The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘DUGSBO’ Category

abnormal gaps

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Cool cars, Bushwick East Williamsburg edition.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was happily scuttling along recently, on his way to conduct a tour of the “Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,” when a charming old rust bucket was encountered on Grand Street not too far from the centuried swing bridge named for it. Unlike other “cool cars,” described at this – your Newtown Pentacle – I’m unable to describe make, model, year, or engine type as frankly – there wasn’t enough left of the thing to do so.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I can tell you that it was a short bus, and that it still had an engine. It was missing a radiator and all the other parts which would attach around the engine, including the front end’s entire outer body.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were four tires on the thing, so that’s something. Additionally, inside the relatively intact passenger cabin, there seemed to be quite a few bits and bobs being stored. Looks like a handyman special to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just on the other side of the Newtown Creek in Maspeth – where Grand Street transmogrifies into Grand Avenue upon leaving Brooklyn and entering Queens – the short bus’s owner could probably find all the help he or she needs with the project at the MTA’s Grand Avenue depot.

A 600,000 square foot facility that’s four stories tall, the Grand Avenue depot can store 200 city buses at one time just on the first floor. It’s the second floor that would come in handy for the short bus’s owner, as one of the 27 maintenance bays up there would be just the thing to getting this “cool car” up and running again.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Tuesday, July 12, 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. –
LICHenge, with Atlas Obscura and the
Hunters Point Park Conservancy. Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 16, 11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. –
FREE Newtown Creek Boat Tour,
with Waterfront Alliance (note- WA usually releases tix in batches).
Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 23, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking tour,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, July 26, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, July 27, 1st trip – 4:50 p.m. 2nd trip – 6:50 p.m. –
2 Newtown Creek Boat Tours,
with Open House NY. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

Grand Street Bridge

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A “reblog” from September of 2009.

Grand Street – North East – photo by Mitch Waxman

Gaze upon the coils of the dragon and despair.

Scuttling like some Kafkaesque cliche’– away from those tremulous revelations manifested just up the street in DUMABO– at the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge over the English Kills- around soiled patches of broken pavement and across a sandy substrate of glittering and powderized glass- between towering fencelines whose attendant armies of guardian birds voicing their mocking cry of “Ia, IA” or “tekeli-li” – the Grand Street Bridge is suddenly risen above the Newtown Creek’s miasmic banks- and your humble narrator falls unabashedly to the tainted ground before it. This is a standing stone, an ancient artifact, and like the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge– an urban talisman of those days when the Tiger came to the Newtown Pentacle.

from nyc.gov

Grand Street is a two-lane local City street in Queens and Kings Counties. Grand Street runs northeast and extends from the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in Brooklyn to Queens Boulevard in Queens. The road is known as Grand Street west of the bridge and Grand Avenue east of the bridge. The bridge is located between Gardner Avenue in Brooklyn and 47th Street in Queens. The Grand Street Bridge is a 69.2m long swing type bridge with a steel truss superstructure. The general appearance of the bridge remains the same as when it was opened in 1903. The bridge provides a channel with a horizontal clearance of 17.7m and a vertical clearance, in the closed position, of 3.0m at MHW and 4.6m at MLW. The bridge structure carries a two-lane two-way vehicular roadway with sidewalks on either side. The roadway width on the bridge is 6.0m and the sidewalks are 1.8m wide. The height restriction is 4.1m. The approach roadways are wider than the bridge roadway. For example, the width of Grand Avenue at the east approach to the bridge (near 47th Street) is 15.11m.
The first bridge on this site, opened in 1875, quickly became dilapidated due to improper maintenance. Its replacement, opened in 1890, was declared by the War Department in 1898 to be “an obstruction to navigation.” Following a thorough study, a plan was adopted in 1899 to improve the bridge and its approaches. The current bridge was opened on February 5, 1903 at a cost of $174,937.

Grand Street is a two-lane local City street in Queens and Kings Counties. Grand Street runs northeast and extends from the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in Brooklyn to Queens Boulevard in Queens. The road is known as Grand Street west of the bridge and Grand Avenue east of the bridge. The bridge is located between Gardner Avenue in Brooklyn and 47th Street in Queens. The Grand Street Bridge is a 69.2m long swing type bridge with a steel truss superstructure. The general appearance of the bridge remains the same as when it was opened in 1903. The bridge provides a channel with a horizontal clearance of 17.7m and a vertical clearance, in the closed position, of 3.0m at MHW and 4.6m at MLW. The bridge structure carries a two-lane two-way vehicular roadway with sidewalks on either side. The roadway width on the bridge is 6.0m and the sidewalks are 1.8m wide. The height restriction is 4.1m. The approach roadways are wider than the bridge roadway. For example, the width of Grand Avenue at the east approach to the bridge (near 47th Street) is 15.11m.

The first bridge on this site, opened in 1875, quickly became dilapidated due to improper maintenance. Its replacement, opened in 1890, was declared by the War Department in 1898 to be “an obstruction to navigation.” Following a thorough study, a plan was adopted in 1899 to improve the bridge and its approaches. The current bridge was opened on February 5, 1903 at a cost of $174,937.

from nyc.gov

dot

Grand Street – North East – photo by Mitch Waxman

This dragon is a hungry consumer of life, and a dangerous crossing for pedestrian, bicyclist, and vehicles. The approaches are wider than the roadbeds on the crossing, accidents are frequent occurrences, and I’ve known people that have been horrifically injured here. The walkway is roughly hewn.

A NYTimes.com article from 1895 discusses the necessity of building this bridge, at the urging of the War Dept. of the United States.

Grand Street – North – photo by Mitch Waxman

This bridge and the area surrounding it have sucked its victims into that blackened and iridescent ichor lining the malodorous basins that these disease choked waters of the Newtown Creek swirl about in. Shudder at the fate of a priest, who ran afoul of those things which may lurk here even still.

