So… Welcome to Newtown Creek, and specifically, Maspeth.
Maspeth was the first European settlement in Queens, dating back to the 1640s.
Newtown Creek was a vital and thriving coastal wetland back then, known for a remarkable abundance of fish, fowl and shellfish. The modern community of Maspeth gets its name from a group of Native Americans who used to live here — a people whose name was recorded as the “Maespetche” or “Mespeatche” by the Dutch.
Maspeth has a long and colorful history, one which includes being ruinously occupied by British and Hessian troops during the American Revolution, but the wooden structure you see sticking out of the water at the street end of 58th Road at 47th Street isn’t that old.
Instead, it only dates back to 1875 when Ulysses S. Grant was president.
The Maspeth Toll Bridge Company incorporated in 1836 and built a wooden bridge across Newtown Creek connecting the ancient communities of Maspeth and Newtown in Queens with the hellish expanse of Furmans Island (19th century home to Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory, Conrad Wissel’s Night Soil and Offal Dock, and the M. Kalbfleisch and Sons acid mills, amongst many other notorious or malodorous occupants).
Furmans Island, and another called Mussel, were eradicated by the Army Corps of Engineers in the late 19th century. Mussel Island was dredged away, and Furmans was solidly attached to Brooklyn by landfill. If you’re at Cooper Park at the border of Bushwick and Williamsburg, you’re on Furmans Island.
Peter Cooper invented Jello brand gelatin at his glue factory on Furmans Island, by the way.
The road leading to this spot, which the Maspeth Toll Bridge Company sought to exploit, is a truly ancient pathway between two Dutch colonies — Boswijck (Bushwick in modern day Brooklyn), and Nieuwe Stad (Newtown) in Queens. When the British cartographers of General Henry Clinton mapped it in 1781, it was called the Newtown and Bushwick Road and Turnpike.
It was paved with crushed oyster shells back in those days, which were abundantly available for harvest from the waters of the Newtown Creek in any amount desired.
Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman blogs at Newtown Pentacle