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Evidence Of Manhattan's Old Minetta Brook Still Exists

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - All over New York City, there are remnants of what was once here, before the city was. Some are hidden, while some are in plain sight.

Recently, WCBS 880 reporter Alex Silverman spent some time searching clues to one old slice of Manhattan.

What could people passing by have been thinking on that Saturday afternoon, when they saw the little group of people crouching and peering into a nickel-sized hole in the 6th Avenue sidewalk?

Steve Duncan
Steve Duncan looks below New York City (credit: Alex Silverman / WCBS 880)

There was water glittering at the bottom.

WCBS 880's Alex Silverman On The Story


In the 90 degree sun, was it a mirage in a manhole? The water looked too clean for the city sewer, and it was.

Minetta Brook
Minetta Brook - New York, NY (credit: Alex Silverman / WCBS 880)

It is the Minetta Brook, which a 1901 New York Times article described once as a placid stream, flush with trout and surrounded by dense forest.

It ran from what is now Union Square all the way down to the Hudson River.

"All of that water had to be rerouted. Both the water from the sources and the water from the other springs along the way that added into it," guide Steve Duncan told Silverman, as he took him through the brook's new underground route.

"I started out as a historian and found out I'm actually a geographer," Duncan said.

An urban explorer would really be a more fitting title.

Steve Duncan
Steve Duncan (credit: Alex Silverman / WCBS 880)

"Before the Minetta Brook was put entirely underground, the very first steps were in about 1821, when the city paid somebody to make a wooden culvert for this section that went underneath what's now Washington Square Park," Duncan said.

There are still clues above ground, if you know where to look.

"On 12th and 13th Street there are even more potholes than there are in the rest of New York," he said.

There is also a townhouse on West 9th Street with a corner jutting out along what was the brook's bank.

"There are a few places where buildings along this route have water bubbling up from their basements," Duncan said.

Minetta Lane in the Village curves along its namesake's path.

"What's the point of paying attention to it?" Duncan asked.

You might be wondering, and Duncan has an answer.

"We're dealing with a lot of the same issues today that the city dealt with in the 19th Century, and there are these huge investments in infrastructure that allowed the city to become what we know it is today," Duncan said. "Because those systems worked so well, a lot of the times we don't pay attention to them."

"There's treasure everywhere," added Duncan.

What's your favorite part of old New York? Share in the comments section below.

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