New York's Underground Rivers
A reader recently sent a note that reminded me of one of the most fascinating subjects I can think of: Manhattan’s underground rivers and streams. (If any other readers have interesting tidbits to share, please feel free do so!)
Over a century ago, before the island at the center of New York City was flattened and covered in asphalt, Manhattan was a fairly soggy place. Much of downtown was marshland, and dozens of creeks and small rivers trickled all over town.
As the city grew, ponds and swamps were drained, and New York’s streams were buried beneath its streets. But these “subterranean waterways” never dried up. They’re still there, flowing beneath our feet. (A good sign that you’re near one is the presence of a weeping willow tree.) There’s only one problem: very few people today know where they are. And if you start building on top of a forgotten spring, you’re going to end up with nothing more than a damp pile of bricks.
Fortunately, there’s a map that can tell you where to find all of Manhattan’s invisible waterways. Created by an engineer named Egbert Ludovicus Viele and first used in 1874, the “Sanitary & Topological Map of the City and Island of New York” (otherwise known as the Viele Map) has been the saving grace of countless developers. Over five feet long and remarkably detailed, it shows all the rivers, streams, and ponds that no one has seen in a over a hundred years. (Including Minetta Creek, which flows under the street pictured above!)
Click here for a closer look at the map or—if you have a spare $15,000—to buy a copy.