“…victim was a tall, heavily built man, who, from papers found in his pockets, is supposed to be the Rev. Leonard Syczek, a Polish priest of the Roman Catholic Church.”- in this NYTimes.com article from 1896.

Grand Street – North – photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite the unfriendly and barren environment, poisoned with an exotic blending of the chemist’s art, a surprising variety of tenacious life persists here. Many fish and marine invertebrates find themselves trapped in the Newtown Creek due to tidal actions on the East River (which adjoins the Creek at Hunter’s Point). The anoxic condition of the water drowns these unfortunate creatures, and the sewage born bacteria prospering into the waterway soon ruins the meat even for scavengers.

Indignities have been heaped upon the Newtown Creek for centuries. Check out this NYTimes.com article from 1896, which sounds eerily like something you might read in one of their modern articles on the place.

Grand Street Bridge – Span, down – photo by Mitch Waxman

Life here, unless it is very bold– or driven to desperation by hunger- remains well hidden in daylight. Testifying to the presence of nocturnal predation, early morning observations reveal bloody patches of fur and feather, and characteristic drag marks etched in the sooty dust that typifies the area. Skeletons of rats abound, collected in middens revealed only by roadwork or the effects of construction projects.

A particular family of cat, whose ancestry has painted them calico- with a predominately white coat, pink nose, and golden eyes- is often observed along the Newtown Creek. What advantage such partial albinism would lend- from a darwinian perspective- can only hint at unguessable implications about an unknowable subterrene world which exists in the untold layers of civilization that the ignorant modern city is built upon. There still may be vaults down there, cellars erected in the time of the Dutch decadence, which have been sealed up since before the Civil War- an eternal night, encased in a slithering and blind world of dripping stone arches.

from wikipedia

A swing bridge is a movable bridge that has as its primary structural support a vertical locating pin and support ring at or near to its center, about which the turning span can then pivot horizontally as shown in the animated illustration below. Small swing bridges as found over canals may be pivoted only at one end, opening as would a gate, but require substantial underground structure to support the pivot.

In its closed position, a swing bridge carrying a road over a river or canal, for example, allows road traffic to cross. When a water vessel needs to pass the bridge, road traffic is stopped (usually by traffic signals and barriers), and then motors rotate the bridge approximately 90 degrees horizontally about its pivot point.

Grand Street Bridge – Span, down – photo by Mitch Waxman

As is well known by those who have sought the esoteric lore of past generations, the race of Cats will be-and have always been- the guardians over Mankind upon this Earth. Their moonlight parades, which enforce and magnify the domination of mankind over those hordes of vermin which attempt the destruction and consumption of our every industry are dreamlike to some, and a nightmare to others.

Good arguments have been made that the agricultural revolution could not have happened without the presence of Cats living amongst mankind and their efforts at stemming the rodent and insect tide. No agricultural revolution, there’s no Kings– nor Queens. Thereby, Brooklyn and Queens ultimately owe their existence to Cats. It is my fervent hope that someday, in the lands and waterways of Newtown, that no man shall kill a Cat.

Some technical data on the Grand Street Bridge, from city-data.com

Structure Number: 224039,  Location: OVER NEWTOWN CREEK (Lat: 40.716500,  Lng: -73.922672),  Route carried “on” structure: City street ,  Year Built: 1901,  Year Reconstructed: 1973,  Status: Open,  Structure Length: 7.01m (23.00ft),  Average Daily Traffic: 9,154 (year 2005),  Truck Traffic: 6%,  Average Future Daily Traffic: 12,816 (year 2025),  Design Load: HS 20,  Features Intersected: NEWTOWN CREEK,  Facility Carried by Structure: GRAND STREET

Minimum Vertical Clearance: 4.41m (14.47ft),  Kilometerpoint: 0.000,  Lanes on structure: 2,  Owner: City or Municipal Highway Agency,  Approaching Roadway Width: 15.2m (49.9ft),  Navigation Control: Yes ( Vertical Clearance: 2.7m (8.9ft), Horizontal Clearance: 27.7m (90.9ft)),  Material/Design: Steel,  Design/Construction: Movable – Swing,  Number Of Spans In Main Unit: 2,  Length of Maximum Span: 34.4m (112.9ft),  Curb or Sidewalk Widths: Left: 1.7m (5.6ft),  Right: 1.7m (5.6ft),  Curb-To-Curb Width: 5.9m (19.4ft),  Out-to-Out Width: 6.8m (22.3ft)

Condition: Deck: Satisfactory,  Superstructure: Fair,  Substructure: Satisfactory,  Channel: Good,  Operating Rating: 37.2 metric tons,  Method Used To Determine Operating Rating: Load Factor (LF),  Inventory Rating: 25.4 metric tons,  Method Used To Determine Inventory Rating: Load Factor (LF),  Structural Evaluation: Somewhat better than minimum adequacy,  Deck Geometry: High priority of replacement,  Waterway Adequacy: Somewhat better than minimum adequacy,  Approach Roadway Alignment: Somewhat better than minimum adequacy,  Length Of Structure Improvement: 7.01m (23.00ft),  Designated Inspection Frequency: Every 24 months,  Critical Feature Inspection Frequency: Every 24 months,  Underwater Inspection Frequency: Every 60 months,  Inspection Date: September 2007,  Critical Feature Inspection Date: September 2007,  Underwater Inspection Date: September 2007,  Bridge Improvement Cost: $1,268,000,  Roadway Improvement Cost: $758,000,  Total Project Cost: $2,026,000 ( Estimate for 2007),  Deck Structure Type: Open Grating

Grand Street Bridge- North East – photo by Mitch Waxman

From Brooklyn, looking to Queens. At some uncommented spot in the middle of the bridge, reality alters, and Grand Street transmogrifies into that ancient lane called Grand Avenue. Rolling through centuried Maspeth, and after an interruption at Queens Blvd., Grand Avenue becomes Broadway and continues on through ruby lipped Astoria on its way to the East River and past the horrors of Hallet’s Cove. This pathway has been in use, in one form or another, since the first Europeans- and they learned it from the Mespat.

