practices, developed over the last decade or so, is to take a Newtown Creek break periodically and “allow my liver to return to a normal size.” I’m joking about the liver, but one does enjoy a bit of detox occasionally, and allowing the poisons I’ve accrued a chance to leach out. This is a luxury one enjoys, as he doesn’t live along Newtown Creek, others aren’t so lucky. Pictured above is roll on/ roll off garbage truck carrying a bin, spotted at a waste transfer station owned by a friend of mine which fairly straddles the border of Brooklyn and Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Marching along Metropolitan Avenue, one squealed with delight as the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge began to open. This used to be quite a frequent occurrence “back in the day.” These days there’s only one regular maritime customer back here on the English Kills tributary, which is Bayside Fuel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The timing of the bridge opening was bizarre, occurring at precisely the time of one of the heaviest traffic intervals in this section of North Brooklyn, about 6:30 p.m.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That odd timing, however, allowed one to stand in the middle of Metropolitan Avenue without getting squished.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I believe that the tug pictured above is the Mary H., which normally handles the Bayside duty, but it’s hard to say as I didn’t get any of its markings. I did manage to focus in on the captain in his wheelhouse, however, so “win.”

As a note, the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge spans the English Kills tributary of the larger Newtown Creek at a navigational mark 3.4 miles eastwards of the East River. Metropolitan Avenue was originally created as a private toll road about 1814, and was called the Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike. The owners of the toll road, and the original bridge, were two brothers whose family name was Masters. That’s why you’ll occasionally see references to the road as the “Masters Turnpike” and the “Masters Bridge” in the historical record, if like me, you stay up until 4 in the morning reading old municipal journals and reports from the Chambers of Commerce of Brooklyn or Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My conceit is to call this area of Newtown Creek surrounding the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge “DUMABO.” That’s short for “Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge,” as I believe we need to be ahead of the real estate people on these sorts of things.

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It’s International Cheese Day, for the industrialized and lactose tolerant nations of this planet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

3.4 miles from the East River is a spot which one refers to as DUMABO – or Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp. The first bridge over the flowing waters of English Kills was erected here (slightly to the west, actually) in 1814 and was privately owned by the Masters brothers, so it was accordingly referred to as the “Masters Bridge.” Historic sources indicate this spot as being, during the colonial to civil war period, the demarcation point between salt and fresh water on the English Kills tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek. Shellfish were described as being found in “great abundance.” It was once known as White’s Dock, for the vulgarly curious. The precursor of the modern day Metropolitan Avenue Bridge was built in the 1870’s, and the modern bridge (much altered) was erected in 1931.

The fresh water was being fed into English Kills by upland springs and streams in nearby Bushwick that flowed downhill into it, and by ground water entering it from the bottom. Back in 1814, Metropolitan Avenue was just a wooden plank toll road rising up from the swamps, and it was called the “Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike road.” The springs and streams of Bushwick are what attracted beer breweries like the Ulmer people to a then German speaking rural neighborhood to ply their trade, but I digress. The fat renderers and acid factories began to show up in the 1830’s and 40’s around these parts, and notably – Peter Cooper’s “pestilential” glue factory, where Jello was invented, was just a few blocks away. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC DOT has been doing a bunch of work at this spot recently, some sort of construction that they attached to the bridge itself. Unfortunately, they didn’t do anything about the loose soil on the shoreline, nor the decaying wooden bulkheads holding that shoreline in place. Of course, not many people come back here, but it would have been fairly easy to fall into English Kills given the rotting shoreline when the shot above was captured.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Mary H. tug, tied up to the Bayside Fuel Depot bulkheads, just east of the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. This is pretty much the extent of serious maritime access to English Kills given the black mayonnaise/sediment mound situation that gobbles up operational draught and depth. The green wall with all the kit on top is Waste Management’s Varick Street Waste Transfer Station. The Waste Management facility handles predominantly “putrescent” or black bag garbage for the NYC Department of Sanitation, which is processed on site and then loaded onto the so called “garbage train” which travels on the tracks of LIRR’s Bushwick Branch to Fresh Pond and then over the Hell Gate Bridge to points unknown.

Seriously, unknown. I’ve asked and was told “homeland security” precluded the dissemination of where NYC’s garbage is dumped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One headed up Varick Street towards industrial Bushwick from Metropolitan Avenue, where this spectacular salt dome structure was encountered. Seriously, no sarcasm is offered, this was a visually interesting and somewhat elegant solution to the problem. The rest of the neighborhood is dull, weathered, depressing. It’s nice to see a bit of color and style on display for something so pedestrian. It’s right next door to the Waste Management facility on Varick Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets in this section, just south and east of Newtown Creek, are industrial in the extreme. Heavy trucking, the garbage industrial complex… suffice to say that the roadways aren’t exactly bike or pedestrian friendly, and that they are in a sorry state of repair. Watch your step hereabouts, and never cross in front of a driveway without first taking a look. This part of the Newtown Creek watershed is what the band Metallica was likely describing with their “death magnetic” album. There’s “ghost bikes” everywhere you look, the air is a poisonous fume…

Yep, it’s pretty much Tolkien’s Mordor back here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Turning off of Varick, I found myself wandering down Stewart Avenue and onto Randolph Street towards the undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens and that hazy industrial borderland which can either be called Ridgewood, East Williamsburg, or Bushwick – depending on whom you ask. Saying that, move quickly through this area, don’t talk to anyone, and certainly do not ask them questions if they speak to you. I would expand on why, but I’d again be told that I’ve seen too many movies, by some rich guy that moved to Hipster Bushwick from Connecticut less than six months ago who is trying to connect with a local art or club scene that they heard about on Instagram.

Of course, I couldn’t have more inconspicuous – the only person for about a square mile not wearing a safety vest and hard hat, and instead clad in a filthy black raincoat flapping about in the poison wind while waving a camera about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Bushwick Branch of the LIRR, which carries the garbage train from Bushwick into Queens and its mysterious destination on the continent, it’s just beyond that fence in the shot above. It’s been a while since I wandered through here, and those corrugated fences you see are fairly new, as evinced by a near total lack of graffiti. Back to the implied presence of criminally inclined individuals who are organized into a structure which one might define as a “crew” or a “family,” I’d point out the total lack of graffiti on a visible fence line in North Brooklyn – the high end graffiti capital of these United States.

Go ask someone who grew up in Brooklyn or Queens what that means.

Nevertheless, as is always the case when wandering through the industrial zones surrounding the fabled Newtown Creek, that horrible inhuman thing with the three loved burning eye that cannot possibly exist in the sapphire megalith of Long Island City was watching. It sees all, owns all, knows all.

More to come, next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

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