Maspeth Creek, Then and Now

    by

    I’ve told you all about Maspeth Creek before, but long story short is that it’s a tributary of Newtown Creek with big history and even bigger problems. On the history front, how many places can you name in Queens that British Commander Lord Cornwallis could have been hanging around during the 1770s?

    I’m always hunting around the web for historic photos and maps of Western Queens and of Newtown Creek in particular. This past weekend, nearly an entire Sunday was lost exploring the amazing nyc.gov map site offered by the NYC Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications. The NY City Map allows you to turn various informational layers on and off – showing you transit locations, and healthcare centers, and parks of course – but what I find really interesting about the site is that they have aerial views from several “moments” in NYC history packaged in a modern digital map.

    More after the jump…

    bsQ_110914_maspethcr_001_s

    This is a screen cap of the 2012 extent of Maspeth Creek, in all its truncated and silted up glory, as it comes to an end on 49th Street. I turned on the layer for the Long Island Railroad, which rendered as the curving black line wiggling about in the image. This was from the NYC DOITT’s 2012 offering, and it depicts the section of Maspeth nearby the big UPS truck farm and that Canada Dry distributorship on 56th Road. The grayish structure at top left is Restaurant Depot, if you need a landmark.

    For a larger version of this map, click here, it will open in a new window.

    bsQ_110914_maspethcr_002_s

    The 1951 version. The photo was fairly muddy, so I took the liberty of false coloring the water for the sake of clarity. Notice that there’s a whole lot more going on, industry wise. The Restaurant Depot is replaced by Phelps Dodge, and the large industrial concern on 49th Street that’s missing from the 2012 version is United Enameling and Stamping. There used to be an LIRR station here, called Haberman. The staggering amount of haze and smoke are the fires of industry, which would begin to go out by the end of the 1950’s, as part of a general decline in the manufacturing sector of NYC that went into overdrive during the 1960s. The LIRR line is still on, for reference.

    For a larger version of this map, click here, it will open in a new window.

    bsQ_110914_maspethcr_003_s

    Now, the thing that I found truly interesting – amongst the many – is how “wetlands” Maspeth Creek was in 1924. Newtown Creek was in high gear during this period, just after the First World War. The national economy was booming, roaring you might say, during the 20’s. Phelps Dodge, which was likely still known as Nichols or General Chemical, is putting out a lot of exhaust from its smokestacks, over where Restaurant Depot was in the 2012 shot. That little island you’ll notice just to the left of General Chemical’s smoke was called Mussel Island. It was demolished, and the dredged out material was added to the Brooklyn side. That long causeway you see is Maspeth Avenue.

    For a larger version of this map, click here, it will open in a new window.

    Now, head over to maps.nyc.gov and play.

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

    What's Happening