From the excellent site http://www.oldstreets.com:
Collect Pond: A large freshwater pond, irregular in shape, in the area roughly
bounded by today's Duane, Centre, Walker, Canal and Mulberry Streets,
and Cardinal Hayes Place. The name derives from the Dutch Kalck,
meaning chalk or lime, and probably refers to the piles of shells left
by Indians who had harvested oysters nearby. The name is also found
spelled Kolck, Kalk, etc. The pond was an important source of drinking
water in colonial times but became progressively more polluted. It was
filled in between 1802 and 1813. See also Five Points.
A schematic of Washington Square Park from the parks department; this shows planned renovations, including moving the fountain slightly to bring it into line with the Arch, but is very close to the plan of the park as it exists today.
Washington Square Park does not have any obvious signs of the old watercourse. Between the development of the park and the real estate development around it in the 19th century, it's been changed many times from its original form. However the water still has to go somewhere, and today there are three parallel combined sewers (carrying both drainage water and sewage) running east to west: one on the north side of the park (Waverly Place/Washington Square North), in a pipe 4'2" by 4"; another on the south side of the park (West 4th St), 4' by 3'; and one through the middle of the park, with a diameter of 54" (4.5 feet). These are shown on the sewer diagram below; probably all three are brick tunnels, from mid- to late-nineteenth century construction. Which, if any of these, carries the remnants of the Minetta Brook?
Famously, it's known that the water of Minetta Brook can be seen from the surface at a marble fountain in the inner lobby of #2 Fifth Avenue (which is just on the north side of the park-- where Fifth Avenue hits Washington Square North).
However, it seems likely that the fountain is no longer supplied by the historic stream, if it ever was. A 1930 NY Times article told about the exposure of the brook in this fountain, but I suspect whatever supplied it has been replaced by standard NYC water supply water (if it ever was Minetta water, and not just a publicity stunt.)
According to the Native's Guide to New York by Richard Laermer (W. W. Norton & Company, 2002), for example, Minetta Brook "dried up in the mid-1800s" and the 2 Fifth Ave fountain merely "symbolizes" Minetta Brook. (Although the plaque on the fountain says that "A brook winds its erratic way beneath this site," and explains that over time Minetta Brook-- sometimes referred to by its nickname 'Devil's Water'-- "has settled underground.")
Despite the improbability, other walking tours and guidebooks still suggest that the fountain is truly Minetta Brook water. Does anyone know any more about this? Please email me if you know! Also if you have a snapshot of the fountain, I'd love to add that to this post-- email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
I've also been told the stream is visible in a fountain at at 33 Washington Square West, which is at the western edge of the park.
References: Native's Guide to New York: Advice With Attitude for People Who Live Here--And Visitors We Like By Richard Laermer Published by W. W. Norton & Company, 2002
The Sawmill River flows into the Hudson at Yonkers, a few miles north of New York City. At 23 miles long, the Sawmill is the longest tributary of the Hudson. Over time, however, the section that passes through downtown Yonkers was slowly covered over—first with individual bridges and then by a few industrial bridges that spanned the stream in the quest for more space, until finally the city built concrete tunnels around what little of the river remained exposed. Now, it travels a winding and invisible path under streets, parking lots, and buildings. It still flows out into the Hudson, although it’s only a shadow of the river it once was—much of its watershed is now urbanized, and storm drains and sewers carry away much of the water that once fed it. This river had originally been called the Nepperhan Creek; it became the Sawmill sometime after 1646, when a Dutch lawyer named Adriaen Van Der Donck built a water-powered sawmill on the Nepperhan near its junction with the Hudson. Van Der Donck had received the land—a 24,000 acre estate-- from New Amsterdam Governer William Kieft, as a reward for his help in establishing a peace between New Amsterdam and local groups of Native Americans. (The belligerent Kieft needed help in establishing peace; the previous two years, known as “Kieft’s War,” had involved a series of incredibly bloody massacres of Indians by Dutch soldiers, motivating the Algonquian tribes to unite against the colonists.) Van Der Donck was arguably one of the first great American patriots, and at the very least he was an early, enthusiastic booster for what would become New York. He was a tireless proponent of a local, republican government for the colony to replace the control of the West India Company, and his book Beschryvinge van Nieuw-Nederlant (Description of New Netherland) was a glowing description of the New York region that attracted many colonists. Trained as a lawyer, he first arrived in New Amsterdam in 1641 at the tender age of 23, with a job as “schout” (a prosecutor, sheriff, and tax-collector) for Kiliaen van Rensselaer’s domain near where Albany is now located. Astounded at the beauty of the Hudson Valley, Van Der Donck spent much of his time exploring the countryside instead of attending to his duties. He learned the language of the Mahicans and the Mohawks, which would lead to his key role in establishing peace with the Algonquins. Yonkers itself, under which the Sawmill River now flows, had taken its name from Van Der Donck. With his new status as a major landowner, he had received the Dutch honorific “Jonkheer,” approximately translated as “young gentleman” or “young lord.” His estate was therefore “De Jonkheer’s Landt” in Dutch, which would eventually be anglicized to “The Yonkers” before it became shortened to “Yonkers.” In the 1840s, New York’s first railroads connected the bucolic riverside town to New York City, spurring a rapid growth. Yonkers was officially incorporated as a village in 1855, and was recognized as a city in 1872. With its enviable site on the Hudson, Yonkers grew quickly in the 19th century. Elisha Graves Otis installed the first prototype of his revolutionary “safety elevator” in a factory in Yonkers. But as it grew, the river that had given birth to the city became an obstacle to growth. As more industrial buildings were built in the 19th century, some straddled the river. Sections of the river were shunted through underground flumes, and road bridges were built across other parts of it, until eventually the city decided to simply cover over the last exposed sections of the river. By the early 1900s, the river was completely underground for the section that passes through downtown Yonkers. The many years of change and growth are along the underground river. Stone arches from the 19th century sit next to sections of 20th century concrete, and next to these there are small sections where the span of an old bridge was supported on rough-hewn logs.
