It might come as a surprise, but Manhattan has beaches. Yes, they’re small, often submerged at high tide, and you’d be crazy to go swimming in the water, but they’re still beaches. And there are more than you’d think.
I’m a huge fan of any property in Manhattan that goes unused or ignored, or at the very least has not been given a ceremonial name. Every inch of space on the island feels like it has been inspected countless times over to extract every last bit of value…and yet, somehow, certain pieces of land still manage to go forgotten. Among these are Manhattan’s assorted beaches, an interesting example of which can be found at 20th Street along the East River Bikeway.
Hey, it may not look like much, but it’s a beach, dammit! It even appears on Google maps as a pretty sizable portion of land:
This beach is actually not nameless, according to reader Rob – it’s known as Stuyvesant Cove (Rob also claims that the river’s pollution is much overstated, and invites us to join him for a swim in September!).
My favorite part about New York’s beaches are remnants from when they were actively used, and the 20th Street beach has a pretty great relic.
If you look in the above picture, you’ll see a large iron pipe. This is one of New York’s sewer system overflow pipes. When the sewer backs up during, say, a rain storm, these overflow pipes allow the excess sewage to go into the harbor. It sounds gross, but it certainly beats having it all come up your pipes into your toilets and sinks.
The pipe in itself isn’t that that special – there are over 450 along New York’s coast. However, if you follow it about 20 feet down to the water’s edge, you’ll find a really interesting relic from long ago: a pipe made of wood, which I can only assume originally connected to the mainland to transport sewage into the river.
As far as I can tell, wooden pipes are pretty rare. In Kate Ascher’s excellent book detailing the city’s infrustructure, The Works, she notes that the oldest pipes still in use in New York date back to 1851, and are made of brick, cement, and clay…but no mention is made of wood. Way, way back, logs would be literally carved out from end to end to serve as pipes, but those are all long gone. So I’m making the guess that this must at least predate 1851.
Here is the entrance – note the wooden support structure. The entire thing is partially encased in a crumbling mountain of concrete.
The pipe continues for about 12 feet or so…
…And finally ends amongst some old pier supports:
I’m not 100% sure this pipe would have connected with the visible overflow pipe. Beside it is what seems to have been another opening, now grated and deep below the sand. The sign above it gives a number to call in the event of an overflow during dry weather, though I doubt anything is coming out of this one. Could this have been the original exit for the wooden pipe?
I grew up on the coasts of Massachusetts, and I love finding random stuff on beaches. Would love to know how old this valve is…
Anyone have any further information? Am I completely wrong in my assumptions that this is not a typical pipe to be found in New York’s sewer system?
Regardless, Manhattan’s East 20th Street beach can be seen easily from the East River Bikeway – take a look next time you pass by.
This is the first of many beaches I plan to cover over the next few weeks, so stay-tuned!
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