I’ve mentioned this article before, but here’s another NYTimes.com article, from 1894, which talks about the consumption of even more human life here at the Grand Street Bridge- “…told a story which, if true, shows that that section of the city is a dangerous place at night and throws light on a number of mysterious things that have recently occurred in that vicinity.”

Grand Street Bridge – Span, down – photo by Mitch Waxman

from ANNUAL REPORT OF THB CHIEF OF ENGINEERS, UNITED STATES ARMY, TO THE SECRETARY OF WAR, FOR THE YEAR 1889 IN FOUR PARTS. PART I., courtesy google books.

The bed of the creek in the area worked over was variable below the plane of 18 feet mean low water; near the bar it was composed of sand, or sand and clay mixed, but as the bridge was approached it grew harder like hardpan, and had large bowlders embedded in it. The range of the tides in the creek is about 4£ feet, but the bed of the creek has no natural slope. The creek is the receptacle for all the refuse from the sewers, factories, and slaughter-houses of the east of Brooklyn; constant deposits are therefore forming in it, especially at the upper end, from these causes and from the caving in of the unprotected banks, which consist of marsh mud. To remedy this difficulty, annual dredging will be needed until the banks are protected by bulkheads throughout their whole length. The commerce of the creek is so large that this improvement should be pushed at least 3 mile.s up from the mouth as soon as possible, so that vessels drawing 20 to 23 feet may pass in and out of the creek with full cargoes at or near low water.

Grand Street Bridge – Span, down – photo by Mitch Waxman

The building of this bridge was a Tammany project, check out this City Club book describing Mayor Low’s Administration in New York at Google Books.

On August 7th, 1900, Commissioner Shea signed a contract for the building of a draw bridge to replace an old bridge over Newtown Creek, at Grand Street, between Brooklyn and Queens. The engineers’ preliminary estimate of the cost was $173,379-90, and the final estimate $166,819.69. The old bridge was closed to traffic on August 27th, 1900, and the new bridge was to be completed by October 2ist, 1901, or in three hundred working days.

Although the traffic over Newtown Creek is very great, and the new bridge was urgently needed, the bridge was not opened to traffic until December 26th, 1902, or in four hundred and thirty-six working days, and was accepted by the city on February 5th, 1903. The total cost was 8172,323.43, including a bill for $5,503.74 for extra work, which was finally allowed in April, 1903. The contractor presented a bill for twice that amount, but Commissioner Lindenthal settled for the sum mentioned as the amount of the legitimate claim against the city.

The causes of this long delay under Mr. Shea’s administration are given in a detailed report handed in to Commissioner Lindenthal by Edward De Voe Tompkins on July 9th, 1902. From the time the bridge was started and until March roth, 1902, Mr. Tompkins was assistant engineer under the orders of a superior, also an assistant engineer. On that date Commissioner Lindenthal placed Mr. Tompkins in charge of the construction of the bridge. Mr. Tompkins gives the causes of delay as follows :—

On August 13th, 1900, the contractor was ordered to begin work. In September, 1900, the contractor removed “the old bridge in a very ” slow, objectionable and ridiculous way. When the engineer remonstrated he was answered with profanity. The contractor refused to ” furnish the engineer with necessary supplies, assistance, rowboat, etc. ” The contractor instead of devoting all his efforts to the construction ” of the bridge, used the site of the work for fitting out two derrick ‘ boats, and building two pile driver leaders and placing same on scows ” to be used on other contracts.

” The department’s original contract drawings of masonry were ” full of errors and practically worthless. This caused considerable ” delay and complications, the contractor being also to blame.”

Grand Street Bridge- Span, South East – photo by Mitch Waxman

The bridge that the 1903 model replaced was built by the King Bridge Company.

from kingbridgeco.com
(they have an image of an extinct Newtown Creek crossing, the Vernon Avenue Bridge, by the by)

As early as 1874, the King Bridge Company was selected to build the Grand Street Bridge in Eastern Brooklyn across Newtown Creek. This was a drawbridge built for $18,200 and was in service for fifteen years but suffered from poor maintenance. The company bid on its replacement in 1888 but lost out to a local contractor. However, the company did display one of its New York moveable bridges in its catalogues of the 1880s. This was a 168-foot wrought iron high-truss swing bridge on Manhattan Avenue in the Greenport section of Brooklyn. This bridge also has long since disappeared.

Grand Street Bridge- Span, North – photo by Mitch Waxman

from “Queens Borough, New York City, 1910-1920; the borough of homes and industry, a descriptive and illustrated book setting forth its wonderful growth and development in commerce, industry and homes during the past ten years … a prediction of even greater growth during the next ten years … and a statement of its many advantages, attractions and possibilities as a section wherein to live, to work and to succeed” at Archive.org

Some further idea of the immense commerce of this waterway can be obtained from the figures compiled by the Department of Plant and Structures of New York City, which show that during the year 1918, 59,389 boats passed through the Vernon Avenue Bridge, 56,735 passed through the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, 27,000 through the Meeker Street Bridge and 5,007 through the Grand Street Bridge.

Steamers schooners and unrigged vessels are the principal freight carriers. Their drafts range from 5^ to 20 feet; 2 to 19 feet; 2 to 18 feet respectively. Some steamers of still larger draft lighter in their cargoes.