1776 map showing the northern tip of Manhattan and Spuyten Duyvil
Creek, which is crossed by both Kingsbridge and Dyckman's Bridge.
(Taken from map image linked below).
Upper Manhattan and the Bronx were seperated by only a narrow tidal
strait until the end of the 19th century. This narrow, meandering, but
fast-flowing strait was the Spuyten Duyvil Creek (various alternative
spellings are also valid). New York's waterfront sees about a five-foot
variation between low tide and high tide, and as the tide came in and
out there was often a difference in water level between the Hudson
River and the East River, which is affected by the slow and massive
tidal movements of Long Island Sound. This differential created
dangerous currents. In his (fictional) book The Knickerbocker History of New York,
Washington Irving tells an apocryphal story of how the strait got its
name, and how violent the water could be. (The character in this
passage is Antony Corlear, a trumpeter sent by 17th-century governor of
New Amsterdam Peter Stuyvesant to warn residents that the British were
It was a dark and stormy night when the good Antony arrived at the creek
(sagely denominated Haerlem river) which separates the island of
Manna-hata from the mainland. The wind was high, the elements were in an
uproar, and no Charon could be found to ferry the adventurous sounder of
brass across the water. For a short time he vapored like an impatient
ghost upon the brink, and then, bethinking himself of the urgency of his
errand, took a hearty embrace of his stone bottle, swore most valorously
that he would swim across in spite of the devil (spyt den duyvel), and
daringly plunged into the stream. Luckless Antony! scarce had he buffeted
half-way over when he was observed to struggle violently, as if battling
with the spirit of the waters. Instinctively he put his trumpet to his
mouth, and giving a vehement blast sank for ever to the bottom.
The clangor of his trumpet, like that of the ivory horn of the renowned
Paladin Orlando, when expiring in the glorious field of Roncesvalles, rang
far and wide through the country, alarming the neighbors round, who
hurried in amazement to the spot. Here an old Dutch burgher, famed for his
veracity, and who had been a witness of the fact, related to them the
melancholy affair; with the fearful addition (to which I am slow of giving
belief) that he saw the duyvel, in the shape of a huge mossbonker, seize
the sturdy Antony by the leg and drag him beneath the waves. Certain it
is, the place, with the adjoining promontory, which projects into the
Hudson, has been called Spyt den Duyvel ever since; the ghost of the
unfortunate Antony still haunts the surrounding solitudes, and his trumpet
has often been heard by the neighbors of a stormy night, mingling with the
howling of the blast.
Nobody ever attempts to swim across the creek after dark; on the contrary,
a bridge has been built to guard against such melancholy accidents in the
future; and as to moss-bonkers, they are held in such abhorrence that no
true Dutchman will admit them to his table who loves good fish and hates
the era of the drowned Van Corlear, the normal way across Spuyten
Duyivil Creek during high tide was a ferry, operated until 1673 by
Johannes Verveelen. (During low tide it was often possible to wade
across, whether for travelers on foot or farmers bringing livestock to
the city—probably the origin of the name “Fordham” in the Bronx). But
in 1693, Manhattan got its first bridge, a wooden toll-bridge structure
run by the Philippse family, and built over the old fording spot so
that those crossing the Spuyten Duyvil were forced to pay the toll. The
charter mandated that the king of England and his representatives,
British soldiers, could cross for free, and so it was known as the
King’s Bridge. Around 1713, the Philipse family replaced the
wooden span with a new, 24-foot-wide bridge with a wooden deck laid
over rough stone supports. It would remain the only bridge across the
Harlem River until about 1758, when locals built the aptly-named Free
Bridge to avoid tolls on Kingsbridge. Amazingly, the Kingsbridge
structure built in 1713 lasted until 1917—after which it was destroyed
and buried in the landfill around Marble Hill, over the protests of
local historians. But with a lifetime of more than two centuries, this
humble stone-and-wood structure remains the longest-lasting bridge that
New York City has ever had.
