Continuing south on Cross Island Parkway, the roadway briefly sneaks into Nassau County, and then straightens south of Belmont Racetrack, neatly delineating the Queens-Nassau border. The highway then splits into the eastbound Southern State Parkway and westbound Belt Parkway.
The Laurelton segment of Belt Parkway between exits 23 and 25 has a creek following it, but where does this stream begin, and what was its historical name?
To find out, we must venture a bit outside the city limits, where the uninspiring 115th Avenue becomes the exotic-sounding Dutch Broadway once it crosses the underpass/county line.
Simonson’s Creek (above and below) originates just south of Belmont Racetrack and flows between backyards a bit west of Elmont Road. Though the stream runs past the backyard of Sprung Monument Corporation, the “Nassau County 1933” below is not the region’s tombstone. The county may be financially broke, but it’s still physically alive. It is a marker signifying the year when the stream was tamed and forced into a concrete channel, similar in design to the Los Angeles River.
The county is diligent with its “no trespassing” signs, but the idea of putting on galoshes to walk the stream’s length brings back childhood memories. At age 7, I hiked with my grandfather along the length of Marupite, an obscure backyard stream that runs through the suburbs of my birthplace Riga, Latvia.
Space Age Catholicism
Saint Boniface Church on Elmont Road has a lovely Jetson-esque clerestory and dome to beckon the faithful. It is not the only space age church in the area. The American Martyrs Church in Bayside and Immaculate Conception in Douglaston also have similar clerestory domes. Across the road from the church, the stream is buried beneath the athletic field of Elmont Memorial High School, where the Spartans play.
Fork in the Road
Approaching the Queens border, Elmont Road splits into Brookville and Hook Creek Boulevards. It’s a double shot of forgotten streams here! Hook Creek Boulevard runs south along the city line, above its buried namesake, which emerges at the road’s southern end, almost two miles to the south. Adding to the confusion is that the city line runs down the middle of the street. The Nassau side is called Ocean Avenue.
The way it was
Foster’s Meadows was the old name for Elmont and Rosedale, after a colonial family that settled here in 1650. This 1893 map shows Simonson’s Creek, with its fork in the road and some of the forgotten streams in nearby Five Towns. Today, there are still streams running through some Woodmere and Hewlett backyards.
I’ve been spending a lot of time here lately, reporting for The Jewish Star, a free local weekly.
Also worth noting is a Long Island Railroad spur south of Cedarhurst (Cedarhurst Cutoff: see below). This one didn’t last too long, but there is a Railroad Avenue in Woodsburgh to mark its path. At the top of the map is a second no-longer extant LIRR route; the street grid in Rosedale still makes room for it.
To the west of Simonson’s Creek is the village of Springfield, which has its own forgotten stream, but more on that later.
Just south of the treacherous hairpin bend that starts Southern State Parkway, Siminson’s Creek reemerges with a muddy appearance as it continues its crawl south to the ocean. A century ago, water from these ponds supplemented the drinking water supply for Brooklyn, which received a lion’s share of its water from Hempstead Reservoir. The water ran along the aqueduct marked by Sunrise Highway and Conduit Avenue. It was stored in Highland Park before ending up in people’s faucets.
Conselyea’s Pond, Brookville Park
After disappearing beneath the sharp bend at the merging of Sunrise Highway and Belt Parkway, Simonson’s Creek gets the royal welcome in Brookville Park in the form of Conselyea’s Pond. A trail that runs diagonally across the park (left) marking the path of the Cedarhurst Cutoff, a short-lived railroad spur that was abandoned in 1934. It’s odd how Queens had more railroad stations when it was less developed than today. Many were abandoned in favor of the automobile. That was the shortsighted thinking in those days.
