landscape

I’ve been inspired by the work many others have done to capture the qualities of coverage of waterways at national scale both in the US and the UK, and beyond the mapping, appreciate their investigations into the unique distribution of place names, or toponyms.  The language of the waterways informs more local hidden hydrology endeavors, and understanding regional vernacular variations provides a snapshot into our varied relationships with water.  While a glance at the Pacific Northwest via these other maps shows that the predominant name for waterways is probably going to be either creek or river, I wanted to dive a bit deeper to see what other names are used to denote waterways.  To accomplish this, I spent some quality time with the USGS National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) to unlock a bit of the secrets of regional variations.

For starters, the NHD is an amazing resource of information, pulling together a comprehensive collection of data on flowlines, watershed basins, and more and the ability to get data from a variety of formats for small to large basins and states.  From their site, the purpose of the data is to: “define the spatial locations of surface waters. The NHD contains features such as lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, canals, dams, and stream gages, in a relational database model system (RDBMS). These data are designed to be used in general mapping and in the analysis of surface water systems.”  The first steps are a bit daunting, as the State of Washington included data with over 1.3 million flowlines, seen below in aggregate. The flowlines aren’t any one single waterway, but are the individual segments that make up each creek.

While the data preserves local basins shapes by sprawling outside state lines, I wanted to make this unique to Washington, so needed to clip it to the state boundary.  This ended up being a bit of a task for my rather slow computer to crank out the clipping, so I had to think of some alternatives to simplify the dataset.  Interestingly enough, over 80 percent of the flowlines (around 1.1 million of them) are unnamed, and while I’m sure are perfectly lovely bits of creek and river, they don’t help in our purpose in terms of deriving place names.  Eliminating them also serves the dual benefit of reducing the size of our working dataset quite a bit.  After trimming to the state boundaries, we ended up with a nice workable set of around 170,000 flowlines that have names, seen below.

Per the NHD FAQ page, “Many features also are labeled with the geographic name of the feature, such as the Ohio River. The feature names must be approved by the Board of Geographic Names (BGN) in order to qualify for inclusion in the NHD.”  More on the BGN and the wonderful assortment of place names that exist in these lists beyond their descriptor (which is perhaps the fuller idea of toponyms), in this case we break down the list and see what comes to the top.   Not surprising, but the use of the terms Creek and River dominate the landscape of Washington, accounting for 98% of all named flowlines.

Of the totals, creeks truly dominate, with around a 75% chance that a trickle of water in the state will be referred to as a creek.  The larger, less numerous rivers make up 23% of all flowlines, and the map above paints a wonderful portrait of the density of waters.  Separated out by type, you see the branched structures of trunk and stem that pumps water through most of the mountainous west side of the state, with the larger, drier plains to the east more open.  All total the combined length of these equals over 30,000 linear miles.

1. CREEKS

2. RIVERS

So we live in a creek and river area of the world.  Amidst these dominating toponyms are a distributed layer of types of flowlines that make up the remainder of the story of Washington, that final 2 percent, emphasized in a darker blue below.

The secondary naming of these includes the most common, isolated and color coded, with a legend denoting the eight most common alternative flowline names.

The relative percentage as a portion of that slim 2% of state flowlines, include:

  1. Slough (30%)
  2. Fork (16%)
  3. Canal (16%)
  4. Ditch (9%)
  5. Wasteway (4%)
  6. Branch (4%)
  7. Run (4%)
  8. Stream (3%)

The remaining 14% are composed of small portions that include Lateral, Brook, Drain, Slu (a variation of Slough), Gulch, Channel, Siphon and it’s alternative spelling Syphon, Washout, Waterway, Swale, Glade, Pass, Gate, and Range.  Many of these as we see, are geographically located towards the center of the state where agricultural landscape has created larger modifications and creation of waterways (described in the NHD data under the names like Artificial Path, Canal Ditch, and Connector).  There’s a split between more traditional waterway name variations (i.e. Slough, Fork, Branch, Run, Stream) and those that mostly utilitarian, capturing the poetry of industrialization (i.e. Wasteway, Ditch, Canal, Siphon, Lateral).  Removing the background landform, you see the composite of the different stream types as a whole, with creek/river in blue and the remainder by color.

For a more local view, the NHD data is a bit less sparse, not capturing the same amount of complexity is smaller urban waterways, plus without the other water bodies like lakes the geography seems somewhat off.  The purple to the west in the Olympic Pennisula shows a density of flowlines referred to as streams, and the darker red denotes a number of local sloughs that exist in local river systems.  It’s harder to see, but you can catch the Ship Canal in this group, and the slightly lighter red fork in the center is the infamous Duwamish Waterway, the lower stretch that runs through Seattle and ‘lost’ its designation as a river – interestingly enough it’s the only flowline in the state with that moniker.

I was expecting the dominance of creeks and rivers in the nomenclature, but was also really surprised that these combined to make up so many of the collective flowlines. Perhaps early settlers and place-namers lacking a bit of creativity.  It was also a good surprise to find a wealth of other place names in Washington, albeit many used to describe man-made features, including the most poetic name of wasteway, but enough fun to find an occasional branch, fork, brook, and run, which are more common elsewhere in the United States, per the other US maps.

These are pretty basic graphics exported from GIS just to give a feel for the data, so I’d like to play around more with representation, perhaps some sort of heatmap.  Also I’m eyeing Oregon for a comparison, and maybe wanting to dive into the waterbodies as well beyond linear flowlines, so more fun to come.  Who knows, an atlas of the whole country with a top ten of their most common names of each state.  Or maybe not…


HEADER:  Excerpt of River and Stream Composite Map – data from ESRI, NOAA, USGS – Mapping by Jason King – (all maps in post same attribution, © Jason King, Hidden Hydrology, 2018)

The exploration of hidden hydrology takes many forms. While often focusing on the visual through maps and illustrations, and the verbal, through documents and texts, there’s a range of other sensory experiences that connect lost rivers and buried creeks to our modern life.

It is vital to connect the lost experiences with actual places, if only help imagine what was there previously, as well as to, surprisingly, find the traces and fragments of the palimpsest that remains after decades or even centuries of erasure. Beyond the idea of just being mere ground-truthing as a method of connecting the maps and texts to actual places, is the ability to engage other senses of touch, hearing, and  We engage and use our brains differently when we’re outdoors versus indoors, as a recent study showed that “…brain activity associated with sensing and perceiving information was different when outdoors, which may indicate that the brain is compensating for environmental distractions.” 

At the root of this is physically experiencing spaces through exploration and discovery. While we will dive into the more specific literature and potential for walking/flâneury in this context of exploration that encompasses our collective sensory experience, for now we will focus on some relevant overlapping themes in terms of specific focused sensing in a spatial frame – specifically soundscapes and smellscapes.  Some, but not all of these fit exactly in the tighter sphere of hidden hydrology, however all do provide valid paths of inquiry that could be directly applied to increasing our understanding and engagement with these buried, disappeared, worlds.

As with all of these explorations, this quickly expanded beyond one post, so I’m focusing first on the concept of smell – and will follow up subsequently with elaboration on other sensory subjects.

Smellscapes

The sounds and smells of water are powerful sensory experiences, which can evoke a range of emotions, hint of hidden landscapes, confront and astound then sooth and delight.  There’s also a strong historical element, outlined beautifully in this CityLab article ‘Sense and the City‘, which discusses Carolyn Purnell’s book ‘The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses’.  in which she shows through explorations of noise, smell, and more over the span of history, “….while our bodies may not change dramatically, the way we think about the senses and put them to use has been rather different over the ages.” 

