Before the Belt: Looking at Brooklyn’s lost bay in Gravesend
“The area seen in these views was later filled with sand from the Bay and the new circumferential highway.” 1930; via NYPL
In the curve of Brooklyn between the Narrows and the borough’s southwestern edge at Sea Gate, there is a lesser loved body of water called Gravesend Bay. The boundary of what was once Gravesend Town and is now simply Gravesend, among other nabes, was along a wetland of sandhill dunes before it became an oil-saturated trash marsh. Now, it’s home to a relatively scenic portion of the Belt Parkway, where the Verrazano Bridge emerges from around the bend or Brooklyn’s tip juts into your vision, depending on your direction.
Dated photos from the New York Public Library reveal–as old New York photos tend to– a Bay apart. In part it’s likely because the smells and oil sheens of today’s bay can’t be experienced in these vintage pics. The unimpeded openness of the water, kept from humans only by what appears to be a single giant tube, however, clearly belongs to a Brooklyn long past.
North from 20th Avenue, 1939; via NYPL
Belt Parkway, south from 20th Avenue, 1939; via NYPL
“Belt Parkway, south from 20th Avenue, showing the highway under construction on hydraulic fill. The fill was taken from Gravesend Bay and part of the Bay filled in,” 1939; Via NYPL
“Belt Parkway, north from 20th Avenue,” 1939; Via NYPL
The Semken Coal Company at Bay 32nd Street, 1939; Via NYPL
The Brooklyn Yacht Club, circa 1900; Via NYPL
The Royal Arcanum Yacht Club at the left and the Brooklyn Yacht Club at the right, circa 1900; via NYPL
- Photographer Ray Simone restores negatives of NYC’s past, pixel by pixel
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All photos via the NYPL Digital Collections