Posts Tagged ‘Peter Cooper Glue Factory New York City’

Looking for traces of Sunfish Pond in Kips Bay

January 4, 2021

Imagine Manhattan Island in the late 1700s. Before it was divided into farms and estates, and before those farms and estates were bricked in and paved over by the end of the 19th century, it was mostly a place of untamed beauty—with woods, swamps, meadows, and streams.

Sunfish Pond illustration, via Patch

Tompkins Square Park was swampland, for example; Collect Pond near City Hall provided drinking water. A trout-filled brook called Minetta flowed through the Village until development diverted it underground. (Evidence of the brook can be seen beneath the lobby of the apartment building at 2 Fifth Avenue.)

And at today’s Park Avenue South and 31st Street was a blob-shaped body of water called Sunfish Pond, which older New Yorkers recalled in turn-of-the-century memoirs.

Sunfish Pond, lower right, on an 1867 map of the Ogden Farm

Sunfish Pond was “bounded by 31st and 33rd Streets and Madison and Lexington Avenues, fed by a stream rising between Sixth and Seventh Avenues at 44th Street, and flowing into the East River between 33rd and 34th Streets,” wrote Charles Haynes Haswell in his 1896 book, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian.

Haswell noted that Sunfish Pond “was a favorite resort for skating,” well beyond the boundaries of the city when he was a boy in the early 19th century.

The stream from Kip’s Bay that fed Sunfish Pond in an 1840 map

Rufus Rockwell, author New York, Old and New, published in 1902, quotes a source who described Sunfish Pond as “famous for its eels, as well as sunfish and flounder.”

The source added that “the brook which fed it was almost dry in summer, but in times of freshet overflowed its banks and spread from the northern line of the present Madison Square to Murray Hill, more than once compelling those who lived along its lower course to resort to boats as the only means of reaching the avenue.”

Inclenberg, aka the Murray Estate

Sunfish Pond would have been located near Inclenberg, the estate owned by Robert Murray and Mary Lindley Murray (whose name now graces the neighborhood of Murray Hill). When the British invaded Manhattan at Kip’s Bay, soldiers may have stopped to drink from this spring-fed pond.

And when the road to the east, Eastern Post Road, became a route for stages running in and out of the city, travelers were known to break here for a rest, wrote Sergey Kadinsky in his 2016 book, Hidden Waters of New York City.

Peter Cooper, namesake of Cooper Union, Peter Cooper Village, and Cooper Square

The beginning of the end of Sunfish Pond was sparked by industry. Peter Cooper, who lived nearby, opened a glue factory on the edge of the pond, “amid clover fields and buttonwood trees,” according to Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace.

Cooper was a brilliant innovator and inventor in mid-19th century New York. “He also became a pioneer polluter: his factory so fouled the pond’s waters that it had to be drained and filled in 1839,” states Gotham. After that, it was a storage site for streetcars before becoming valuable real estate in an elite neighborhood.

Looking down Park Avenue toward what would have been Sunfish Pond two centuries ago.

Today, no trace of Sunfish Pond exists anywhere in Manhattan…except in century-old books published by memoirists and historians. But that shouldn’t stop you from standing at Park Avenue South and 31st Street and imaging skaters, fishers, farmers, travelers, and boats ferrying flooded New Yorkers across what was once a placid and peaceful body of water.

[Top image: via Patch; second image: CUNY Graduate Center Collection; third image: Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps; fourth image: NYPL; fifth image: Wikipedia]