Kerosene was “invented” by a Canadian named Abraham Gesner, who built the first large scale refinery in North America along the Newtown Creek in 1854. 

He received the patents for the process, and coined the name “Kerosene” for a distillation of coal oil (like a lot of 19th century industrial product names, we moderns inherited the trademarked nomen as the descriptor for an entire category. It’s the same shorthand we use for facial tissue as being “Kleenex,” or photocopying as “Xerox,” or cotton swabs as “Q-tips”). Gesner was looking for a way to get an angle on the lucrative lamp oil trade.

In 1854, lamp oil was produced from animal fats. Ocean going fish, and especially whales, were basically boiled down to make the stuff. The collection of the raw material was hazardous and expensive, and the refined product was dangerously volatile – there had to be a better way. Chemist Abraham Gesner invented a method by which a combustible oil could be distilled from coal. In doing so, he pretty much founded what would become the American oil industry.

When the time came to set up shop and build a factory to produce his coal oil or “Kerosene,” it was along the Newtown Creek that Abraham Gesner built the first large scale refinery in North America – in the Blissville neighborhood of what we would call Queens.

More, lots more, after the jump…


As discussed in prior postings, Kevin Walsh and I decided to take Q’stoner with us to the very edge of New York City when we visited the Rockaways. Here’s Part One and here’s Part Two. This is the third installment, and Kevin will finish up the quartet tomorrow. Now, back to the beach.

This shot is looking back at Riis Park, at the border of what must have surely been an enormous and quite recent industrial endeavor.

From Wikipedia:

The park was largely built on the site of the former Rockaway Naval Air Station, one of the first US naval air stations. Riis Park was designed by the politically powerful New York City Park Commissioner Robert Moses, who had also created Jones Beach as a state park further east on Long Island in 1929. Moses saw Riis Park as a Jones Beach for poor immigrants, and ensured that the location was accessible by public transportation and closer to Manhattan.

A vast wall of sand was found, dissimilar in color to the beach sand which the bathers and sun worshippers at Riis were gamboling about upon. This beach is now the built environment, it seems.

From ny1.com:

In the Rockaways, long stretches of sand are less weekend paradise and more construction zone. Forget your sun visor. This is hard-hat territory.

“It looks like hell,” said Kevin Boyle, a Rockaway community activist. “It’s not exactly ready for the top 10 list anywhere, but it’s coming along. I’m pretty sure by 2020, the boardwalk will be there and the beach will look good.”

It should be mentioned, by the way, that everybody seemed to be having a much better time than Kevin and myself. We were the two weird looking old guys walking around on the beach with cameras… the ones who looked uncomfortable and relatively pale. The suntans people sport out here are actually outrageous for this early in the summer.


High speed internet service, as offered by one of America’s most hated companies, goes down in Astoria on a fairly regular basis. Stop by any taverna or saloon and mention the name of a certain corporate giant which has enjoyed a de facto monopoly over cable internet and TV in NYC, and you will be greeted by a litany of curses and witness people spitting.

Given the international “flava” of Astoria, some of these utterings are actual curses invoking for and asking for the intervention of supernatural entities. It’s not just one company at fault here, although they are really, really bad at what they do – a lot of it can be chalked up to observably bad wiring.

You’ll notice this sort of horrid utility pole clutter all over western Queens. A hodge podge of wires leading to and from building to pole. In many ways, its reminiscent of the sort of historical photos you see of lower Manhattan at the beginning of the 20th century, when telegraph wires were strung across intersections. If you’re on the phone with a provider of high speed internet access, this mess is probably the reason why.

Everywhere you look, sagging utility poles carry a staggering amount of wiring. This is cable TV, electrical, and telephone wire which has accumulated over the years and a lot of it isn’t connected to anything anymore. It creates a visual nightmare, clutters up the street scape, and reveals the dream of turning Western Queens into a “tech corridor” as something of a joke. Think Google or Facebook want to plug into this?


There aren’t all that many places in Western Queens, let alone Long Island City, where you can actually spot a patch of ground that is “As God made it.” One of them can be found at 12th Street’s intersection with 43rd Street, right at the border of the Hunters Point and Ravenswood sections. There’s a glacial erratic, basically a giant boulder left behind by the glaciers which formed Long Island in the first place, protruding from the street there.

Past observation has reveled it to be a favored spot for skateboarding and mountain biking aficionados, who use it as a sort of ramp. When I was down there last week, it was being used for parking. To be fair, the rock does protrude out of a private parking lot, so there you go.

While I was impressed with the way that the pickup truck was posed, looking almost like something that Detroit would favor for an advertisement, it was actually the giant rock that had drawn me here. A glacial erratic is a giant hunk of rock deposited in place either by the melting of or the motive power of a glacier.

From Wikipedia:

Large erratics consisting of slabs of bedrock that have been lifted and transported by glacier ice to subsequently be stranded above thin glacial or fluvioglacial deposits are referred to as glacial floes, rafts (schollen) or erratic megablocks. Erratic megablocks have typical length to thickness ratios on the order of 100 to 1. These megablocks may be found partially exposed or completely buried by till and are clearly allochthonus, since they overlay glacial till. Megablocks can be so large that they are mistaken for bedrock until underlying glacial or fluvial sediments are identified by drilling or excavation.

