Above is an aerial shot of my beloved Newtown Creek, as seen from the Empire State Building. You’ll notice the Pulaski Bridge crossing the water in the lower third of the shot and the Kosciuszko Bridge in the upper third. That’s LIC on the left, and Greenpoint on the right. On the Queens side, you can see the LIRR yard at Hunters Point and the LIE snaking eastwards away from the Midtown Tunnel. What you don’t see is something that nobody who is alive today has ever seen, and that’s Jack’s Creek – a filled in tributary of Newtown Creek that traveled inland for quite a way.
What? You don’t know Jack? More after the jump…
The tributary was named, it seems, for a slave named Jack who was left the property in the will of his owner – who was named Peter Praa. Who was Praa? A Dutch sea captain who was the original LIC real estate developer, and whose property eventually ended up in the hands of a woman named Anna Hunter around the time of the American Revolution. It’s Anna Hunter whose name got engraved on the maps, which is why we call this section of LIC Hunters Point.
This 1873 map of Hunters Point depicts Jack’s Creek departure from Newtown Creek and its pathway north.
I dropped in a bit of red here, to clarify the path it took. Early descriptions of Queens, and by early I mean before 1700, describe something not unlike the Bayous of Louisiana – a laced shoreline of marshes and swamps with small streams and creeks running through them. Land reclamation was pretty serious business back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries around these parts, and entire waterways were filled in or covered over. Jack’s Creek is one of them.
A modern map, in approximately the same position as the 1873 one, with the red squiggle of Jack’s Creek overlayed. The pathway suggests that Jack’s Creek left the main body of Newtown Creek just east of the Pulaski Bridge between modern day 21st and 23rd Streets and crossed Borden Avenue and the western side of the Sunnyside Yards on its way north.
Incidentally, Greater Astoria Historic Society has a shot of people ice skating on Jack’s Creek at their smugmug page.
A modern shot, well… 2012 at least… of Borden Avenue’s LIRR grade crossing at 21st Street. Jack’s Creek would have flowed right alongside the far side of the train if I’m reading the maps correctly.
Apparently, Jack’s Creek disappeared during the construction era of the Degnon Terminal and Sunnyside Yards back in the first decade of the 20th century. If my interpretation of the 1873 map is correct, however, there must have been some sections of it filled in prior to this, as PS1 seems to be sitting directly on top of the waterway.
I wonder if their basement floods when it rains?
Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.