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With further development came the burial of Tibbetts Brook, and many of the other streams.In some cases, putting them underground was merely a way to create more buildable land above.When the tide was high in the Hudson, the waterway was deep enough to float a canoe.Native Americans living in the area brought catches of oysters in through this route, and over the years the discarded oyster shells formed a hill beside what would the Europeans would call the “Collect Pond.” Cattle that set out in the surrounding fields were sometimes lost in the “pestilential quagmires” around them.In others, the streams that once supplied drinking water or fish were converted into sewers and drains.Today, the lineage of many of the major sewer lines in New York City can be traced back to streams and rivers that flowed unfettered for centuries and even millennia before the city matured around them. * * * After an interminable few minutes of wading, the cold biting into my feet, the water and I both emerge into a new tunnel underneath one of the major roads in the Bronx.Outbreaks of cholera forced the city to take action.
* * * New York City’s first underground sewer, which ran beneath Canal Street, is a remnant of water sources that were once fundamental to New York City’s origins.
As New York grew in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries to become the world’s greatest port and its most famous city, it depended not only on the dominant Hudson River with its undrinkable saline water, but also on freshwater streams like Tibbetts, the Minetta Brook in Manhattan, Sunswick Creek in Queens, and the Wallabout Brook in Brooklyn.
In the early days of the towns and villages that would eventually merge into New York City, it was often these smaller watercourses that were the most vital; manageable streams provided not only transportation routes, but also water power for grain mills and sawmills, a bounty of fish, and drinking water.
This sewer tunnel actually extends the brook’s reach much farther south than its original outlet, carrying it into the Spuyten Duyvil channel and then on through twentieth-century interceptor sewers to the Hunts Point treatment plant.
The old course of the brook is still memorialized above ground by the tree-lined Tibbett Avenue, home to both Tudors and drab apartment complexes.