The Newtown Pentacle

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Newtown Creek Boat Tour

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

This coming Sunday -the 22nd of July, the Working Harbor Committee is producing and offering a boat tour of the Newtown Creek to any interested parties. A special emphasis on the waterway’s storied history and maritime legacy will be made.

I’m going to be doing the history part, speaking in my capacity as the Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, and am tasked with highlighting the various points of interest encountered along the route. Anticipated to be some three hours in length, this boat tour will be delving some three miles inland, proceeding to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge crossing English Kills in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Maritime History of Newtown Creek is one largely forgotten in these decadent times, but even now an odd tugboat and barge might be spied making their way down the waterway on any given day. Property owners were considered to have been blessed by some of the finest industrial bulkheads in the world a mere century ago, yet many of the businesses based along the Creek today ignore this invaluable resource, allowing their waterfront property to decay and decline.

Nevertheless, a staggering amount of maritime traffic is still observed here, and towing companies such as Reinauer, K-Sea, DonJon, and Poling and Cutler are regular visitors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Vast operations will be witnessed by those onboard, many of which are involved in the scrap metal and recyclables trade. Responsible for an enormous amount of cross harbor shipping, companies such as SimsMetal are heavily reliant on the maritime trades for their economic success.

Not all that long ago, Newtown Creek carried a greater tonnage of cargo than the entire Mississippi River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An active and thriving industrial zone in the center of New York City, from the water one can truly grasp the sheer scale of Newtown Creek’s busy waterfront. Normally hidden by high fences and obscured by street facing structures, the intensity of the Newtown Creek is laid bare before the admiring gaze of first time visitor and veteran urban explorer alike.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A tributary of the estuarine East River, Newtown Creek extends some 3.8 miles from its junction with the more familiar waterway, and provides demarcation for the currently undefended border of much of Brooklyn and Queens. Named to the Federal Superfund list, the Creek suffers from a history of environmental degradation and municipal neglect.

An era of great change is upon the Newtown Creek, and this trip will be one of your last chances to see it in its current form.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We will see four moveable bridges, and this year will be your last chance to see the static Kosciuszko Bridge as the NYS DOT has indicated that construction on its replacement will begin as early as the Spring of 2013.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along it’s banks, great fortunes have risen.

Amongst others- Peter Cooper (BO Railroad, Canton Iron, and Cooper Union), Charles Pratt (Astral Oil, and Pratt University), and ultimately John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil)– all grew richer than the dreams of avarice in this place. Alongside them, the darkest mills of the industrial revolution- rendering plants, yeast distilleries, bone blackers, and acid factories provided tens of thousands of jobs to the immigrant populations of Brooklyn and Queens. Today- National Grid, BP, Amoco, ExxonMobil, and a host of other multinational companies still maintain an enormous investment in this valuable industrial canal.

There are still a few, and I mean “few” tickets left for this trip- get yours while you can.

Upcoming tour: Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek Exploration.

On July 22nd, Mitch shares his unique point of view and deep understanding of the past, present and future conditions of the Newtown Creek as the narrator and expedition leader for this years Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek exploration.

Our NY Water Taxi leaves from South Street Seaport at 11 a.m. (sharp) on a three hour tour of the Newtown Creek. From the East River we’ll move into the Newtown Creek where we’ll explore explore vast amounts of maritime infrastructure, see many movable bridges and discover the very heart of the Hidden Harbor.

Limited seating available, get your tickets today.

Tickets $50, trip leaves Pier 17 at South Street Seaport at 11a.m. sharp.

We will be traveling in a comfortable NY Water Taxi vessel with indoor and outdoor seating. There will be refreshments and snacks available for purchase at the bar.

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

This maritime Sunday, it’s a return to the Newtown Creek, where a tug was witnessed heading out to the East River with two barges of what seems to be metal. Unusual best describes the manner in which the barges are tied to the tug, at least in my limited experience. Most of the tandem tows I’ve witnessed over the last several years orient multiple barges in a line, after the manner of train cars in relationship to locomotive engine.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Although I can report this only from having seen photos, on the Mississippi or other inland waterways, several barges will be lined up in long rows before tugs. Unfortunately, I came upon the Mscene too late to capture any identifying information about this tug, even the identity of its company. Hopefully, our friends at tugster might be generous enough to identify at least the name of the towing corporation based on the “colorway” of the boat for you, gentle readers, in the comments section.

frightful parts

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

In ancient Greenpoint, down on Manhattan Avenue, a scrap metal processing yard has opened.

This is a somewhat puzzling development, as the modern streets around these parts host a large number of residential buildings- both old and new- and the locale is clearly trending toward the residential rather than industrial in the future. Regardless, this business brings badly needed jobs to recession plagued Brooklyn, and all I can say to these new stakeholders along the water is this- “Welcome to Newtown Creek”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news is that this particular metals business- which is TnT Scrap Metal, by the way- is using barges in the pursuit of their trade.

A single barge carries the equivalent load of better than 150 trucks, and one of the tried and true complaints offered incessantly at this – your Newtown Pentacle- is how few of the businesses based along the Newtown Creek utilize their bulkheads. The metals trade, at least the big players like SimsMetal, utilize maritime methodologies routinely.

This Newtown Creek of ours was once one of the finest industrial waterways on earth, and could be again someday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once upon a time, the sight of a barge tied up here would have been nothing special. The Newtown Creek Towing Company was nearby, as was the New York State Barge canal. The enormous brick structure framing the shot above, known to modernity as the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC) was once home of the Chelsea Fiber Mill, an 1868 era factory building which was employed in the manufacture of maritime textiles and rope.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Manhattan Avenue Street end, where once the Vernon Avenue Bridge connected the Brooklyn municipality of Greenpoint to Long Island City’s Hunters Point, is a park and sports a kayak launch. It’s actually a pretty popular place for the locals- for dog walking, coffee drinking… and god help us all… people actually fish and crab here as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

TNT is making an effort at being a good neighbor, and has recently announced a contest for local artists to compete for a monetary prize and the chance to paint a mural on their largish metal gates on Manhattan Avenue. When word of this reached me a few weeks back, and TNT’s “rfp” crossed my desk, the first person I thought of to disseminate the news to the arts community of Greenpoint was none other than Ms. Heather over at

Ever gracious and instinctually curatorial, she ran the news in this post- where you can get all the details on the competition.


Click for details on Mitch Waxman’s
Upcoming walking and boat tours of Newtown Creek, and Staten Island’s Kill Van Kull

June 30th, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Kill Van Kull walk

for June 30th tickets, click here for the Working Harbor Committee ticketing page

July 8th, 2012- Atlas Obscura Walking Tour- The Insalubrious Valley

for July 8th tickets, click here for the Atlas Obscura ticketing page

July 22nd, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Newtown Creek Boat Tour

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