Among the larger plants on the Queens shore of Newtown Creek are the National Sugar Refining Company, Nichols Copper Company, National Enameling and Stamping Company, General Chemical Company, Standard Oil Refineries. American Agricultural Chemical Company, and the Wrigley Chewing Gum Company.

Grand Street Bridge- Span, Bridge House – photo by Mitch Waxman

from bklyn-genealogy-info.com

1882- James McFADDEN, of 312 Maujer street, while working in REYNOLD’s coal yard, near Grand street bridge, was caught between a coal cart and some lumber yesterday afternoon, causing a lacerated wound of left thigh.  He was attended by Assistant Surgeon CURRAN and taken to St. Catharine’s Hospital.

also in 1882- Lack Of Humanity

A Coroner’s Jury Censures Street Car Passengers and Exonerates the Driver At an inquest held yesterday afternoon by Coroner PARKER on the body of Henry SCHUMACKER, the jury brought in the following verdict:

“We find that the said Henry SCHUMACKER came to his death on the 18th inst from shock due to fracture of the left leg caused by being run over by a car of the Grand Street & Newtown Railroad Company on Wednesday, November 16. And we, the jury, are of the opinion that he fell or was thrown out accidentally from his wagon and exonerate the driver of the car from all blame, but severely censure three passengers who were on the front platform of the car for lack of common humanity displayed on that occasion, and we recommend that lights be placed on Grand Street Bridge for the protection of the public.”

The “lack of humanity” was displayed by the passengers refusing to assist the injured man.

Grand Street Bridge- Span, North, Newtown Creek – photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking north and west, the vast panorama of the western side of the Newtown Creek with its Manhattan Skyline backdrop. One of the few places near ground level that you can see this sort of vista.

Newtown Pentacle has visited this spot, briefly, in the past- in “That’s Just Grand“, much of who’s content is expanded upon in this post.

Grand Street Bridge- Span, South, Newtown Creek – photo by Mitch Waxman

from a 2002 NYTimes.com article which discusses the history and future of this structure

“The city’s Department of Transportation has made what seems like a small request concerning this forsaken three-mile-long waterway separating Queens from Brooklyn. It wants to turn the Grand Street swing bridge, one of the dozen that cross the creek, into a fixed structure.”

Grand Street Bridge- Span, South from Newtown Creek – photo by Mitch Waxman

check out an 1899 NYTimes.com article which describes the area that the Grand Street Bridge was built into as “White’s Dock”.

Grand Street Bridge- Span, Up – photo by Mitch Waxman

from fultonhistory.com

Check out a scan of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1899 for an editorial take on what was really going on with the whole “condemned by the war dept. thing”.

note:
If institutional memory was not absent from modern statecraft, we would say- the 1890’s- of course there was bad press about anything having to do with Brooklyn. The consolidated City was just 1 year old, Tammany was vying for control of not just NY State– but reaching for the Congress in Washington as well. There was a power struggle between Manhattan and Brooklyn for patronage and control over the limitless budget pooled from the taxes of Greater New York.

Grand Street Bridge- Span, down, Newtown Creek – photo by Mitch Waxman

All about the site of the Grand Street Bridge, this crippled dragon found along the lamentable Newtown Creek, history seems to be tenanted by violent and deadly events. Newtownicans seem drawn to this stage during moments of crisis-

as is evidenced in this brutal NYTimes.com article from 1885.

And in this one from 1894.

Grand Street Bridge- Span, Up – photo by Mitch Waxman

A little Newtown texture from HISTORY OF QUEENS COUNTY with illustrations, Portraits & Sketches of Prominent Families and Individuals. New York: W.W. Munsell & Co.; 1882. pp. 329-408. at bklyn-genealogy-info.com

The Alsop Family.- Among the early settlers of New town were the Alsop family. Writers on English sur names inform us that this family derives its name from the village of Alsop, in Derbyshire. Richard Alsop, the progenitor of the Newtown family, was induced to locate here by his uncle, Thomas Wandell. Mr. Wandell, according to reminiscences in the Alsop family, had been a major in Cromwell’s army; but, having some dispute with the “protector,” was obliged to flee for safety, first to Holland and thence to America. Some doubts of this may he entertained, for Mr. Wandell was living at Mespat Kills in 1648, which was prior to the execution of King Charles, and when Cromwell enjoyed but a subordinate command in the parliamentary army. Mr. Wandell married the widow of William Herrick, whose plantation on Newtown Creek he bought in 1659. This was originally patented to Richard Brutnell. To this he afterward added fifty acres for which Richard Colfax had obtained a patent in 1652. On this property, since composing the Alsop farm, Mr. Wandell resided.

He was one of the jury in 1665 for the trial of Ralph Hall and his wife for witchcraft (the only trial for witchery in this colony), and shared the honor of acquitting the accused. Some years later he visited England, and it is supposed that on his return he brought with him his sister’s son, Richard Alsop, whom he made his heir. Mr. Wandell died in 1691 and was buried on the hill occupied by the Alsop cemetery. Many years later the silver plate of his coffin was discovered in digging a new grave.

Grand Street Bridge- Span, West – photo by Mitch Waxman

A little more Newtown texture from HISTORY OF QUEENS COUNTY with illustrations, Portraits & Sketches of Prominent Families and Individuals. New York: W.W. Munsell & Co.; 1882. pp. 329-408. at bklyn-genealogy-info.com

Newtown in the winter of 1778 presented an unusually animated appearance. General Washington was expected to make an attack upon New York, and for the better preservation and safety of the shipping Sir Henry Clinton ordered all vessels not in the service of the government to be removed to Newtown Creek. A large number of British troops were also barracked here. There were the seventeenth regiment of light dragoons, the Maryland loyalists, the royal Highlanders, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Sterling, who had seen long and arduous service in America during the French and Indian war; the royal artillery, with their cannon and horses; and the thirty-third regiment, Lord Cornwallis. During this period the farmers were subjected to many severe burdens. They were required to furnish from year to year, for the use of the army, the greater portion of their hay, straw, rye, corn, oats and provisions, under pain of being imprisoned and having their crops confiscated. The commissary weighed or measured the produce, and then rendered payment according to the prices fixed by the king’s commissioners. If the seller demanded more it was at the risk of losing the whole. The private soldiers were billeted in the houses of the Whig families. The family was generally allowed one fireplace.

