Gaze in wonder upon the fabled Newtown Creek of the 21st century, as a tug of the Poling and Cutler towing organization wrestles a fuel barge in a westerly course toward the East River past the Vernon Blvd. Street end in Queens (right) and the Manhattan Avenue Street end in Brooklyn (left).
A phrase I routinely offer boldly states that “in the late 19th and early 20th century, Newtown Creek carried more commercial traffic than the entire Mississippi River.” This statement often causes listeners to roll their eyes.
It is inconceivable, given the modern appearance of the Creek and its banks, to believe this statement. Some ask me whether or not tugs and barges can even be observed operating along the Newtown Creek in this dystopian future we have all found ourselves living in.
Photo by nycma.lunaimaging.com, September 11th, 1903
The Newtown Creek in 1903.
This is roughly the same spot, with the Chelsea fiber mill (modern day Manhattan Avenue) on the southern (left) or Greenpoint bank and the Newtown Creek Towing Company docks on the right or LIC bank (modern day Vernon Boulevard street end).
Another shot emanating from the NYC Municipal Archives, this is part of the scant photographic records which detail Newtown Creek’s zenith, when it was known as the “workshop of America” at the height of the second industrial revolution.
Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.