The Past and Present of Maspeth Creek

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    Maspeth Creek is a tributary of the larger Newtown Creek; its street facing terminus can be accessed on 49th Street between Galasso Place and Maspeth Avenue. Once, the waterway stretched out toward Flushing for a considerable distance, but that was back when the Europeans first showed back in the 1640s. These Dutchmen from New Amsterdam established a colony nearby in 1642, one named for and then wiped out by a group of Native Americans whom they called the Mespaetche in 1643.

    They’re where we get the place name “Maspeth,” by the way.

    Apparently, the Dutch really pissed off the natives, and the colonists were sent packing. Unfortunately for the Mespaetche, the Dutch left behind pandemic and disease. In 1652, the Dutch were back, and were in a diplomatic mood this time. They made peace with the surviving natives, and established the colony of “Nieuwe Stad.”

    When the English took over, “Nieuwe Stad” became Newtown.

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    The town docks of colonial Maspeth weren’t too far from this spot, which is a fair mess in modern times. This truncated little waterway — from which the British Expeditionary Forces of General Howe launched, in pursuit of General Washington — has seen its maritime bulkheads collapse into the water. It’s little more than an open sewer these days, and has been for most of the 20th century. What you’re seeing above are known as “floatables” and the NYC DEP sends a skimmer boat in here periodically to collect the material. Bottles, cigarette butts, tampon applicators — anything that goes down the drain can be observed here.

    The current outlines of the waterway were locked into place by 1914. Oddly enough, this has become a nesting spot for sea birds in recent years.

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    There’s some ugly industrial leave behinds in the ground nearby, of course, but Maspeth Creek’s biggest problem is the Combined Sewer Outfall which is found at its terminus. It’s responsible for discharging some 288.7 million gallons a year of combined storm and sanitary sewer flow into the water here. The structure is designated NC-077, indicating it is ultimately part of the system of pipes controlled by the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, and that the water which flows here started its journey within the Manhattan sewershed. The muddy flats which surround NC-077 are not mud, rather they are “sediment mounds,” and the smell at low tide… is pretty much what you’d expect it to be like.

    As you can see, the water is only navigable at high tide, and even then by rowboat or canoe.

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

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