One of the things that absolutely fascinates me about Manhattan is the idea that streams and rivers that once flowed above ground continue to this day deep beneath our feet. In some instances, man-made canals were built to divert their path; in others, persistent rivers fought through landfill to continue on their way.
Native Americans called it “Manette,” or Devil’s Water. Dutch settlers named it “Bestevaer’s Killetje,” or Grandfather’s Little Creek. Like many streets named after long-gone rivers and ponds (Water St and Spring St were so named because of their proximity to water), Minetta Street in the Village allegedly bends to follow the original path of Minetta Brook.
Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because of a really, really fantastic oddity at 2 Fifth Ave, just north of Washington Square Park.
When this building was constructed in the 1930s, this odd-looking clear-glass “fountain” was installed, which allegedly goes right down to the old brook. Apparently, when the brook is flowing heavy, water bubbles up inside.
Sadly, 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 – I might stop in again tomorrow morning to see if there’s any change.
This plaque is mounted beside it:
Some say that it doesn’t actually go down to the brook; that Minetta dried up in the 1800s, and that the tube was put in as a symbolic representation of the old stream, that it was just a big publicity stunt to garner interest in the new building, that the water that comes up is due to building plumbing – but no one knows for sure. What clinches it for me is the look of the thing – I mean, if you’re going to fake it, why not do it with a bit more style than a dingy plastic tube shoved into what looks like an ash tray bin hidden behind the front desk? The dirt caking the sides looks pretty authentic as well – but you be the judge.
I’m sure this is something that every NYU kid knows about, but it’s a huge surprise for me. I’ve walked by 2 5th Avenue hundreds of times in my years living in New York and had no idea that such a cool oddity was right in the open for anyone to see.
In trying to find information on Minetta Brook, I came across an amazing site that I’m going to have to pour over when I get some time: Water Courses, a blog dedicated to lost rivers and streams in NYC. Definitely check it out to find out what you’d be swimming in if not for the pavement beneath your feet.
I went back today and was amazed to find water coming right up the pipe. You can sort of see it in this picture clinging to the sides:
The water wasn’t just splashing, it was surging up in torrents. Really cool to see, and it corresponds with the rains we had last night. Definitely check it out the next time a storm passes through.