They Paved Paradise And Put Up Seth Low Playground

By Laura Ifrailov
By Laura Ifrailov

Today it’s a bustling playground, with basketball courts, handball courts, and picnic tables, but once upon a time, the triangle between Bay Parkway, Bay Ridge Parkway, and Stilwell Avenue known as Seth Low Park was a serene waterway called Indian Pond.

Highlighted in his upcoming book Hidden Waters of New York City: A History and Guide to 101 Forgotten Lakes, Ponds, Creeks, and Streams in the Five Boroughs, reporter and Parks Department analyst Sergey Kadinsky describes how the bucolic space became the dumping ground of a nearby trash incinerator, and eventually, a city-owned paved lot.

Located on the border between what was once New Utrecht and the Town of Gravesend, the pond can be traced back to Brooklyn’s Native American Lenape tribe who preceded the Dutch colonists. On his blog, Kadinsky writes:

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In the 1645 contract that created the Town of Gravesend, the pond is described as a “Certaine pond  in an ould Indian field.” Its native name was Makeop, “a great clearing or open field.” At the time of Gravesend’s founding, most local natives were gone, victims of war and disease. A surviving elder signed away the 31-acre pond for the value of “one gun, one blanket, and one kettle.”

For the next 300 years or so, children would skate on the frozen water in winter, and during warmer months, locals would drag out their canoes. Here is the oldest known photo of Indian Pond in its heyday.

Taken by Daniel Berry Austin in 1883, this is the oldest known photo of Indian Pond.

All that changed in 1896, when Morton and Gorman Garbage Crematory was granted permission to dispose of ashes in the body of water, and by the turn of the century, the pond was completely dried up. The city acquired the dried pond for park land in 1924, and eventually adopted its unofficial name: Seth Low, the former mayor of Brooklyn, president of Columbia University, and eventually, mayor of New York City.

For more interesting maps, photos, and tidbits about Indian Pond and Seth Low Park, check out Sergey’s blog.

On a side note, who sang it better: Counting Crows or Joni Mitchell?

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  1. Rachel, spell my name correctly, dear. Also, between its phase as a natural pond and as a playground, it was an ash dump. Not a paradise. But the mural by local schoolchildren helps.


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