Robberies were frequent, and Newtown became a prey to depredation, alarm and cruelty. The civil courts were suspended, and martial law prevailed through seven long years. It was a happy day for Newtown when news arrived that Great Britain had virtually acknowledged our independence, and when her patriotic sons were permitted to return from a tedious exile.

Grand Street Bridge- Span, South – photo by Mitch Waxman

One last bit of Newtown texture from HISTORY OF QUEENS COUNTY with illustrations, Portraits & Sketches of Prominent Families and Individuals. New York: W.W. Munsell & Co.; 1882. pp. 329-408. at bklyn-genealogy-info.com

The fertility of the Newtown lands early attracted the attention of colonists, among the first of whom was Hans Hansen, who obtained a plantation of some 400 acres at the head of Newtown Creek. Richard Brutnell, a native of Bradford, England, was at the entrance of the creek, and on the opposite side was found the plantation of Tymen Jansen, who had been a ship carpenter in the employ of the West India Company. These were the only occupants at the time Mr. Doughty with his friends came to take possession of his grant. He made preparations to begin a settlement, and in less than a year a number of families were comfortably settled here. Mr. Doughty officiated as pastor, and affairs were tending prosperously when the breaking out of a war with the Indians gave a sudden and fatal check to the settlement. This war had been brought about upon a frivolous pretense of injuries received from the natives, resulting in a horrid butchery of some sleeping indians. Inflamed to the utmost, they with fire-brand and scalping-knife desolated the country around New Amsterdam, devoting property to destruction and the inhabitants to a cruel death. The savages broke in upon the settlement at Mespat and some of the settlers fell victims to their fury.

The remainder sought safety in flight, while the flame was applied to their dwellings, which with their contents were reduced to ashes. At length a peace was concluded. Thereupon some of the settlers returned to their ruined habitations. As a better day seemed dawning, several residents without the lines of the Mespat patent took occasion to secure government title for their lands. July 3d 1643 Burger Joris, Richard Brutnell, and Tymen Jansen took out their “ground briefs” or deeds.

Grand Street Bridge- Span, detail, Queens side – photo by Mitch Waxman

a 1908 map of the neighborhood from digitalgallery.nypl.org

Plate 16: [Bounded by Newton C... Digital ID: 1517373. New York Public Library

Grand Street Bridge- Span, North and West – photo by Mitch Waxman

from wikipedia

Grand Street is a street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City, United States. The Grand Street (BMT Canarsie Line) subway station serves the corner of Grand Street and Bushwick Avenue. Crossing English Kills into Queens, Grand Street becomes Grand Avenue, continuing through Maspeth where it is a main shopping street, to Elmhurst. Its northern end is at Queens Boulevard. Broadway continues the thoroughfare north and west.

History

In the 19th century, before the construction of the Williamsburg Bridge, the Grand Street Ferry connected Grand Street, Brooklyn to Grand Street, Manhattan. The Grand Street Line was a streetcar line along the road.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 9, 2016 at 11:00 am

hunched servitor

leave a comment »

Breaking windows, on the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent controversy, and there’s always controversy, revolving around the Newtown Creek Superfund project has been swirling. Here’s the situation, which requires a bit of prologue for the uninitiated.

The Federal EPA has listed Newtown Creek as a Superfund site, which makes them the executive power responsible for its cleanup according to a bit of legislation called CERCLA. The EPA named several corporate entities as “PRP’s” or “Potentially Responisble Parties” who are culpable for the despoilment of the environment hereabouts. These PRP’s are the usual suspects – Oil companies, Gas Companies, a refinery. There are five of them, all conglomerate entities which absorbed one historic property or another over the years – ExxonMobil, National Grid, etc. There’s a sixth party which hasn’t been “officially” designated a PRP, which is the NYC DEP, a governmental entity responsible for (amongst other things) the sewer system of New York City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you’d expect, every one of the PRP’s wants to get out of this Superfund thing having spent as little as is possible on the cleanup. This is normal, and logical. The Corporations have an army of lawyers, and so does the DEP. Finger pointing is also normal in a situation like this, just as it would be for children who broke a school window while playing baseball. The corporate PRP’s are in the position of having to protect their shareholders from undue costs, as is the DEP in the case of taxpayers. Again, broken school window, baseball. The difference between government and corporation, however… well, the corporate manager will accept the fact that he’s cooked for breaking the pane and that it’s cheaper to just fix the window and get on with the business of earning money, while the government will try and tell you that the window shouldn’t have been there in the first place but the school they built needed windows by law so you just have to accept the broken window until next spring when the “new and better placed window bill” will be heroically sent to an indifferent Albany… and that after a sixteen year period of committee hearings… and… terrorists… and… Basically, they pass the buck down to the next election cycle. I’m prejudiced, I guess, as I always worked corporate and understand the internal processes a lot better than the intentionally Byzantine workings of government officialdom.

This is where the Federal EPA comes in, in their executive function. All of the PRP’s have contracted with environmental testing firms to perform the schedule of analysis which EPA requires in order to design a remedy for the environmental situation on the Newtown Creek. When the remedy is codified, it will be contractors hired by those self same PRP’s which will do the actual work, under Federal oversight. Meantime, everybody is blaming everybody else for whatever they can, hoping the other guy gets stuck with paying to fix the busted window.

