|Image: Minetta Stream, Viele (1865) 1874 "water map" of Manhattan, David Rumsey Map Collection (source)|
|Image: Minetta Brook, ca. 1700s, "Cultural Landscape Report, Washington Square Park (2006)" (source)|
|Image: The Minetta Waters, 1817, "Washington Square Park Phase 1A Archaeological Assessment (2005)"(source)|
In the 1820s, Minetta Brook was redirected from its original course and culverted in order to "dry out the soil" before constructing the park, wrote Julia Solis in New York Underground (2005). The "contained and underground" brook did not earn Washington Square Park any points in the natural systems and features category of the National Register rating system applied by Jablonski Berkowitz Conservation, Inc. in their 2006 Cultural Landscape Report for NYC Parks.
On the origin of the word Minetta, the NYC Parks website provides the following information:
Local Native Americans called the stream "Mannette," which was translated as "Devil's Water." Over the years, this name was spelled and respelled and spelled again in a variety of configurations: Minnetta, Menitti, Manetta, Minetta, Mannette, and Minetto. The Dutch called the water Mintje Kill, meaning small stream. In Dutch, "min" translates as little, "tje" is a diminuitive, and "kill" translates as stream. The water was also known as Bestavers Killitie, Bestevaas Kelletye, Bestavens Killitie, Bestavers Killatie, and Bestaver's Killetje.
The brook can be "seen" in the curve of Minetta Street (between Bleecker Street and Minetta Lane; the latter is between MacDougal and Sixth Avenue). According to Hope Cooke in her 1995 book Seeing New York, a dike to traverse the brook was built by freed slaves who settled along the brook on so-called "Negroe-lots," i.e. lots located in the "swampland." This dike is supposedly "embedded" in Minetta Street.
Cooke also speculated that trees in the park thrive because of the "underlying streams." It would be interesting to find out the current location of the (redirected and culverted) brook. Though the English elm (Ulmus procera) in the northwestern quadrant of the park is not the "Hangman's Elm" of the 1800s (Washington Square Park Phase 1A Archaeological Assessment [pdf]), the tree is very old. In 1989, NYC Parks estimated that the tree was 310 years; it is now 332 years old (Hangman's Elm wiki). Might it be the oldest tree on Manhattan?
|Image: Minetta Green, looking south|
For photographs of an actually existing marsh, check out Kelly's essay about Marsh & Foster Islands in Seattle on the Metropolitan Field Guide blog.
Brackishology is on Twitter @brackishology and #MarshMadness.