It is no accident that the events around what led to the massive reconfiguration of London through the burial of rivers into pipes is known as the ‘Great Stink‘, driven by growing water pollution and hot weather which  causing a mass exodus due to the notion that the smells could transmit disease, which was coupled with recent cholera outbreaks.  As mentioned in the Wikipedia article “The problem had been mounting for some years, with an ageing and inadequate sewer system that emptied directly into the Thames. The miasma from the effluent was thought to transmit contagious diseases, and three outbreaks of cholera prior to the Great Stink were blamed on the ongoing problems with the river.”  The scientist Michael Faraday, who investigated and wrote a letter on the poor conditions of the Thames, is depicted in this Punch Cartoon from 1855 holding his nose and “…giving his card to Father Thames”, commenting on Faraday gauging the river’s “degree of opacity”

And while access to land and reduction of negative impact so the irony of much urban modernization of rivers by burying them was often driven by smells, fear of pollution via miasma, or legitimate issues with outbreaks like cholera, the so called “Monster Soup” via the 1828 image by William Health depicting the water of the Thames.

Expanding that notion, I recall this map, via CityLab, of the ‘Stench Map” from the “Charles F. Chandler Papers,” Columbia University Rare Books and Manuscript Library, which was described as a “Map Showing Location of Odor Producing Industries of New York and Brooklyn, circa 1870”

They quote Virginia Tech historian Melanie Kiechle and author of the recent book “Smell Detectives“, who is quoted in the article about the fascination and challenge of spatially representing sensory data: “Trying to show smells, which are not concrete—they’re invisible, they’re ephemeral, they’re always changing…”.  She also authored this paper in Journal of Urban History called ‘Navigating by Nose: Fresh Air, Stench Nuisance, and the Urban Environment, 1840–1880” [paywalled] where she mentions “City dwellers used their understanding of stench nuisance as detrimental to health to construct smellscapes or olfactory maps of New York City. Such maps identified health threats and guided movements through or out of the city.” 

And another, referenced in this Instagram from the NY Public Library Map Division, entitled “Going the whole hog. The odiferous Midtown West in 1865”, which shows this excerpt from a map “Region of Bone Boiling and Swill-Milk Nuisances” found in “Report of the Council of hygiene and public health of the Citizens’ Association of New York upon the sanitary condition of the city” published by The Citizens’ Association of New York. Council of Hygiene and Public Health in 1865″

The short of it was, in the mid 19th Century, cities were often foul and disgusting places, and, if you want a more thorough and frightening description of the above, visit CityLab’s post “The Sanitary Nightmare of Hell’s Kitchen in 1860s New York”  which describes conditions that inevitably existed throughout many cities at the time.  For rivers, this meant modernization, none as famous as the sewerization of London by Joseph Bazalgette, which tackled the issues of urban pollution and flooding in the mid to late 1800s, while also opening up room for development.

This approach served as a model for many areas around the world confronting similar issues, and serves as perhaps the greatest driver of buried creeks and hidden hydrology in modern cities.  Not solely based on smell, but it was definitely a factor.  In entombing these rivers, we cut off the bad but also vacated the positive associations of the smell of water that couple nostalgia via memory. Good and bad, the evocation of smells of water – ocean funk, tidal salt/fresh water mixing, freshness of a bubbling creek, wet grass, and all things in between have strong impacts on our experiences.  One of these concepts mentioned recently in writings I recall, including both a chapter in Cynthia Barnett’s book “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History“, and featured as Robert Macfarlane’s word of the day, is the concept of “petrichor,” which is much more complex but can be simplified as the smell air before, or after rain, which is so evocative as to support an entire industry, outlined in detail in an Atlantic article by Barnett “Making Perfume from the Rain“.

The role smell plays in our experience and enjoyment of places is often not discussed specifically, beyond nuisances, so it is heartening to see artists, designers, and planners taking on this specific area for study.  We will expand more on the water-specific aspects of this in the future, but for now, a great intro is this wonderful meditation on ‘The Conservation of Smellscapes” from the blog Thinking like a Human, which captures the idea better than I, and which also references a couple of the smellscape pioneers which we will discuss in more length below.

Kate McLean

Anyone interesting in the topic of smellscapes has inevitably come across the amazing work of Kate McLean, especially with recent write-ups in Atlas Obscura, The New Yorker, BBC News, and  Co.Design to name a few.  McLean is an artist and designer and current PhD candidate who focuses on sensory research which is found at her site Sensory Maps. and you can follower her as well on her Twitter account @katemclean.  In her websites explanatory text, she mentions the techniques and use of the visual to represent the sensory: “The tools of my trade include: individual group smellwalks, individual smellwalks (the “smellfie”), smell sketching, collaborative smellwalks, graphic design, motion graphics, smell generation and smell diffusion, all united by mapmaking” 

A 2015 story on “Mapping Your City’s Smells” discusses some of her work, specifically for London, where they developed a ‘dictionary’ of urban smells, “…including less pleasant odors (“exhaust,” “manure,” “trash,” “putrid,” and “vomit” among them) and downright lovely-sounding ones (“lavender,” “fruity,” “BBQ,” and “baked,” for example).”  An aroma wheel developed by the team, captures the complexity of these smells.

From this, they used words in geotagged social media posts to capture a spatial picture of these elements, then mapped them based on concentrations in a Pollock-esque composition showing bad smells along red tones and nature smells in greens.  As noted:  “The researchers envision these maps being used in a variety of ways. Urban planners, they suggest, can use them to figure out which areas of the city smell the worst—and then consider using air-flow manipulation, green spaces, and pedestrian-friendly streets to change them. Maybe computer scientists will one day create a wayfinding app that gives users the most pleasant-smelling path to their destination. Or maybe city officials will be inspired to use social media data to more consistently monitor how their residents are being affected by smells—and by the pollution that creates it.”

An online map of this data also exists from McLeans collaborators Daniele Quercia, Rossano Schifanella, and Luca Maria Aiello, under the auspices of goodCitylife.

Smelly Maps provides an interactive version of the data for London, with some additional Info about this: “Think about your nose. Now think about big data. You probably didn’t realize it, but your nose is a big data machine. Humans are able to potentially discriminate more than thousands different odors. On one hand, we have our big data nose; on the other hand, we have city officials and urban planners who deal only with the management of less than ten bad odors out of a trillion. Why this negative and oversimplified perspective?  Smell is simply hard to measure.  SmellyMaps have recently proposed a new way of capturing the entire urban smellscape from social media data (i.e., tags on Flickr pictures or tweets). Cities are victims of a discipline’s negative perspective, only bad odors have been considered. The SmellyMaps project aims at disrupting this negative view and, as a consequence, being able to celebrate the complex smells of our cities.”  

Zooming in, you get a breakdown on the relative smell density and dominant smell in a dashboard style.

On the interactive side, a smellwalk project from 2014 for Amsterdam gives a good overview of the process, where multiple people walk and record information, with “Over 650 smells were detected by 44 people undertaking 10 smellwalks over a period of 4 days in April 2013. Based on written descriptions from the smellwalkers, 50 broad categories were identified. Both frequently-mentioned and curious smells feature on the map.”

She provides a short description of the results, discussing her expectation of cannabis instead replace with the reality of waffles, spices, herring, laundry, flowers and leaves detected by participants.

