Minetta Brook beneath the Village

Minetta Brook, “once a placid stream dividing Manhattan Island from the North [Hudson] to the East River,” as described in a 1901 New York Times article, used to be flush with trout and surrounded by dense forest.

Native Americans named it “Manette,” or Devil’s Water. The Dutch called it “Bestevaer’s Killetje” which the British turned into “Bestavers Rivulet,” as it’s referred to in the upper right corner of this 1783 map, from The Historical Atlas of New York City. (Too bad the brook is cut off by the end of the map, so it’s tough to get a sense of where it flowed in to the East River, as the Times article states.)

As development pushed northward the brook was diverted beneath Washington Square, where it gurgled its way under the West Village. Minetta Street (below), a tiny lane intersecting little Minetta Place, bends slightly the way its namesake brook supposedly wound across the land.

In the lobby of the apartment building at 2 Fifth Avenue is a clear tube through which Minetta brook used to bubble up out of the ground. Unfortunately, the doorman told me he hasn’t seen any water in it in six years. Could the Minetta have run dry? 

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12 Responses to “Minetta Brook beneath the Village”

  1. Sean Sweeney Says:

    Look closely at the map, and in lower Manhattan there is a Montgomeries Ward!

    They had them then? LOL

  2. Erin Says:

    Well, I was at 2 5th Ave 2 weeks ago, and the tube had plenty of water that I could see. I can send you pictures, if you want.

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    Neat. I guess that means the brook is flowing underground again!

  4. SCOUTING NY - www.scoutingny.com Says:

    […] when I went, it was pretty dry, with dirt traces caked up along the sides. But a comment on this Minetta-related post as recent as November ‘08 reports that it was filled with water. It’s raining tonight – […]

  5. Where is the West Village’s Mixed Ale Alley? « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] are vestiges of Dutch ovens in them.” A pump in the courtyard drew water from underground Minetta Brook until the 1920s, residents told the […]

  6. The “black and tan” clubs of Minetta Street « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] The “black and tan” clubs of Minetta Street By wildnewyork Minetta Street and Minetta Lane, two tiny paths off Sixth Avenue in the Village, were named in the 1820s for the brook that still runs underground. […]

  7. Michael M. van Beuren Says:

    Ancestors in my family once farmed 22 acres at the headwaters of this brook.
    I have a digital copy of an etching of their farmhouse.

    • Ric Says:

      Dear Michael, is there any chance one of your ancestors was John Van Beuren Mitchell? He was Eagle Scout #11 in the United States and I am looking for any information about his involvement with Scouting before and after his time in WWI.

    • mikvan52 Says:

      Ric: I am a somewhat distant relative of John vB Mitchell (1885-1934). The direct family line split two generations before John was born. Sorry to say that I do not have anything on his life as a Scout.

      John’s brother Cornelius is remembered for his work as a genealogist. He wrote the work on the Mitchell family.

      What you may want to investigate, however, is the work written by John’s son, Davis van Beuren:

      A Biographical Sketch of John Van Beuren Mitchell
      Author: Davis van Beuren Mitchell
      Publisher: D. Mitchell, 1970
      Length: 3 pages
      OCLC Number: 276760828 Notes: Apparently intended as biographical material to supplement Ancestry of William Spingler Mitchell, Cornelius von Erden Mitchell, John Van Beuren Mitchell / by Cornelius von Erden Mitchell; edited by H. Minot Pitman (1967) Description: [3] p. : ill. ; 28 cm. only one copy known: Allen County Public Library Main Library Fort Wayne, IN 46802 United States

      I have not read this short piece.

      regards,
      Mike van Beuren

  8. Michael M. van Beuren Says:

    Check this map out if you want to see more about original watercourses in the area:
    http://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~2289~180029:Sanitary-&-Topographical-Map-of-the?qvq=w4s:/where/New+York/;lc:RUMSEY~8~1&mi=9&trs=1264

    • Will Says:

      Mr. van Beuren,

      I’m a reporter here in New York; I’d love to chat with you about your family’s farm at the headwater of Minetta Brook. If you’re interested, please contact me at willhuntblue[at]gmail.com.

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