This website is part of a collaborative project-- a collaboration between me, you, and I hope many other people as well.
So what are we collaborating on? We're trying to find the old streams and watercourses of New York City. That means two things: first, researching and finding out what used to be there; and second, looking at what's there now, and trying to understand what the things we see now communicate about what used to be there.
Please contribute by sending an anecdote/observation/cell-phone snapped photo/whatever related to a waterway in NYC! Maybe you've seen a street sign for Mill Pond Avenue; figure out where the old pond and mill used to be, and send it in! Or just send in a note or photo about a clue like a street name, and maybe I'll know where it fits in. Or maybe your grandmother has a story about growing up in Queens and having the basement flood every year because some old buried stream wouldn't go away.
Pictures or text are fine; if just a little text, you can post it as a comment on the appropriate page(s), and if it's anything more you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll put it up as a new post, crediting you or keeping you anonymous as you prefer.
ABOUT OLD WATERCOURSES IN NYC
Almost all of the the streams, ponds, swamps, tidal inlets, flood plains, springs, etc that once dotted the fertile land seem, at first glance, to have disappeared underneath the tide of New York City's urbanization. This is not completely true. In many cases, the city retains the imprint of these features; in the shape of a road, for example, like Water Street in lower Manhattan, that used to follow the edge of a stream or river; or sometimes just in the name of a neighborhood or street. Spring Street is named after a spring; Canal Street was briefly a functional canal under the Dutch; and throughout Brooklyn and Queens north along the Hudson, streets with names like "Mill Street," "Lake Ave," "Mill Pond Road," etc indicate the old sites of water mills located along streams or ponds.
In many cases, not only the name but the watercourse itself lives on, though now flowing through underground sewers or re-routed along a different course. New York City's great period of sewer-building was in the late 19th century (for much of Manhattan and Brooklyn) and the early 20th century (for Queens and other areas). When streams were routed underground during the 19th century, it was usually through magnificent brick tunnels. Though unseen, these are spectacular engineering works in their own right. Sometimes, the city has built over a stream or spring without re-routing it. In these cases, the water often re-asserts itself in basement floods. Sometimes these old watercourses, though invisible to the public, are simply treated as an unfortunate facet of taking care of a NYC building; 60 Centre Street, for example-- the New York County Courthouse-- was built over the old site of the Collect Pond, and today pumps are constantly at work to pump out the water that threatens to flood the basement.
This website is an attempt to put together what I know with what you know. The more I've looked for modern remnents of old watercourses, the more I've found that this is truly a case where anecdotal information is the best sort. There is no archive of buildings with old streams running under their basements; but if enough people contribute what they know, we'll end up creating that list.