“Dots mark the origins of the smells, concentric circles indicate their range and the warped contours allude to potential smell drift in the north- and south-westerley winds encountered on the days of the smellwalks. It is estimated that humans have the capacity to discriminate up to 1 trillion smells and our experience is highly individual; to walk and sniff is to know.”

The color legend breaks down specific dominant smells (both frequently-mentioned and ‘curious) derived from the 650 smells, and a subset of the 50 categories.

The graphical quality of these maps amplifies the the experiential quality, which also I believe makes them more engaging to wider audiences of designers and planners.  The magnitude lines offer an opportunity to zoom in on some specific comments displayed in an engaging way.

A video of this Smellmap Amsterdam is worth a look also:

Smellmap Amsterdam©KateMcLean2014 from RCA IED on Vimeo.

The 2017 New Yorker article “The Graphic Designer Who Maps the World’s Cities By Smell” shows a more localized example, as the author, guided by a kit she downloaded from McLean’s site, later mapped by McLean herself in Greenwich Village.  One of McLean’s own earlier endeavors looked at some specific blocks in New York, with a hyperlocal exercise,inspired by another article from New York Magazine ‘The Smelliest Block in New York‘.

The work blending art and science is a great model, and the representation offers some good lessons for mapping less concrete elements in the urban landscape.  The further parallel with hidden hydrology is in being able to interpret the unseen, as McLean mentions in the Atlas Obscura post, ““Participants are often surprised about how many odors can be detected if you really pay attention to smell,” McLean says. “Humans can differentiate a trillion different smells but we breathe about 24,000 times a day. Much of it can easily go unnoticed.” “

Victoria Henshaw

Another pioneer in the field is Victoria Henshaw, who sadly passed away in 2014. She provided another strong voice in the field of smell, authoring a 2013 book on the subject, Urban Smellscapes: Understanding and designing city smell environments, which was “…contributing towards the wider research agenda regarding how people sensually experience urban environments. It is the first of its kind in examining the role of smell specifically in contemporary experiences and perceptions of English towns and cities, highlighting the perception of urban smellscapes as inter-related with place perception, and describing odour’s contribution towards overall sense of place.”

An urban planner by training and an academic, Henshaw wrote on the topic at her blog Smell and the City, which, along with her book left a wonderful trove of info on the topic. An interview in Wired UK “Odour map seeks to save endangered smells‘ hints at an oft-mentioned theme in any writing around the subject: that while we scrub the cities of the bad smells, we also lose the essence of what makes places unique and special.

As mentioned by Henshaw: “”The approach to town-centre management has always been about sterilisation,” she says. “We’ve become so unused to strong smells that we now have adverse reactions to them.”  This disassociation is both the target as well as the opportunity to tap into unrealized sensory design opportunities, as we gain more understanding of the impacts.  One such method as the ability to reroute ventilation systems “to the front of restaurants and entertainment venues — with the intention of attracting more customers,” which ostensibly captures the essence and vitality of a food stall in Barcelona, from her site.

There’s a mention as well of a Global Smell Map that seems to be no longer viable as it doesn’t have any info.   A later article by Henshaw as well from 2014 ‘Don’t Turn Up Your Nose at the City in Summer” focuses the nose on New York, which for her was ‘The season of smell”, where smell becomes a factor in the original city grid layout to “maximize the benefits of westerly winds to dissipate the supposedly deadly miasmas thought to spread disease…” as well as industrial pasts, even long after the smoke stacks go cold, mentioning that “In London’s Olympic Village, for example, the main stadium was built on a former industrial zone — and when it rains, locals report detecting the smell of soap seeping from the site of an old factory.”

She mentions the sociology of smell as well, mentioning external issues like waste-treatment facilities and their smelly impacts often being located in poorer areas. “Smell also provides a sociological map of the city. Poorer people tend to have less control over their smell environments.”  The experience of smell-walks and close observations of senses, provides a new way of seeing and understanding places, and although sometimes foul, Henshaw’s advice is sound:

“But don’t hold your nose. Teach yourself to parse the city’s odors and you will find a new dimension of urban experience opening up before you. Accept the olfactory.”

McLean and Henshaw, along with a cast of others also helped co-edit the recent literature on the subject in the 2018 book  “Designing with Smell – Practices, Techniques and Challenges”, which offers “case studies from around the world, highlighting the current use of smell in different cutting-edge design and artistic practices…” [with] “…an emphasis on spatial design in numerous forms and interpretations – in the street, the studio, the theatre or exhibition space, as well as the representation of spatial relationships with smell.”

As mentioned, this detour into the realm of senses and smells may seem counter to the investigation of hidden hydrology, but these examples connect the hidden to the physical world through exploration, and also provide compelling ways of using these investigations of place while presenting graphic information that is compelling, interactive, and data-rich.  Next we will dive into another sensory exploration, that of soundscapes.


HEADER: Smell Map by Kate McLean – via Medium

 

 

 

 

I tweeted a bit back that I’m reading the book Rivers Lost, Rivers Regained: Rethinking City-River Relations, and so far it hasn’t disappointed.  More info for sure on some of the great content on cities and rivers forthcoming. However, an intriguing  concept mentioned in the intro was the Japanese concept of shin-sui, which the authors loosely define as “playing with water”.  They mention these in an overall trend of cities refocusing on their urban rivers, and specifically of ways to encourage people reconnecting with these urban waterways. The authors bring up urban waterfront parks, and mention these “shin-sui” parks as a way of connecting with natural processes:

” “Although these projects were conducted for recreational rather than ecological purposes, they helped to turn people’s eyes back to nature.”  (18)

Translation being a tricky thing, there’s multiple meanings that emerge when one starts digging into the concept of shinsui (and someone with a grasp of Japanese beyond my total lack thereof please correct me).  Online definitions, include water references, summarily – flood, fuel & water, inundation, as well as having meanings for adoration, cooking, salary.

Another reference in a book that popped up in a Google search, Japan for Kids, has a great way of describing the parks a friendship: “A new concept in neighborhood playground is a ‘shinsui park.’  Shinsui means literally ‘to be friendly with water.’ A shinsui park is one with plenty of water attractions that provide children with a chance to get use to water by playing in it.” (127)

The designs for these transcend the mere “splash play” or water park, but do share some of the same elements of interactivity and immersion.  Owing to the diversity of density of Japanese cities, they are often narrow, but it does show the potential for even abstracted water courses to co-exist with urbanization.

Otonashi Shinshi Park is one of these very urban examples, located in the northern area of Tokyo and literally wedged in a channel between development.  You get a feel for the scale and elements, in this case a high-walled channel that opens up to some more interactive and tactile elements.

A little more lush version from photographer Andy Serrano is found at Oyokogawa Shinsui Park, which he describes: “The park runs alongside the Oyoko-gawa River in the Sumida Ward of Tokyo, and is a popular place for local residents who play, walk, fish, and even swim there. With the Tokyo Sky Tree looming nearby, cherry blossom season gives visitors a taste of Japan’s dual natures: historic traditions side-by-side with ultra-modernity, natural beauty next to futuristic technology and architecture.”

The Tanada Shinsui Park on the Houzuyamma River in the village of Toho in Fuuses some vernacular elements to create a “River pool…for the infant and elementary school children [and the] …”Koinobori pool” river pool is a pool that uses the difference in height of the rice terraces.”

Another urban example is sculptural pools of the Arima River Shinsui Park near Kobe, Japan, which is located near Arima Onsen, one of the oldest hot springs locations in the country.