The striations in the rock were created by the glacier itself, and my understanding (I am no geologist) is that the substance of the thing is Gneiss. Apparently, the East River coastline of LIC is underlain by large deposits of this material, which is what makes building the tall structures in Hunters Point possible. Current scientific opinion seems to be leaning toward there having been several glaciers, rather than a single monolithic one, credited with scattering these large boulders and carving up the archipelago of islands which we know as New York City.

Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.


Over the weekend Build in Green! NYC, NYRP and MillionTreesNYC are giving away 300 trees in both Queens and Brooklyn. Tree adopters must live in one of the five boroughs and have permission to plant the tree on their property. There’s a limit of one tree per address. The Queens giveaway is happening this Saturday, May 17th from 11am to 1pm at the Build it Green Reuse Center, 3-17 26th Avenue in Astoria. To register, go here. Tree selections include an Eastern Red Cedar, Eastern Redbud, Flowering Dogwood and Hackberry, all pictured above.


Earlier today we posted a video about the dire state of the former Wolff-Alport Chemical Company site at 1127-1129 Irving Avenue in Ridgewood. Soon after, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that they are adding the site to the federal Superfund list of hazardous waste sites. The Wolff-Alport Chemical Company operated from 1920 until 1954 and sold thorium to the government. Recent studies by the EPA found waste material and radioactivity throughout the property, beneath adjacent public sidewalks and streets and in nearby sewers above normal levels. 1127-1129 Irving Avenue is comprised of six parcels of land with five buildings that house an auto body shop, an ice making facility, a construction company and a deli.

The EPA has already spent about $2,000,000 on the site; it is unclear how much the actual Superfund process will cost. According to the press release, “The EPA searches for parties legally responsible for the contamination at sites that are placed on the Superfund list and it seeks to hold those parties accountable for the costs of investigations and cleanups. EPA is evaluating potentially responsible parties regarding the site.”

This is the city’s third Superfund site after Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal.

EPA Adds Radiation Site in Ridgewood Queens, New York to the Superfund List [EPA.gov]
All Wolff-Alport Chemical Company coverage [Q’Stoner]


This week the New Yorker published a fascinating video about toxic sites in New York City. In particular, the video chronicles the history of the former Wolff-Alport Chemical Company, located at 1127-1129 Irving Avenue in Ridgewood. The company sold thorium to the government until the 1950s, and now the area has radiation levels high enough to cause an elevated risk of cancer for those who frequent it. The site is currently home to an auto body shop, an ice making facility, a construction company and a deli. A public school and daycare center are located 900 feet away. As Judith Enck, an EPA regional administrator, states in the video, “What really sticks with me is when I read the health report, and there was a recommendation that people not lay on their back in the auto body shop, and I just have this concern that all day long a number of guys are underneath a car not suspecting that just coming to work every to do their jobs is potentially causing a health risk for them.”

Because there are no other sites in New York with conditions as bad as Wolff-Alport, it looks highly likely the area will be Superfunded. The EPA is expected to make its decision on the matter this month. If it’s picked, the EPA will work with the businesses to make the process as non-invasive as possible.

Radioactive NYC [The New Yorker] via Gothamist
All Wolff-Alport Chemical Company coverage [Q’Stoner]


The slow deconstruction of the Poletti Power Plant, in Astoria, continues. According to a press release/update sent out by Senator Michael Gianaris, “For the first time in recent memory, smokestacks have been eliminated from western Queens after the New York Power Authority (NYPA) has removed the second of the power plant’s two smokestacks, as deconstruction of the entire facility continues.” The New York Power Authority announced plans to deconstruct the aging, inefficient power plant back in 2012. The work began in 2013 with a plan to be completed by December 31st, 2014. The process in not like a demolition; it’s rather a slow de-construction in a manner similar to reverse construction.

Here’s what Senator Gianaris had to say about the progress: “The smokestacks of the Poletti power plant were symbols of the pollution that haunted our neighborhood for too long, and I am happy to see them go. The progress we have made improving our air quality is a key reason so many New Yorkers are coming to western Queens to live and work. More remains to be done in terms of rooting out pollution, but the deconstruction of the Poletti plant is a major milestone in taking our neighborhoods from being plagued by smokestacks to the family-friendly communities full of green space and parks to which we aspire.”

Photo via Queens Buzz


This Saturday and Sunday, volunteers visited Rockaway Beach to help plant beach grass on top of the dunes to help better protect the shoreline. According to the Parks Department, the roots of the beach grass strengthens the dunes by holding sand in place. The blades also trap windblown sand, increasing dune size. Parks has planted beach grass from native crops in Rockaway and Staten Island since Hurricane Sandy, and they even created a beach grass “farm” at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.

These plants went on dunes that the Army Corps of Engineers is currently constructing. You can see more pictures of the event this weekend after the jump.

Photos by NYC Parks Department


This photograph of Kennedy’s Restaurant in Breezy Point appeared on Twitter yesterday with the note, “Looking forward to Kennedy’s opening…it looks so nice…thank you to all who helped!” The historic restaurant, located right on the waterfront with views of Manhattan, opened in 1910 and was originally a casino. (You can read the fascinating history of the place over here.) According to the Kennedy’s website, the goal is to reopen by this summer. GMAP