Cornell’s Pond, Springfield Park
Thurston Creek once emerged just west of Old Springfield Cemetery and ran south towards Jamaica Bay along Springfield Boulevard. As the area developed, the stream was forced into a ditch and then buried. Atop the stream are a number of local schools including Springfield Gardens High School, IS 59 and IS 231. The only section that still sees daylight runs through Springfield Park. In the middle of this park, it widens into Cornell’s Pond, then returns into a narrows stream, running past airport cargo warehouses into the marshes of Idlewild and Thurston Basin before emptying into the bay.
The fall season photos were taken in November 2010. At the time, a tropical snake was found in the park. Likely a discarded pet. I was there to report on it for a newspaper.
South of the Belt Parkway, Springfield Boulevard skirts the park’s eastern end (top) and resembles a countryside road bathed in fall splendor.
Stream-view birdhouse. Looking south, this bird house overhangs Thurston Creek with pristine views, but looking down is the detritus left by an evolved species of primate.
Springfield Lane splits from the more well-known Springfield Boulevard south of 146th Avenue and runs for one block to 147th. It then trails off into the marshes (top). It used to snake its way as a gravel road to busy Rockaway Boulevard but that old intersection is gone, covered up by the massive AMB JFK Logistics Center, which was built in 2001, taking up 527,000 square feet in the middle of the marshland.
Baisley Pond Park
Baisley Pond Park is designed around a colonial-period mill pond that immortalizes local landowner David Baisley. For the second half of the 19th century, the pond satisfied the thirst of Brooklyn residents as one of their drinking water reservoirs. While connecting the pond to the aqueduct, workers dug up a mammoth skeleton from the Ice Age. The park’s design is similar to Central Park, with winding paths and a symmetrical pedestrian mall (above right) that ends at a war memorial.
The outline of Baisley Pond Park (below) follows the path of the buried Cornell’s Creek, which started in Jamaica’s long-buried Beaver Pond, and flowed south towards Jamaica Bay. A drain at the southern end of the pond takes the stream underground to its conclusion.
This 1927 Red Book map (again, sorry for poor reproduction) shows a fully developed street grid with Baisley’s Pond and Cornell’s Creek running down the middle. In reality, the southern third is a massive super-block that is JFK Airport. The dotted line was a streetcar line that is still followed by today’s public buses.
The park strip running from east to west is Conduit Avenue, which was built above and below the old Brooklyn aqueduct. The median is presently used by the Belt Parkway.
Captain George H. Tilly Park
Nestled in the Jamaica Hills is another kettle pond, Goose Pond, located inside Captain Tilly Park. The park’s namesake was George Tilly, son of a local landowning family who fought in the American conquest of Philippines in 1899, where he was killed in combat. The spring-fed pond nearly dried by in the 1990s, and the city then dug deeper and restored the pond, which features a bird sanctuary isle. This is likely the tiniest isle in the smallest public pond in the city.
Needless to say, Queens once had many more ponds, but each is now a distant memory, and many never ever rose to earning their own names. Here is the best-known forgotten pond in eastern Queens.
Beaver Pond was once a focal point of the colonial settlement of Jamaica, an English bastardization of Jameco, the local native term for beaver. Relentless pollution led to growing calls for the pond’s burial and in 1906, it was wiped from the map. More on the pond here.
In western Queens, there was Linden Pond in Corona, which was once the village’s centerpiece park, but was later buried to make way for a baseball diamond. Jackson Pond inside Forest Park was buried in 1966 and covered with a playground. A rarity is Strack Pond, also inside Forest Park, which was buried and later restored to its natural appearance. The Forest Park Golf Course still has its pond, with a fountain. Crystal Lake in Kew Gardens is buried by a train station. There’s also Fresh Pond Road in Glendale, but I’m not sure where its namesake used to be.
FNY contributor Sergey Kadinsky has been living in Queens since age eight. His interest in journalism can be traced back to childhood, when he made a hobby out of writing letters to the editors of local newspapers. He has assisted in the production of news stories at NY1 and has been a contributing reporter at the New York Daily News. At times, he has been spotted giving tourist-friendly monologues atop Gray Line buses.
Photographed November 2010; page completed May 1, 2011