As mentioned, these few examples I’ve show are not about restoration, and vary from just parks by the river to ones with active recreation elements focused on water.  While natural edges occur, many are somewhat channellized, highly designed and very abstracted river environments — akin the art-side of the conceptual continuum of restoration.  The goal here is more recreational, but, as the editors of Rivers Lost mention, they may provide a powerful precedent for engaging people of all ages with their natural waterways, and informing urban residents on the natural processes

 


HEADER: Otonashi Shinsui Park – Tokyo, via Japan by Web

As I alluded to in the previous post on smaller lakes, the large Seattle lakes provide the form and contribute to the overall sense of place. River cities are shaped differently than coastal and lake cities, and the relationship with water differs due to this morphology. In either case, any urban waterway will exist in balance with many factors of urbanization, industrialization, influencing the ecological and social connections between hydrological and other systems.

In addition, because these larger water bodies exist in tandem with anthropocentric activities, they accumulate a mix of the odd and off-beat. And while I was excited about the idea of “Searching for the Mystery Sharks of Seattle”, those particular mysteries ended up a bit further outside the realm of our local water bodies. However, in Seattle, there is still evidence of some strange things in both Lake Washington and Lake Union, worth a bit of exploration.

LAKE UNION

Starting with Lake Union, which seems to have a bit less info, this article from Seattle Magazine from 2013, “Unlocking Lake Union’s waterlogged secrets — one sunken treasure at a time” is a good overview of some of the exploration.

One endeavor is the Center for Wooden Boats and their Underwater Archeology Project, starting in 2008. A good overview of this is the form of a post from 2011 by Dick Wagner “Beneath the Waters” recounts some of the finds, including a range of boats from back into the 1880s, as well as cars, motorcycles and even a Vespa scooter.

A video ‘Shipwrecks of Lake Union: Seattle’s Hidden History” the explorations from 2012:  “This short video documents the Lake Union underwater archaeology project that The Center for Wooden Boats Founding Director Dick Wagner has been helping lead for the last several years. CWB is working with the UW’s Burke Museum, The State Department of Ecology, and others to locate and document vessels and other historic artifacts. Using the latest in underwater technology, divers and amateur archaeologists have been scouring the 40-foot-deep lake, looking at more spots where sunken vessels lie.”

The Lake Union Virtual Museum also has a nice map of a few of the wrecks on their site, clickable with some photos of some of the 100s of wrecks in the lakes (go to the link to interact)

The wreck of the J.E. Boyden, which is one of the finds of the Underwater Archaeology Project above, is located in the south part of the lake, “One of the oldest and best documented wrecks in Lake Union, the J.E. Boyden was built in 1888 and has been on the lake bottom since 1935.”

The Global Underwater Explorers Seattle group, which educates divers.  From their site:  “our exploration projects will have the ultimate goal of gathering consistent observational data and documenting the degradation or appreciation of our submerged resources over time.  Through data analysis, we aim to drive policy-changing efforts to conserve, protect and create public awareness for our submerged resources”  They also maintain Project Baseline, which is an interactive online map which displays bathymetry of Lake Union and Washington, with documentation of these wrecks as well as unknown and unexplored underway element.  The Lake Union area in whole, which also shows the lake to be quite shallow, maxing out at about 40 feet at the deepest points.

A zoom in on the south section offers some interesting underwater topography, and the information about the Boyden, with a pop-up of info.  Go to the map and check it out and you can see the distinct shape of the boat on the surface.

There’s definitely some novelty to the concept of shipwrecks, and the information appeals to a certain geeky longing that seems visceral to the water.  As summed in the Seattle Magazine article there’s more to it that that:

“The effort to record these old wrecks is not simply a matter for scuba heads or boat geeks. Lake Union is the heart of Seattle’s maritime origins; filling in the story of its transformation from a pristine natural lake to a center for industry (including sawmills, brick making and boatbuilding) to a recreation hub through photos and film is of tremendous value.”

LAKE WASHINGTON

As for Lake Washington, the significantly larger water body, it doesn’t take much digging to uncover a range of good stories and mysteries.  A 2014 KUOW Story is a good starting point: “What’s On The Botton of Lake Washington? Planes, Trains And…” hints at the diversity of subsurface elements, including planes “ Lake Washington is like a treasure trove for old plane wrecks. There are at least seven at the bottom of the Lake. They’re a frozen piece of our wartime history, a time when mock air battles raged over these waters. Midair collisions would send airplanes crashing into the lake.”

SHIPS

One there’s no shortage of, much like Lake Union, are ships, many of them either lost in accidents, or purposely scuttled.  Per the KUOW story, “…there are about 400 boats beneath the surface: ferries, barges, three Navy minesweepers, mostly in the shallower waters off Kirkland, where the Lake Washington Shipyards used to be. Now, it’s a graveyard for wrecked boats. “These are full-on, full-sized ferries on the bottom, right underneath all the yachts that are parked there now,” said diver Ben Griner, also aboard.  As for the minesweepers, one day they were docked, the next they were gone.”

For as long as there’s been water and something staring into its depths, there’s been the desire to dive in and see what’s underneath.  Overlapping with the Global Underwater Explorers (GUE Seattle), is the Maritime Documentation Society, (link is to Facebook, as their original link is bad) is one of those groups that do this on a regular basis, with a mission.  From their page, it is focused on  “exploration and documentation of existing, undiscovered, and natural historic shipwrecks. Our goal is to create public awareness and expand the wealth of history for present and future generations.”  

Some good videos are also found via DCS Films, which is ‘Dedicated to Advanced Technical Diving and Underwater Cinematography’ is a good resource to see what its like submarine, and they have some info on Lake Washington Relics.  A clip from a story from “KCPQ 13 on the artifacts of Lake Washington A joint effort of the Maritime Documentation Society, DCS Films, and GUE Seattle” offers a bit of the footage.

Similarly the afforementioned GUE-Seattle has some great info about explorations on their blog, along with the maps shown before.  Some of the stories of the dives are a fun read, to understand that equipped with a bit of info such as a general location and some scans, the fun is in exploration.  One such as this exploration of LW250, an unknown object, seen here in the bathymetric view.

And the interesting perspective of the side sonar imagery, seen below.

From the post: “We found a well-preserved wooden sailboat in good condition and it was a pleasure exploring it. As is true with most fish stories and dive stories, this was the most spectacular boat even found. It had a hole in the deck with treasures of very old bottles, ledgers of misplaced bank funds, police ID badges, a revolver, and an attaché case chained to the railing…..actually it had none of that, but it was as exciting as if it did. Just to be there on this boat that no one had ever seen was thrilling. The boat actually had a Washington state registration number and the last year sticker on the side was 1983.”

A snip of the GUE-Seattle Bathymetry shows part of the Lake (it’s a really big lake) showing a range of underwater explorations, and also the relative depths, as you see see beyond the east side tidal zones, the edge of Lake washington falls off sharply from the Seattle shoreline (on the left side of the map).

And while the shipwrecks are cool, I’m really fascinated with the bathymetric info as an interesting exploration of hidden hydrology that goes beyond creeks and rivers – especially as there was so much manipulation of the Lake levels amidst the re-plumbining of the entire region, this information provides some great clues to a history unique to a lake-shaped city.

AN UNDERWATER FOREST

My interest in this topic in general was piqued by the May 2011 KUOW story “The spooky, underwater forests of Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish”, which describes 1000 year old forests off the edges of areas of both lakes. Remnants of an 1100 year old seismic event, areas of these forests were discovered   The caption helps explain this image : ” This image is a close up of the standing timber on the south end of Mercer Island. The image is generated using a side scan sonar towed behind a boat about 20 feet off the bottom. The trees are visible mostly from the shadows they cast.

