Brooklyn’s Secret Bodies of Water
There’re The streets and sidewalks, and under them the gas lines, electrical wires, water mains, and fiber-optic cables—and then what? Seaside cities like ours aren’t naturally devoid of small waterways: dock your ship in 1492 near present-day New York and you’d encounter creeks, ponds, streams, springs, marshes and more that have long since been built over, drained or filled in, making the coastline the definitive boundary between water and dry land.
Except when the old water returns. Engineers and construction crews must be careful and consult old maps before they build, lest they flood their sites or, perhaps worse, cause future complications: when I attended elementary school, in Bay Ridge, the building had to close for a few days one winter because the boiler wasn’t working—it was sinking into a vestigial pond! Or so the story went.
Sometimes, these ancient waters are even still accessible. So says producer Martin Bisi, who owns and operates BC Studio, a recording space in Gowanus that has hosted Sonic Youth, Fab Five Freddy, Afrika Bambaata and many more. At the bottom of a stairwell in his building on Third Street is a small portion of an irregularly shaped pond that once took up roughly two-thirds of the land between present-day First and Fifth streets, the Gowanus Canal (née Creek) and Fourth Avenue; it went right up against where now sits the Coignet Building, the haunted-looking structure right next to the new Whole Foods (see p. 14), though not as far as much of the actual supermarket.
“It’s called Denton’s Tidal Mill Pond—also Yellow Tidal Mill Pond—and it’s on old maps,” Bisi tells us. “My building was built right on top of it. Right at the edge of it. It’s still there because an old buried stream that runs down from Park Slope, Vechte’s Brook, is still there, and still feeds the pond as it always has. The pond is affected by the tidal lunar cycle—e.g., high spring tides.” (That brook takes its name from the landowning Dutch family that lived in a nearby stone house, which famously played a role in the Revolutionary War and was later rebuilt in a park in Park Slope near its original location; today, we call it the Old Stone House.)
“I should mention that the portion of the pond in my stairwell is very small,” he continues, “and it’s connected to other portions”—some accessible, he says, via other parts of the building he shares—“by pathways that are hidden. There is one passageway that is visible, but it would be too dangerous. It has no light. There’s a flimsy plank that goes toward it… and, actually, I’ve never gone that way.” Who knows what you’d find if you ever did? The Gowanus that time forgot?