Spuyten Duyvil Creek was far too
shallow for larger boats or ships,
and ship traffic between the upper Hudson and Long Island Sound had to
a 25-mile detour around lower Manhattan. In 1895, the Harlem River Ship
Canal was opened after nine years of
work by the Army Corps of Engineers, connecting the Hudson and Harlem
Rivers with a navigable channel for ships across the very northern end
of Manhattan. At the opening ceremonies, it
was said that “the opening of the Harlem Ship Canal was a greater event
than the opening of the Erie Canal.” Spuyten Duyvil Creek was filled
in; the historic Kingsbridge was demolished and buried in the landfill.
Today the curves of Spuyten Duyvil creek are apparent in the curving
border of New York County (Manhattan), which extends around the Marble
Hill section of the Bronx-side mainland of the Ship Canal.
From Old Wells and Watercourses of the Island of Manhattan, by George Everett Hill and George E. Waring, Jr. in Historic New York: the First Series of the Half MoonPapers (New York, 1899):
[During the early Dutch settlement] an inlet of the bay, which could be made to do duty as a canal, extended inland for about a quarter of a mile on the line of the present Broad Street. This ditch was the natural outlet for a marshy section of considerable size lying above what soon came to be known as The Beaver Path, now Beaver Street. A brook tricked through this marsh, from the common lying north of it, called the Shaape Waytie, or Sheep Pasture, and recieved the flow of a small stream which ran through the Company's Valley, as that portion of the The Beaver Path was named whcih lay between Heer Straat (Broadway) and the junction of these two rivulets. From the latter point, the Heere Gracht-- or Heere Graft as it was soon called, stretched its odorous length to the bay. Around this ditch gathered much of the social and business life of the new community....
By the late 1640s the canals were
lined with sheet piling to stabilize both their banks and the narrow
streets on either side. The largest canal was the Heere Gracht, which
is now Broad Street from Pearl to Beaver Streets. Its narrower
continuation, from Beaver Street to a point just south of Exchange
Place, was called the Prinzen Gracht. Both were named, perhaps in jest,
after two elegant canals that had recently been built in Amsterdam. The
Bever Gracht was a branch canal along what is now Beaver Street from
Broadway west to about the present New Street. A drawback of the canals
was that they also served as open sewers and stank terribly. The
British filled them up in 1676.
A mid-19th century map showing the original lots of the Dutch settlement in the 17th century shows both the marsh and the Broad St Canal (first image is entire map, second image is close-up). Note how close Broadway ("The Great Highway") is to the Hudson ("The North River"); almost all the land west of Broadway at the south end of Manhattan is landfill.
Viele's Water Map shows both the Broad Street Canal and the Maiden Lane stream:
By 1766, in this view from a British map, the ditch is filled in and only the "wet dock" remains at the East River end.
From Old Wells and Watercourses of the Island of Manhattan, by George Everett Hill and George E. Waring, Jr. in Historic New York: the First Series of the Half MoonPapers (New York, 1899):
The western outlet of the Collect was a small stream which left the pond at its northern end and flowed, nearly on the line of the present Canal Street, to the Hudson. ....there spread the broad pasture land, swamps, and salt marshes of Lispenard Meadows, which extended to the shore line (just beyond Greenwich Street) and from Duane Street on the south to Spring Street on the north. Through these meadows the stream from the Collect flowed sluggishly, spreading out over the low land, but maintaining enough of a channel to permit the passage of small boats from the river to the pond. A little brook, draining another swampy valley whcih lay at the foot of the western slope of the Kalch Hoek, followed, substantially, the line of West Broadway from Reade Street, and entered the larger stream nearly at a right angle. On the northern side a tiny rivulet trickled down from a fine spring whcih gave the name Spring Street to the road which passed it, leading to Broadway.
The Canal Street stream was apparently large enough that prior to the european settlements, the natives of the region could canoe (at least at high tide) from the Hudson river, along the stream, and into the Collect Pond, carrying deliveries of oysters that would be opened and dried for winter food. According to Old Wells and Watercourses..., this helped create the huge mounds of shells that the Dutch found around the Collect pond. This led to it being called "Kalch Hoek," meaning Shell Point, which was probably corrupted into "Collect" later.