There was a video I do recall seeing, but all the links now seem to be gone.  It was bit disorienting, so aside from a glimpse of something tree-like, it was alot of darkness and blurriness, which makes one thin.  Ben Griner of Coastal Sensing who explored the Lake via sonar and underwater is, quoted in the story “…describes the drowned trees off the southern coast of Mercer Island as a thrill to swim through (although he gets not everyone would see it that way). “It’s certainly a disorienting dive,” he said. “A lot of people call it really freaky. Other people describe it as exciting and interesting.” The lake is pitch black at that depth — and being underwater can mess with one’s sense of movement. Griner said it’s sometimes difficult to tell if the water is moving or he is, and divers often bump into things.  “Because of how long the forest has been under water and how busy the lake is, most trees are just the trunks now,” he said. “It can be a little creepy, but it’s really fun to swim through the trees.”

 

From the Wikipedia page, the location of the underwater forests are located in yellow, adjacent to Mercer Island to the south, and another segment.  Per the page, the earthquake from around 900 C.E. created “The landslides on heavily wooded land created “bizarre submerged forests” of old-growth timber, preserved by the cool water and low oxygen in the deep lake.[1][5] These sunken forests were known to early European settlers of the Seattle area, for whom the snags could be a hazard to ships on the lake, and as early as 1919, nearly 200 of the sunken trees had been removed from depths of 65–132 feet (20–40 m)”

David Williams, who does his usual engagingly thorough job of discussing this topic back in 2014 on a post “What Lies Beneath – the Secrets of Lake Washington” discusses ships, and these Submerged Forests as well, explaining a chapter in the story (also mentioned in the KUOW story).

“Mostly forgotten, the trees merited public attention in the 1990s. In 1994, John Tortorelli was caught salvaging wood from the submerged forests. Unfortunately for him the state Department of Natural Resources owns the trees, plus he damaged an underwater sewer line. Found guilty of three counts of theft and three of trafficking in stolen property, Tortorelli received a jail term of three and a half years”

The post includes this map, highlighting the locations of the souther sections identified above.

COAL CAR ENDNOTE

As many discussed the other submerged worlds of ships and forests, both the KUOW article and David Williams mention coal cars on the bottom of the Lake as well.  Williams elaborates on the the eastside coal connection, which saw  a constant stream of “… coal was loaded on railroad cars at Newcastle and lowered 900 feet by tram to Lake Washington, where the cars traveled on a barge to Union Bay and then on a tram over the narrow neck of land now crossed by SR-520. A second barge carried the coal cars across Lake Union to a train (Seattle’s first) that carried the coal its final mile to a final tram, which lowered the ore down to a massive coal bunker at the base of Pike Street. It was on one of these trips across Lake Washington that the barge dropped its load of coal cars now sitting at the bottom of the lake.”  

With that frequency, the accident was bound to happen. To verify this concept, a cool shot from Coastal Sensing shows the scattered remains of perhaps these same “Coal Cars in Lake Washington Seattle.  Lost in a storm while transporting coal from Coal Creek to the small city of Seattle.” (read more about this here).


HEADER: Lake Union and Lake Washington Bathymetry – via GUE-Seattle Project Baseline Map

As January is quick turning into London month, we’re wrapped up on the summaries of available books on the subject, including works by Barton, Myers, Bolton, Talling, and Fathers, running a gamut of approaches to walking, studying, and mapping Lost Rivers.  I’d also be remiss if I failed to call back a 2016 post on another take on the subject, Iain Sinclair’s 2013 book ‘Swimming to Heaven: London’s Lost Rivers‘ which rounds out my collection on the subject.  The amazing amount of hidden hydrology literature provides a solid foundation, however, it is merely the tip of a massive iceberg visible layer of a vast and sprawling underground complex of content, and a starting point for discussing many of the other resources and discussion around the subject, including art, history, exploration, and maps.

A quick search of London and Lost Rivers or something along those lines yields plenty of material, including additional resource from the sources as diverse as London Geezer, which contains an extensive amount of information, to city specific hidden hydrology projects such as the Lost Rivers Project in Camden. A lot of ink (at least digitally) has been spent on this topic, with articles from BT like “8 of London’s lost rivers you probably didn’t know about” to BBC “The lost rivers that lie beneath London?“, the Telegraph (authored by none other than Tom Bolton, “The fascinating history of London’s lost rivers“, and perhaps the most prolific, the Londonist which covers this topic often, with titles like “The Secrets of London’s Lost Rivers” and info on specific rivers like “Counter’s Creek: In Search of London’s Unknown River” (authored by David Fathers) to a multi-part “Lost Rivers from Above: The Tyburn“.

Without going into extravagant detail and barrage you with too many links (there are over 100 I have at this point), it’s safe to say that London is by far the city with the most coverage, and it continues to emerge (such as this interactive virtual reality tour on the Guardian of London Sewers), showing that it’s a topic that continues to intrigue people.  For now, we’ll focus on some projects that work directly in the realm of these lost rivers, interpreting them directly through exploration and indirectly through art.

ART/EXPLORATIONS

Much of the interpretive work around hidden hydrology comes from art, in it’s various forms, and much of the art includes exploration, so I’m combining these two ideas in one here. We’ve previously featured artist Cristina Iglesias and her new installation Forgotten Streams in London as more of a site specific example, interpreting the Walbrook in water features outside of the new Bloomberg London HQ.

A spatial approach comes from Sandra Crisp, and her video project from 2010-2012 “Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers”.  This work was “originally made as a site-specific installation for a group exhibition 2010 held in the semi derelict basement under Shoreditch Town Hall, London”  A soundtrack was added later and you can check out the full video at the link above.

A short blurb (with my one small edit) from the site: “The film allows the viewer to fly through a 3D map of London, revealing the sites of ancient and subterranean rivers based on research using old maps and books such as Nigel Nicholas Barton’s ‘The Lost rivers of London’. Evoking existing and long disappeared waterways that bubble unseen beneath our feet. Including; The Fleet, Tyburn, Westbourne, Quaggy, Counters Creek, Neckinger and more…..”

A detail shows the intricacy of the layering, in this case highlighting the River Wandle – but the stills don’t do it justice – check out the video for full effect.

Crisp also breaks down the research on the piece, where she shows a hybrid version of Barton’s map that was the basis for the piece, along with some of the ‘making-of’ info that’s pretty interesting.

Amy Sharrocks, a London based artist, sculptor and film-maker, created “London is A River City” from 2009.  As she mentions in her bioFor the last four years I have been making work about Londoners and our relationship to water, inviting people to swim across the city with me, floating boats to drift on swimming pools, lake and rivers, tying people together to trace lost rivers and re-create a memory of water.” 

The project included walks of lost rivers, which involved using dowsing as a methodology for walks of the Westbourne, Tyburn, Effra, Fleet, Walbrook, and Neckinger rivers.  Each of these are beautifully documented (with PDFs as well for download), and worth exploring in more detail.  Per her statement “Why I’m Doing it?“, she mentions:

“Tracing these rivers has been a process of layering: new stories over old, our footsteps over others, roads and railways over rivers. Uncovering a past of London I knew nothing about. Connecting to things submerged beneath our streets has uncovered a currency of the city, and enabled a kind of palm reading of London. 

