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What’s in a Name? Fresh Creek, Spring Creek, Old Mill Creek, and Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm State Park represents a collaborative endeavor between city, state, and federal agencies. The former saltmarsh turned landfill turned park, with its once meandering creeks, has passed through various administrative hands and its many name changes reflect that history.

These park features lie within the ancestral lands of the Canarsie Tribe, who refer to the area as Keskateuw. Colonial occupation of the region by the Dutch began in 1636 when New Amersfoort was established. In 1664, the town was renamed Flatlands when the British empire captured New Netherland. The name remained through the American Revolution, and on February 12, 1852, the community of New Lots was established out of the eastern periphery of Flatlands. The New Lots name served the rather straight-forward purpose of differentiating itself from the “older lots” of Flatlands.

A 1797 map reveals a landscape referred to plainly as Salt Meadow at the southern reaches of New Lots. The same map identifies three creeks as Fresh Creek, Second Creek, and Third Creek from west to east. Each of these freshwater creeks flow into Jamaica Bay to create the estuary’s brackish water. Being affected by the tides, the tributaries of Fresh Creek and Third Creek supplied the energy for tide mills along the water’s edges. Today, Third Creek is known as Old Mill Creek in recognition of that heritage, while Second Creek was renamed Hendrix Creek, possibly to honor Representative Joseph C. Hendrix, and the Fresh Creek name remains as a likely reference to a critical source of freshwater for the colonial settlements.

In 1924, 72 years after the establishment of New Lots, Shirley Chisholm was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Chisholm championed issues of early education and child welfare in the local political arena. Then, from 1965 to 1968, Chisholm served in the New York State Assembly. After which, in 1969, she became the first Black woman elected to Congress. In the House of Representatives, she sat on the Agriculture Committee and created the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

Meanwhile, between 1926 and 1930, the New Lots Salt Meadow was filled and its adjacent creeks bulkheaded. Then, in 1956 and 1961, the manmade peninsulas became Pennsylvania Avenue Landfill and Fountain Avenue Landfill, respectively.

In 1974, the City of New York deeded the property to the National Park Service to incorporate into Gateway. However, the City retained the right to continue landfill operations until they reached capacity. The Pennsylvania Avenue Landfill closed in 1980 and the Fountain Avenue Landfills followed in 1985. From 1991 through 2002 the New York City Department of Environmental Protection rehabilitated and cleaned the property. In 2004, after the waste was capped, the first seeds were sewn to create new parkland. In 2018, Governor Cuomo announced plans for a New York State Park atop the former landfills. On July 2nd following year Shirley Chisholm State Park opened to the public further cementing her legacy within Brooklyn.

By John C. Harris

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