A recent presentation offered by the NYC DEP discussed a process called “Ebullition.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Coal Tar Sludge is pretty ugly stuff, if you’re alive. It’s a by product of the gasification of coal, a product of what was once called “pneumatic chemistry.” National Grid is a multinational conglomerate that owns the holdings of what was once Brooklyn Union Gas in New York City. BUG had a massive manufactured gas plant at the border of Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. In the waters of Newtown Creek found off the National Grid bulkheads, NYC DEP’s environmental contractors observed an astounding 18 feet of coal tar sludge in the sediments of Newtown Creek. Natural processes – springs and ground water entering the bed of the waterway from below, for instance – cause bits of this coal tar sludge to migrate out of the sediment bed, which is called “Black Mayonnaise.”

The environmental types refer to this sort of thing as NAPL, or Non Aqueous Phase Liquid. That’s a fancy way of indicating that oil and water don’t mix, as the coal tar sludge – like petroleum – remains distinct from the water column surrounding it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is one of those bubbles of NAPL, or Coal Tar sludge which found its way to the surface of the water via the ebullition process. Surface tension breaks the bubble and begins to spread it into a disc. Presuming it doesn’t end up coating a bulkhead or rock somewhere between here and the East River, by the time this coal tar sludge reaches the east river it will just look like a bit of oil spread out over an area of several feet.

The NYC DEP, and their contractors, presented findings which suggested that as much as 5,000 KG of this stuff migrates up from the bottom sediments annually. They offered that in comparison, the combined sewers operated by DEP (which along Newtown Creek are amongst the largest in NYC) only deposit 27 KG of solute into the water. They also spent quite a bit of time critiquing the corporate PRP’s Contractor’s methodologies and procedures. After the presentation, it was time for questions and I asked a few pointed ones.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Is this 18 feet of coal tar sludge an ongoing or historic event? 

“Good question” was the answer.

Given the fact that DEP has been paying fines on the combined sewers to the Feds since 1983, coincidentally the same year that DEP was created, you must have good records of what’s been flowing out of your pipes since then. That 27 KG number, how does it compare historically with those records?

“We’ll have to get back to you.”

I’m certain that – historically – some of that coal tar and petroleum in the sediment bed must have been carried into the water from upland sources via your pipes, when you observed this 18 foot high wall of coal tar sludge, did you notice if any of your out falls were nearby?

“The sewers have never carried oil, it’s illegal”

But what about the 1950’s when Greenpoint’s aquifer was on fire, and the sixties when manhole covers were erupting on gouts of flame, and the 80’s when it was discovered that petroleum fumes in the sewer pipes were above the upper explosive limit?

“Sir, I don’t know what you think the DEP has done to you, but on behalf of the Agency I’d like to apologize”

That’s called “crackpotting” btw. and that pissed me off.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Are the folks who run oil companies a bunch of bastards? You bet. Global Gas conglomerates are not operated by nice guys either, nor copper refineries. Know how Rockefeller made his money? Wasn’t by being a cool guy. Anybody in a position of real power is by definition “kind of a dick.” Obama would pull your tongue out and strangle you with it if he had to, but he doesn’t because there’s thousands of people who work for him that are specially trained to do so. Just because you work for the Government it doesn’t mean you’re some sort of altruist.

I cannot count the number of lies I’ve been told by employees of the NYC DEP over the years. Promises made last only as long as a Commissioner’s term, or a Mayor’s. Saying that, this is just one tiny sliver – the political and managerial department of the Agency – of an enormous 6,000 person organization which manages and polices the reservoirs, runs 14 sewer plants, possesses a small navy, handles air and noise environmental issues citywide, and has a $1.2 Billion budget. I’ve known people who work for the DEP that are amazing, and I’ve also met the political gasbags.

This is not some little mom and pop operation, the DEP.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thing is, what the DEP management team is trying to do is to reduce their exposure to having to pay out for the cleaning up of the so called “Black Mayonnaise” which sits 20-30 feet deep in the Newtown Creek, and I can’t say I blame them. Like any entity, corporate or otherwise, they will have to pass the costs of this operation on to their customers.

Unlike a corporation, which would be put into a competitive advantage should it be forced to raise prices and drive customers to a competitor’s cheaper products, there is unfortunately only one City government to be found and you just have to pay the taxes that they inflict. There is no political will to raise water taxes in NYC after a roughly 400% rise in rates which occurred during the 12 years of Michael Bloomberg’s administration… so… do the math. The DEP people will say and do anything to avoid culpability, or delay the inevitable as long as they can and pass the buck to some new Mayor or Commisioner.

Crackpot me? Don’t piss off the photographer, doc, I’ve got pictures to back my side up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a saying which was passed down to me by my Dad and Uncles who had served in the military – “It’s a big shit sandwich and we all have to take a bite, so grab a napkin.”

Since the Superfund listing for Newtown Creek was made public, a humble narrator has been prophesying that the most interesting part of this story wasn’t going to be the oil companies trying to snake out of town and deny responsibility. Simply put, that’s the expensive way to go for them, as the courts and Feds will just stack fines up on them which they’ll have to pay IN ADDITION to the costs of the cleanup. It’s simpler, and cheaper, to cooperate. Nope, since the beginning of this tale I’ve been saying that “the fascinating part of this story will be watching the vertical silos of power in NYC’s government struggle and writhe against a higher authority.” Local authority, even that juggernaut in lower Manhattan, legally collapses before that of the Federal Government.

The EPA said that they’re willing to consider DEP’s Ebullitions study, and it’s data, but won’t be basing their decisions on either local government or corporate side’s assertions. The same DEP official who “crack potted” me in the earlier discussion mentioned above, upon hearing the EPA pronounce the substance of this statement, announced to a room full of people that DEP’s data “is just as good, if not better, or far better than EPA’s.” This is from the same official who claimed that it wasn’t going to be Superfund that cleans the Creek, rather DEP’s Long Term Control Plan – which is being designed by the same “ass coverers” and bureaucrats who haven’t done squat about it since the agency was created in 1983 by merging several smaller municipal entities which were responsible in the first place for dumping raw sewage into the waterway every time it rains.