The idea of walking is vital to this endeavor, coupled with the dowsing gives it a pyschogeographic slant. From her site:  “These rivers lost their claim to space in this city, long ago paved over, with their inconvenient tides and smells, to make way for faster roads and railways. These river walks have championed a human speed, that stumbles, stops to look at things, slows down when it is tired. There is a connection to the speed of water, a meandering dérive to battle the rising pace of modern life. We took the measure of London by our own strides, pacing out the city at our own speed.”   Flash-enabled website headaches aside, it’s a good project worth some time to dive in.  Read some coverage from the Independent on the Walbrook walk.  You can see more about some other work as well at SWIM .

Another project, this time with a poetic bent, comes from via ADRIFT, a project by poet Tom Chivers envisioned as a “…personal interrogation of climate through poetry.”, where he “sets out to explore climate as culture, mapping out the territory of climate science within urban space.”  The site has the full list of writings, and a nice archive of some related materials are also on the site.  It’s a project of Cape Farewell, which has a great mission of “bringing creativesscientists and informers together to stimulate a cultural narrative that will engage and inspire a sustainable and vibrant future society”, namely climate change.  An image from the ADRIFT site as part of a photoset “Walking the Neckinger: Waterloo to Bermondsey”

A graphic design work Hidden Rivers of London by Geertje Debets takes a different, more visual approach, as “A research on the letterpress technique, while developing the concept and design for the visualisation of the underground rivers of London.  London’s terrifying under half… Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of this underground life, but when you look better, you find the underground world everywhere, especially the underground rivers. The names of the underground rivers are used in street names, places, houses, companies, schools and orchestras. The locations of these places show you how the river floats.”

The work of Stephen Walter got a bunch of press a few years back, with this map of London that “…traces the lesser known streams, sewers, springs and culverts of the capital in intense, hand-drawn detail.”   Some enlargements of these maps, via the Guardian:

Another of Walter’s work that is worth seeing is the 2012  “London Subterranea“, which “…aims to shine a light on this clandestine infrastructure and it presents perhaps the first comprehensive map, open to the public, which places so many of its features alongside each other. It geographically tracks the routes of London’s Lost Rivers, its main sewers, the tube network and it’s ‘ghost’ stations including the Crossrail project. It also pinpoints archeological finds, ruins, known plague pits, secret governmental tunnels, the Mail Rail and the Water Ring Main tunnels. Epithets to the ‘underworld’ of crime, and the scenes of notable killings such as the acid-bath murders get a look in. So too does the site of the infamous Tyburn Tree and its many buried corpses that still lie in its wake undiscovered.”  

On the topic of the subterranean, photography as well plays a part, with many of the London area rivers featured in a National Geographic photo-essay, “11 Rivers Forced Underground“.  A book on the subject I’d like to pick up, Subterranean London: Cracking the Capitol (2014), is described via a blurb from Amazon:  “Bradley L. Garrett has worked with explorers of subterranean London to collect an astonishing array of images documenting forbidden infiltrations into the secret bowels of the city. This book takes readers through progressively deeper levels of historical London architecture below the streets. Beautifully designed to allow for detailed viewing and featuring bespoke map illustrations by artist Stephen Walter, this unique book takes readers to locations few dare to go, and even fewer succeed in accessing.”

The publication had some acclaim, with one of the images winning an architectural photography award, along with some controversy as noted in the CityLab article “The Photography Book London Officials Never Wanted You to See” which outlines some of the sticky issues of urban exploration, access, liability, and such. Content addresses more than just hidden waters, but does include some amazing photographs as seen below.

This resource on London sewers from 2011 that looks to no longer be actively maintained, is ‘Sub-Urban: Main Drainage of the Metropolis‘ which looks at the drainage via sewer exploration and photography: “Alongside more traditional study and research practices, such as access to archival materials and the use of other historic and literary resources, we apportion equal importance to the hands on scrutiny of our subject matter. Taking time to explore, investigate and photograph London’s sewers affords us a greater understanding of the often complex architecture and gives practical insight and knowledge that cannot be gained from any amount of time spent thumbing through books and documents.”  There’s a number of links on the site to other endeavors, as well as some great imagery, both current of their explorations, and some historical work, along with the timeless phrasing of the section “Close Encounters of the Turd Kind“.

And when you’re done exploring, you can always grab a pint at Lost Rivers Brewing Company and drink the range of available beers inspired by the rivers themselves, and perhaps peruse Ben Aaronovitch’s 2011 book “Rivers of London“, where he created a story around various water deities and river spirits on the Thames and areas of London.

HISTORY

The concept of hidden hydrology is intertwined with history, so threads weave through all of these art installations and explorations.  The history of the development of London is fascinating and overwhelming, but there are some great resources like British History Online, which has resources on the topic like the six volume “Old and New London” written in the late 19th century, to sites like Connected Histories, which provide timeline based search tools, or links from the London Historians’ Blog.

On the topic of Lost Rivers, the history of the Big Stink is pretty key historical moment, which was a vital impetus behind what became the modern sewage system and led to the demise of many urban rivers.  The idea of this also led to “a piece of Victorian science fiction considered to be the first modern tale of urban apocalypse”, William Delisle Hay’s 1880 novel “The Doom of the Great City”, which is covered in depth via this article in the Public Domain Review.

You can also access primary sources, such as  following along with Sir Richard Phillips as he explored the edges of London in 1817, in “A Morning’s Walk from London to Kew“.

Some visual history comes via ArchPaper “What a difference 400 years makes: Modern and medieval London contrasted in hand-drawn cityscapes” which takes historic drawing viewpoints and redraws them showing the current urban configuration.

A fascinating thread that came from some of the books was the legacy of Spas, Springs, and Wells that have been a long part of the history of London.  There are some good sites to engage with this history, such as London’s Holy Wells, or the resource Holy and Healing Wells, highlighting around around the globe, including London.  There’s some great documentation such as the book mentioned by Barton, Foord’s “Springs, streams and spas of London: history and associations” from 1910, and one mentioned to me by David Fathers, Sunderland’s “Old London’s spas, baths, and wells” from 1915, both great resources for hidden hydrology.  An illustration from Foord, showing a 1733 engraving of one of these places, Tunbridge Wells:

The history of the Thames River Postman is a bit more random but worth a read, outlining H.L. Evans who delivered mail along the Thames. “The Thames Postmen played an important role connecting people who lived on the river with the rest of the world. They also became something of a local celebrity being a constant in the fast changing landscape of the river. Considering that the job was not without its dangers, it was remarkable that the Evans dynasty managed to continue for over a century.”

A visual resource COLLAGE, is an image database of over 250,000 images from The London Metropolitan Archives and the Guildhall Art Gallery, and also includes a picture map so you can locate them spatially in London.  A quick perusal found me in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, which showed this 1795 “View of Cheesecake House, Hyde Park.

The concept of the larger regional picture is the website Vision of Britain over time, which is full of great information, and specific to the landscape is the book ‘Hidden Histories: A Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape‘ by Mary-Ann Ochota which helps decipher the immensity of history through interpreting landforms and other traces.  From a review in Geographical:

“There is so much history to the British landscape. What with its stone circles, hill forts, mines and umpteenth century cottages, the land is marked with centuries of use. This can make it hard to read, like a blackboard written on hundreds of times and never erased”

As you can see, plenty of great work has happened and is still happening in London.  This is not an attempt to be comprehensive, and there’s tons more out there on specific rivers and locations, so consider this a teaser of sorts and google away for more.  I’m trying to find a simple way to share the mass of my resources and links online for further reading and reference, so stay tuned there, and future posts will likely expand on this rich history around hidden hydrology.  As a last reference to London, the last post in the series for now, following the lead of New York City, will be on maps.

