The British soil that built part of the FDR Drive

Next time you’re stuck in traffic between 23rd Street and 34th Street on the FDR Drive, take a moment to consider where the land beneath you came from.

It wasn’t fill from digging the subways or skyscrapers—it was actually transported here all the way from England in the 1940s.

“During World War II, the Luftwaffe savagely bombed the city of Bristol, England, a major port for American supply ships,” wrote Michael Pollack in his FYI column in The New York Times in June 2009.

“After the supplies were unloaded, the American ships had no British goods to replace them on the return trip, and needed ballast for stability. So they loaded up rubble from Bristol’s bombed-out buildings.”

“Back in New York, the ships dumped the ballast from 23rd to 34th Street as landfill for what would become the East River Drive, now Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.”

Though you won’t find it on any city road maps, the slight curve of the East River between these blocks is known as Bristol Basin (above).

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18 Responses to “The British soil that built part of the FDR Drive”

  1. Frank Lynch Says:

    According to there’s a plaque there… or once was…

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks for the link. I’d heard about the plaque while researching this, but have never seen it. I’d like to find out exactly where it is–or was.

  3. wordgrl Says:

    So if archeologists in future times find something British in that earth, what on earth will they conclude?

  4. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    There used to be a walkway bridge over on about 25th or 26th Street that rose above the East River Drive. This led to the piers on the East River, one held Maritime HS and the others had a few boats docking, usually tugboats. The plaque was on the walkway bridge as you came off it. I vaguely recall reading it while, as usual, trying to pick up a girl. Again I don’t recall winning her over. But I do remember that plaque, it still might be near the site. Anyway, the site for the past few years has been high rise buildings which was closed off to human traffic walking along the river, some how they got rid of that asinine rule. Now people can walk by the river’s edge, in a way, unless they’re doing some stupid building.

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks Mick. This week I’m going to see if it’s still there somewhere.

    • westofnyc Says:

      Did you ever find the plaque?? Being a HUGE Cary Grant fan I would love to know if the plaque still exists and exactly where it is. I was in NYC in June 2011 and searched and searched for it, but didn’t see it. I will be returning to NYC this month so am quite interested in it’s exact location.

  6. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    I looked at your graphic and the plague is where the first pier was on 25th Street. These weren’t real piers, they had loads of benches for people to sit and waste their time on. Maritime HS was right there. One lazy day a tugboat docked on about 26th St and I was thrown a rope. “Tie to the (whatever he called it)!” I did so and the tugboat safely was secured. I felt so proud. I think Cary Grant would have liked me 😉

  7. Global Citizen No. 7,000,000,000 - Says:

    […] Bowery for about 11 years has been regularly feeding neighborhood rats. [New York Post]Some of the soil under the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive was shipped to New York all the way from England after World War II. [Ephemeral New […]

  8. Global Citizen No. 7000000000 | e Online News Says:

    […] of the soil under the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive was shipped to New York all the way from England after World War II. [Ephemeral New […]

  9. Joe R Says:

    Some15 years ago or so I went on a History and Geology boat tour around Manhattan run by the American Museum of Natural History. (They chartered one of the Circle Line boats but went clockwise around the island, as opposed to the usual tourist route.) Our guide – a staff historian – mentioned something very similar to your article. When we passed East River Park in the LES, he said that it was largely built on rubble from the London Blitz. Could this also be true or did our guide get his story confused?

  10. wildnewyork Says:

    I would guess he got the story confused. Every source I found said the rubble came from Bristol, not London.

  11. London Rubble: How The City’s Soil Gets Recycled | Londonist Says:

    […] Bristol upstages London, however. That city’s Blitz rubble was shipped over to the US to reclaim land in Manhattan.East End slum becomes a picturesque bandstandArnold Circus…a buried rookery. Image by M@.The Old […]

  12. London Rubble: How The City’s Soil Gets Recycled | Says:

    […] During the Blitz on London, an estimated 1 million homes were destroyed or damaged. Some of the rubble was, of course, recycled during the rebuilding, but millions of tons of brick and dust had to be disposed of somewhere. Step forward the Lea Valley. So much rubble was disposed of in Hackney and Leyton Marshes that, according to one Museum of London archaeologist we recently spoke to, the ground level was raised by 3-7 metres over large areas. Bristol upstages London, however. That city’s Blitz rubble was shipped over to the US to reclaim land in Manhattan. […]

  13. A bit of the London Blitz adorns a downtown gate | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] not the only bit of the Blitz to make it to New York City. The landfill used to create the FDR Drive contains pieces of bombed out buildings from […]

  14. A hidden magical garden behind the FDR Drive | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] few of these green spaces are as hard to get to as the quarter-acre oasis between the FDR Drive and First Avenue, behind the cluster of buildings that make up Bellevue Hospital […]

  15. B Says:

    See the plaque here.

  16. B Says:

    This is a good site –

  17. A short-lived road named for a female scientist | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Curie Avenue were widened, leveled, and elevated before being covered in 1939 or 1940 by the “rubble from bomb-destroyed buildings of British cities carried as ballast in ships docking in New York Harbor to load wartime […]

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