Anyway, that’s the whole Ebullition thing for you, and a bunch of PRP’s who broke a window while playing ball. The one who threw the ball, the one who hit the ball, and the rest of the field. Meanwhile the window is hanging wide open and it’s raining into the school.

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Bulkheads of the Newtown Creek, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, you saw a post about a Hindu statue found in a fairly obscure spot in Maspeth along the Newtown Creek at this, your Newtown Pentacle. Mentioned in that post, a couple of my Newtown Creek chums and I were out in a small boat and performing a bulkhead survey. What that means, and it’s something we Newtown Creek Alliance types do periodically, is that we do a close up observation of the armored shoreline. Armored is apt, as the Newtown Creek’s littoral zone is almost entirely covered in a variety of maritime structures which are referred to as “bulkheads.”

Some are designed for docking ships and boats, or tying up barges, others simply as barriers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Most of the shoreline along the Creek has lost its occupation over the last century, as business adopted a truck and automobile based model for shipping cargo. Lack of maintenance and the corrosive forces of nature have caused the bulkhead structures all over the Newtown Creek to decay. Some have collapsed. When a bulkhead has actually fallen apart, as seen above and below, it is considered to have become “habitat” by environmental officialdom.

Close inspection reveals what sort of life forms have taken up habitation in the cracks and fissures of what were once amongst the most valuable maritime bulkheads on Earth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All sorts of colony critters – lichens, molds, algae – are seen, for instance. They infest the flood zone, which is exposed and hidden by the tidal cycle. Wooden bulkheads along the Creek generally date back to the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. This wood would have been treated with something like Creosote Oil to guard against infiltration by insects and smaller parasites. Creosote Oil was a by product of the gasification of Coal, one of the many, many commercial products which emanated from the pursuit of so called “Natural Gas.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bit higher up in the tide line, and a rip rap shoreline. Rip Rap is basically a series of small boulders and large rocks which are dumped along shorelines. The good news about this sort of tidal liner is that it offers a tremendous amount of surface area for the aforementioned colony creatures to attach to, as well as macro organisms like barnacles, clams, and oysters to grab onto. The bad news is that there’s a lot of concrete included amongs the rocks and boulders, and as concrete decays the lime in it causes the water’s ph to rise and become acidic.

There’s also lots of “mystery pipes” that emerge from the shoreline hereabouts, as depicted above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The National Grid company, which operates an LNG distribution and storage operation at the former Brooklyn Union Gas Manufactured Gas Plant site in Greenpoint, doesn’t allow docking at its bulkheads. Accordingly, they erected a wooden shield all along the edge of their property. This sort of thing is actually a gigantic box driven into the mud that is filled with rip rap. The wooden planks provide ample attachment sites for colony critters and filter feeders.

This is a part of the Newtown Creek which is referred to as “The Turning Basin” and it is an engineered wide spot designed to allow a tug and articulated barge enough room and depth to be able to safely reverse course on the otherwise narrow waterway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A close up of a colony of Mussels attached to the National Grid bulkhead. One of NCA’s science people, a certain radical biologist, coined the term “Kidneys of the Creek” for filter feeders like this. Each mussel is able to process “x” number of gallons of water, and remove “y” amount of solute from it. Of course, this means that the Mussel itself becomes a concentrated blob of toxicity, but the sort of Mussels you commonly encounter on Newtown Creek aren’t the species which are part of the human food chain.

On the Creek, it’s the fish and crabs. The fish and crabs which people catch, and then eat, that they gather from Newtown Creek. Yes, you did just read that. The Federal EPA has confirmed this fact.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You encounter masonry rising out of the water, which is capped by concrete, in many spots. This particular spot is about three miles from the East River. There are lots and lots of apertures in the shoreline here, and lightless chambers and flooded voids which recede beneath the “land’s” surface. The word “land” is in quotation as the area which touches the water, with just a few exceptions, was primevally a swamp or at best a flooded marsh. There is no true land, certainly on the Queens side, for a good half mile back from the present day shoreline. It’s all landfill, of the 18th and 19th century variety mainly – rubble, domestic and agricultural waste, ashes and cinders from furnaces and residential hearths. The areas around Grand Avenue, Maspeth Creek, and Dutch Kills, were largely reclaimed in the early 20th century and the ground is filled with more modern crap.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nearby the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road, Brooklyn side, a bulkhead of the same variety enjoyed by National Grid is in the process of collapsing and you can discern the internal structure of the thing. A creosote oil treated wooden box filled with rip rap. Self seeded, the plants you see are thorned and I can attest that those spikes will easily find your tender skin if you venture close enough.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A little further to the west, on the Brooklyn side foundations of what was once called Penny Bridge, nearby the pipe which ExxonMobil returns water to the Creek which was extracted from their Greenpoint Oil Spill remediation efforts. I cannot tell you why anybody decided to hang razor barbed wires from bits of cord, but this improvised filtering technology does seem to be removing “floatable” pollution from the water in an admirable fashion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A Bulkhead Survey is something we Newtown Creek Alliance folks do from time to time, in pursuance of our mission to “reveal, restore, revitalize” the waterway. It’s a lot more fun than sitting in a bunch of meetings and arguing with regulators and corporate types, I can tell you. We don’t do the former it all that often, whereas the latter seems to be at least once every couple of weeks, but there you go.

My job in this sort of endeavor is to sit sideways in the boat and take a series of pictures, one shot is popped off every time I count to five mississippi, depending on how fast the boat is moving.