 


HEADER:  Hand drawn map of the Rivers of London by Stephen Walter.

Following the early publication of ‘The Lost Rivers of London’ by Barton, there emerged in 2011 a set of compact, exploratory volumes by Paul Talling “London’s Lost Rivers” and by Tom Bolton “London’s Lost Rivers: A Walkers Guide”   Based on how they are listed on Amazon, it looks like Tallings book came out in June,  and Bolton’s arrived later in September, so i’ll start with the first.

London’s Lost Rivers by Paul Talling is a small pocket guide offers information on 22 lost rivers, and assorted other canals and water infrastructure.  There’s a companion website as well at www.londonslostrivers.com, which has info on the book as well as more details.  Paul Talling is a photographer and tour guide, so the book adopts that vibe, with great imagery and narrative focused on storytelling and exploration. A few images from the sample chapter on the website show the general format.

The maps are small but clean, with key highlights that reference back to the text, and the size warrants easy access via walks.

A review from May 2011 in the Londonist gives a good synopsis, “The format is spot on. Short bursts of text describe the tell-tale signs (look for ‘stink pipes’, sloping roads, and the sound of gushing water beneath manhole covers). Each watercourse is accompanied by an excellent selection of photos taken by the author.”

The text highlights some stories around the history and use, along with timelines for when the rivers were.  They vary as much as the rivers themselves, with anecdotes on things like the origins of the name, in this case the Effra“There are two possible explanations for the name Effra. The first is that it is derived from the Celtic word for torrent (given by the pre-Roman tribes) and the second is that it comes from an old London re-pronounciation of Heathrow, as the river flowed through the Manor of Heathrow in Brixton.”

There are lots of info on the site, including recent photos as well as a link to the a poem by U. A. Fanthorpe – “Rising Damp”, which was the 2nd place poem in the 1980 Arvon International Poetry Competition, included below:

Rising Damp by UA Fanthorpe.
A river can sometimes be diverted but is a very hard thing to lose altogether.’ (Paper to the Auctioneers’ Institute, 1907)

At our feet they lie low,
The little fervent underground
Rivers of London

Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet

Whose names are disfigured,
Frayed, effaced.

There are the Magogs that chewed the clay
To the basin that London nestles in.
These are the currents that chiselled the city,
That washed the clothes and turned the mills,
Where children drank and salmon swam
And wells were holy.

They have gone under.
Boxed, like the magician’s assistant.
Buried alive in earth.
Forgotten, like the dead.

They return spectrally after heavy rain,
Confounding suburban gardens. They inflitrate
Chronic bronchitis statistics. A silken
Slur haunts dwellings by shrouded
Watercourses, and is taken
For the footing of the dead.

Being of our world, they will return
(Westbourne, caged at Sloane Square,
Will jack from his box),
Will deluge cellars, detonate manholes,
Plant effluent on our faces,
Sink the city.

Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet

It is the other rivers that lie
Lower, that touch us only in dreams
That never surface. We feel their tug
As a dowser’s rod bends to the surface below

Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, Styx.”

The tours are still happening, a recent attendee posted photos of a Croydon Canal Walk, and the Lost Rivers Brewing pays homage to Talling as well in coaster (or shall I say ‘beermat’) form, via.

His other book/passion is Derelict London where he showcases his photography, which you can also see more of via the book of the same name. where he: “blending photographs with accounts of how particular buildings and sights fell into disrepair and what is likely to happen to them.:  He’s on Twitter @derelict_london


Tom Bolton (@teabolton) is a London-based researcher, walker and photographer, and his book London’s Lost Rivers: A Walker’s Guide, is also a small format, aimed at an audience on the go.  As mentioned on the publisher’s site Strange Attractor, “London’s Lost Rivers takes the reader on a series of walks along the routes of eight lost rivers, combining directions for walkers with richly detailed anecdotes outlining the history of each river’s route, origins and decline. Tom Bolton reveals a secret network that spreads across the city, from picturesque Hampstead in the North to the hidden suburbs of South London, and runs beneath some of London’s most iconic and historic sites.”  A great quote also mentioned, from The Great Wen its, “a terrific mix of history, topography and practicality…”  

A foreword by Christopher Fowler sets the scene, as he explains some of the history and demise, summarizing the change in the mid 19th century from a city with vital, flowing waters to “…the water of the common sewer which stagnates, full of … dead fish, cats and dogs, under their windows” (vi).  He ends with the following:

“”This, in a nutshell, is the paradox of the lost rivers. Despite the fact that mere proximity to them eventually became enough to kill you, their mystical significance was once so strong that the Romans floated gods upon their waters. Now, with walking maps to guide us, the journal of the hidden rivers becomes clearer.”

Bolton’s introduction is more succinct, setting the scene by discussing the 50 tributaries of the Thames, and that “Of these, two thirds are partially or wholly lost, buried beneath houses and streets, channelled away in underground tunnels, their flows diverted away by the sewer system.  London lost most of its rivers in less than 100 years, testament to the wave of change that transformed it from a city of 650,000 in 1750 to an industrial metropolis with a population peaking at 8.6 million in 1939.” (vii.)

The rivers are the “veins and arteries” (vii), and were crucial for the development and growth of the city, but the growth led to the eventual demise and disappearance.  Yet, “Today the rivers have a strong symbolic presence, encompassing every aspect of human existence…” describing the connections with birth, healing, renewals, death, religion, and more, concluding (along with the Fanthorpe quote as well), “Such fundamental elements of culture and landscape are not easily dismissed, and do not disappear just because they have been culverted.” (viii)

A typical spread has a image and a pithy quote, followed by what amounts to turn-by-turn directions for a route.

These are complemented with some simple and effective maps, showing the river course as a meandering gray flowline, adjacent with a dotted path that shows the closest walking route.  Key areas are identified with symbols and context is kept pretty spare to aid in legibility.  Tough to pull off with all black & white, these work well, and the pages aligning with the adjacent text, rather than cramming it all on one map, works well.

The text and maps could, with little augmentation, become a GPS enabled tour app that directs you where to go while overlaying the experience with the voice over text, and perhaps some historic maps and photos.  A review of this book in the Londonist gives a summary as well as a comparison to its predecessor: “Tom Bolton’s handbook to the buried tributaries of the Thames offers a very different take on the subject, however. Where Talling’s book surveyed almost 40 watercourses with a punchy combo of colour photos and scatter-gun trivia, his confrere offers a more detailed geographic account of just eight rivers; broad and shallow versus deep and narrow, to put it in riverine terms.”

The review contines, mentioning that the 8 walks highlighted in the text are “…backed up with endearing home-made maps, which match the text’s precise directions. The text itself is more buoyant than your typical guide book, puddled with allusions to folklore and quoting everyone from Norwood News to Coleridge to the Book of Common Prayer. The cultural magpie approach reflects both the author’s sideline in leading tour groups, and the fondness of the publisher, Strange Attractor, for arcane, unusual and ‘unpopular culture’. This makes for a cracking read even if you have no intention of pounding the pavements. Fleet, Tyburn, Neckinger, Wandle…you’ll lap them up.”

The format is similar in nature to Talling’s book, and while the former included the authors own photos, this book includes photos by SF Said (@whatSFSaid), which were part of an exhibition in 2011.  Again from the Londonist “A collection of distinctive photos by SF Said captures the Westbourne, Walbrook, Effra, and others. The photographer pulls some clever Polaroid tricks to give his subjects a murky, subaquatic hue.”  The best resource a post here is this flickr set from Said, and some more pics are on the Time Out London blog Now.Here.This. There’s also a PDF of the gallery show at Maggs, which show these great images.