A 1766 map showing the line of the drainage canal and the surrounding marsh (close-up view first; second image is entire map):
Flushing River still exists, though it is a far different
watercourse than it was originally. When the town of Flushing was
settled in 1645 along the marshy streams in what is now Flushing
Meadows/Corona Park, the creek ran from Kew Gardens (where the old site
of the headwaters of the creek is marked by the street Vleigh Place,
after the Dutch for Valley).
The marshy land watered by the creek
in Flushing Meadows, which today is a green and landscaped expanse—was
famously turned into a giant ash dump in the 19th century, run by the
Brooklyn Ash Removal company under “Fishhooks” McCarthy.
In the novel The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald describes how the area looked in the 1920s:
is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into
ridges and hills and grotesque gardens, where ashes take the forms of
houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent
effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery
air…. The valley of ashes is bounded on one side by a small foul
river, and, when the drawbridge is up to let barges through, the
passengers on waiting trains can stare at the dismal scene for as long
as half an hour.”
Other than the ashes, swamps occupied
the land, fed by the marshy drainage ditch of Flushing River. But in
just three years, between 1936 and 1939, the city covered the vast
fields of ashes, dug out a new channel for the river, filled in the
swamps, created the new Meadow Lake, and landscaped 1,200 acres to
create the utopian World’s Fair of 1939.
Robert Moses, who was a
driving force behind the transformation, wrote that his teams “leveled
the ash mountains, and rats big enough to wear saddles, with white
whiskers a foot long, gazed wistfully at the bulldozers and junkies who
disturbed their ancient solitary reign.” By 1939 it was impossible to
see any evidence of either the ash landfill, or of the natural
topography that had replaced it.
For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flushing_River.
The article mentions that Flushing Creek received water from Fly Creek,
Ireland Creek, and Horse Brook; please email me if you know anything
more about any of these other watercourses.
In his book Springs and Wells of Manhattan and the Bronx (New-York Historical Society, 1938; written in 1916), James Ruel Smith documented several springs in the area near Broadway and 125th St which were still flowing at the time-- between 1890 and 1915. The Tiemann drinking fountain, Smith says, "was one stop that nearly every driver of the old Broadway stages and trolleys might be counted upon to make several times during the day..." (p. 59). The source was a large spring; a Mr. Daniel Tiemann, 73rd Mayor of NYC, had built a color works/dye factory on the site in the mid-19th century, and the water from this spring was used in the factory. The nearby "Indian Spring" was noted for its quantity and purity of water, though it was not built into a drinking fountain but remained in a bed of rocks, covered with a wooden grating. As of 1897, Smith said that the spring "is used only for drinking purposes, and the requirements of the rough shanty accomodations for several truckman's horses that are grouped about it a few yards to the south." As of 1898, the Board of Health condemned the spring as too polluted to be potable (p. 55).
Some of Smith's plates below, with their captions giving locations:
Below are images of the same area from Viele's water map.
Though it's hard to be sure which original watercourse from pre-urban times became a specific spring seen in the 19th or 20th century, I believe that the small pond outlined below, on 124th St just west of Amsterdam Ave, is the site of Ruel Smith's Indian Spring.
Prentis Hall, a Columbia University building on the south side of 125th St just west of Broadway, has seen the modern incarnation of one of these springs flowing through its basement for many years. The story i've heard is that after the building was constructed, the basement kept flooding, until eventually a tunnel was dug in a basement wall and the water now flows into a channel in the basement and out through a pipe that connects it with a sewer along 125th. The photo below is this basement river in 2006. (photo by steve duncan).
From Long Island City by Thomas Jackson & Richard Melnick:
Cove was the site of a Native American settlement. Fresh water came
from a small stream, later called Linden Brook, that flowed along
Astoria Park South. Here, they cleared woodlands to grow corn,
harvested oysters and clams, and caught fish.
Linden Brook is hard to find on maps. Apparently it was a small
stream, and by the time the area was settled enough for good maps to be
produced, it had mostly disappeared underneath urbanization. However,
the 1873 Beers maps of Long Island City and region show it, though just
barely. Below is a large section of the map. Pot Cove is the area
directly below Hell Gate and Ward's Island, above the spur of land that
juts out above Hallet's Cove.
Below is a closer crop of the Pot Cove area. The Linden Brook is visible as a wavy line in the upper right, below Linden Street.
And below is a very close crop of the area; Linden Brook is the wavy
line on the right, and outlets into the water on the left. Linden
Street, obviously, is named after the brook; today this is the line of
Hoyt Avenue and Astoria Park South.