Ideally, we go out at low tide, when all the poisons hidden in the mud hatch out and stand revealed beneath the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself – along the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 28, 2015 at 11:00 am

soft and rubbery

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DUGSBO, Down Under the Grand Street Bridge, in todays post

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, on Saturday I had to do a tour of my beloved creek and found myself crossing into infinite Brooklyn via the venerable Grand Street Bridge. Running a bit late, I nevertheless found myself cracking out a few shots of the Newtown Creek scenery as the sky was uncharacteristically free of pesky avians. Life forms of any kind are best avoided, by one such as myself. Suddenly, the ancient bridge began to shudder, and one spun on his veritable heels to ascertain the source of the vibrations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Well, there’s something you don’t see every day, thought I. That’s an MTA Bus Company heavy duty tow truck “wrecker” pulling what appears to be a somewhat destructed double decker bus painted with primer gray.

As a note, one has always favored the British spelling for the name of that most decidedly neutral color – which is “Grey.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An amiable pilot was behind the wheel of the gray bus, who offered a gestural greeting as the wrecker towed him across that centuried span which joins Brooklyn’s Bushwick East Williamsburg with Queensican Maspeth. My guess is that they were heading for the titan Grand Street depot found on the Queens side of the currently undefended border between the two boroughs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, the shuddering emanations of the powerful diesel engine found within the wrecker dissipated as it entered Queens, and the Grand Street Bridge ceased its incessant uluations. This allowed me the time to capture an extra one thousandth of a second slice of reality, way out here in DUGSBO.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 4, 2015 at 11:00 am

heavy boots

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Yeah, Happy Earth Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another Earth Day rolls around, wherein large numbers of happy little sophists will gather together in Manhattan Parks and congratulate themselves for separating their trash into “recycling” and “garbage” parcels. They will pat each other on the back, and claim that NYC is the “greenest” and most “resilient” of American cities. You won’t see any of them visiting LIC, or Greenpoint, Maspeth, or Bushwick, or Ridgewood. They won’t think about what happens after they flush their toilets, either.

Few, if any, will find themselves having arrived at the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They won’t see the black waters of Newtown Creek’s tributary Maspeth Creek, or smell the battery acid odor of raw sewage as it is entering the waterway. They won’t comment on the illegal dumping, or the true nature and environmental impact of the recycling industry. Greater good, they would say, were they to leave Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Few will visit Dutch Kills at low tide, over in LIC. If they did, they would be forced to rationalize the rotten egg smell as being produced by anaerobic microbes. They wouldn’t puzzle over the neon colors of this tributary of Newtown Creek, whose mouth is .75 of a mile from the East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They won’t wander through the borderlands of Brooklyn and Queens to Ridgewood, and witness what the recycling process actually looks and smells like. They won’t worry about what they are breathing either.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Manhattan people like to feel as if they’re doing something to help the environment, and will do so in front of television cameras. They will make a show of discussing the banning of plastic grocery bags, or demand that NYC begins to compost its organics. They won’t realize that this composting has to be done somewhere within throwing distance of their Borough, and that it will carried by truck to some central receiving facility where it will be collected and stored whilst awaiting processing. They don’t know that this area will be somewhere along the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They certainly won’t visit the tracks of the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch line, and see the hundreds of filled cargo boxes that compose the “garbage train.” They won’t care that the concentrating point of roughly 30-40% of NYC’s garbage is found on the corner of Varick Street and Johnson Avenue, nor about the thousands of trucks which descend upon it daily.

So – Happy Earth Day, from Newtown Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 3, 2015 –
DUBPO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, a free tour offered as part of Janeswalk 2015, click here for tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

possible opportunities

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My beloved Newtown Creek, at the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The spot which this shot was captured from is definitively in Queens, although it is quite close to the Brooklyn border which is currently somewhere on the Grand Street bridge in DUGSBO. Said border has moved around a bit over the years, as the political classes of both Boroughs vied for advantage over each other. Nearby Ridgewood has been claimed by both municipal entities over the years, for instance, as each attempted to increase its Congressional delegation or share of tax revenue from State or Federal government. This border dispute has become violent in the past, and it’s just a matter of time until another conflict springs up around the legislative demarcation. It would be a war of alliances, and entrenched positions, a grinding slaughterhouse which future generations might call – Brooklyn Queens War One, or BQW1.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It has long been my supposition that were hostilities to break out between the two sides, the neighborhood of the Grand Street Bridge would form up the front line, functioning as a stand in for the Ardennes Forest as the setting for an unwanted but inevitable conflict. I’m sure that alliances would figure into this, eventually drawing the Bronx and Staten Island in. Manhattan would likely act as a war profiteer, selling weapons and intelligence to all sides. The random possibility of volunteer regiments from White Plains or Jersey City volunteering to fight is slim, but is definitively something for the Generals of both Borough Halls to figure into their strategic calculations. Last thing you’d want is a few hundred thousand fresh “Doughboys” showing up from Albany.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Eventually, even Nassau County would find itself having to choose sides, as refugees from Canarsie and Jamaica seeking to escape the shelling flooded into the relative safety of the eastern suburbs. The Brooklyn aligned forces would have a naval advantage, I’m sure, as Queens has been stripped of much of her maritime infrastructure. With the Bronx at her back, however, Queens aligned forces would make it quite costly for the BKSI soldiery or naval forces to capture even an inch of ground. Don’t forget, Queens has the rails, which means that large scale troop deployments and even rail based guns are possible. The Battle of the Queensbridge Houses would surely be reminiscent of Stalingrad, and the Battle of Breezy Point remembered as a tragedy for both sides. Perhaps the blasted heaths of crater scarred Hunters Point and an artillery blasted Greenpoint might serve as a cautionary tale for future generations.

Also, Queens has all the airports.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 12, 2014 at 11:53 am

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