It looks like 2011 may have been a banner year for London lost rivers and hidden hydrology resources in general, as it was also the year that our next blog topic, ‘Walking on Water’ by Stephen Myers came out (also in June 2011).  Would love to know the unique set of conditions that was happening in London at the time to spawn three books on Lost Rivers in the span of a few month. Something in the water, perhaps?


HEADER:  “Depth marker at (the now blocked) entrance to Hermitage Basin at the London Docks in Wapping”  From London’s Lost Rivers, Paul Talling

As I embark on the journey to document London’s hidden hydrology, it’s revealing how many books, websites, art installations, maps and more that have been created around lost rivers over the years.  To begin, I thought it prudent to start at the beginning, or at least the modern version of this, with The Lost Rivers of London by Nicholas Barton.  This may be considered the earliest version of a hidden hydrology publication I’ve seen, that is, exclusively focused on the disappearance of urban hydrological systems. This groundbreaking work was first published in 1962, with a subtext epitomized by the tagline: “A study of their effects upon London and Londoners, and the effects of London and Londoners upon them”.  Barton describes the endeavor:  “The purpose of this study is to show that these rivers, still silently flowing along beneath our feet though for the most part degraded into sewers, have played a considerable part in the development and history of London, and furthermore that their influence is still felt today… “ (14)

I purchased a copy of the 1962 book, and was excited about the inclusion of a fold up map which shows the the streams, which was a nice surprise, as I figured it would be missing  (also a snippet of this in the header of the map).  An image of this map I’d seen before online is this version, which can be found via this post from London By Gaslight from 2012, showing folds and all.  I ended up scanning version in the book and stitching it together (it’s about 20″x 17″) because I really like the simplicity and style of the map (Click for larger version).

If you zoom in, shows some of the great detail of what is a superbly crafted map from over 50 years back.   A zoom in shows a simple black and white line drawing with blue water (doesn’t get much simpler than that) along with some simple labels. The Westbourne, Tyburn, Fleet, and Walbrook wend through central London, and areas where it’s daylit such as the Serpentine in Hyde Park.

A further zoom shows the Rivers Walbrook and the Neckinger, along with Black Ditch, feeding the Thames on the east side.

The content of the book is organized around some of the main rivers on the north side, including the Walbrook, Fleet, and Tyburn, along with more geographically focused groupings to the west, south and east. There’s a fun section on ‘Dubious Rivers’ which questions some legends of these lost rivers.  The final section includes broader information on the uses of the rivers, and discussion of “Disasters, Diseases, and Drains” which includes analysis akin to John Snow’s mapping of cholera – in this case looking at incidence of bronchitis overlain with lost river paths to see if there’s a correlation.

It’s a pretty amazing book, especially when you think of when it was written, as it draws on a range of historical information that obviously was a bit less accessible in the mid 1960s.  I laughed when he mentions the following, in the Introduction, as it echoed what I feel most days: “For such a small theme, these lost rivers have been the subject of a considerable amount of literature, and an even greater amount of interest.  Nothing has surprised me more in studying them than the number of other people doing the same thing.  Yet in spite of this, there is only one book which purports to describe all the lost rivers (he’s referring to Foord’s 1910 ‘Springs, Streams, and Spas of London’) and even in this they are a secondary interest.” (14)

The sheer amount of rivers that ran through London leads to a number of interesting narrative opportunities, and the length of history of London adds to this potential creating an arc of time spanning centuries.  It also provides a partial story that is constantly in flux, as mentioned in 1962: “…there is no hard-and-fast distinction between those which are buried and those which are not… some of these streams are partly buried and partly not, and who can say that in a few years they will not be as much lost as their historically more distinguished predecessors?” (17)

The illustrations run the gamut beyond the map above which highlights rivers buried and open at the time, along with historical images such as woodcuts, here below of the Fleet River in 1825 and River Tyburn in 1750 (between pages 32-33)

More descriptive maps, such as the one below, showcase small scale concepts, such as the development of early sewers concurrent with development, in this case from 1679, highlighting sewers built by Richard Frith to alleviate problems from illicit sewers he had built earlier.  As mentioned by Barton: “This incident is only one of many clashes at this period between the authorities and the speculating builders who were so rapidly extending the fringe of London, and in tracing its consequences one gains a fascinating insight into this period of London’s history.” (52)

Another shows a much larger infrastructure intervention, the configuration of Bazelgette‘s 1858 interceptor sewers, which was driven by the ‘Big Stink’ and the need to ‘replumb’ the city to alleviate the health crisis created by the fouling of the rivers, as described by Barton: “Three large new sewers and the north and two on the south cross London from west to east, intercepting the old sewers on their way to the Thames.” (112)  The waste is then deposited at outfalls well downstream of the city, and the “old rivers are relegated to the function of storm relief sewers…” (113)  Thus a long-standing model for the transformation of many urban areas followed suit.

The book has an ample set of Appendices, including a good list of maps set in chronological order, and articles and books spanning back many decades.  The connection and historical use of the Rivers is a constant theme in the text, with stories of use and the connection of life and rivers for centuries.  This ideal is epitomized in this image from 1728, taken from Alexander Pope’s ‘Dunciad‘ shows the River Fleet, with the line:

“Here strip my Children! here at once leap in,
Here prove who best can dash thro’ thick and thin.”

As concluded in the original, Barton sums it up. “…despite the collective name by which these river are usually known and which forms the title of this book, they are not lost, but merely hidden: ‘a river can sometimes be diverted, but it is a very hard thing to lose it altogether’… The measure of the change is that today we need never stop to think about these streams, although they are still flowing silently along beneath our feet, ‘the ghosts of the rivers which once beautified Londong and the country round about…” (128)

FURTHER EDITIONS

This version was reprinted again in 1982 as the same text, and an official second edition shows up in 1996. The latter doesn’t mention any major changes, but does sport a new, color cover.  I don’t have a copy of either of these, so can’t vouch for any changes, but it is interesting to see the timeline from the original publication date, and at least a glimmer of interest that sustained multiple printings over the decades.

A reprint in the form of a third edition emerged in 2016 which, along with another author (Stephen Myers) and a tagline ‘Revised & extended with colour maps’.  It’s definitely an expansion of the original text, and it does incorporate ideas and parts of Myers’ 2011 book ‘Walking on Water’ which i will cover in a separate post, while including much of Barton’s original 1962 text, along with a new cover.

They do offer some new info, reported on London lost rivers expert Tom Bolton in this 2016 review from the Londonist, “Walbrook Stolen By Monks! New Lost Rivers Of London Has New Ideas” where he also refers to the original book as “London’s lost river bible”.    This update includes some specific route maps, which highlight the individual rivers, something that wasn’t part of the original text.  The route of the Fleet, shown below from headwaters to the Thames is a good example.

A more focused version shows the Tyburn flow around St. James Park, and the text allows for some visuals that were lacking in the original text about side channels and relationship of current conditions.

I also appreciate the sections showing the full route and overall elevations change, such as this for the Walbrook River below, with some modern reference points.

There’s a lot more imagery in this version, including more photographs and sketches, which is great, and they do cover a bit more in terms of history and context, adding chapters on development of London, and the key role of the rivers in defense, navigation, agriculture, fishing, mill-power and industry, as well as recreation.  They mention that, often prior to waterways being lost, they are manipulated for many of the purposes above, for instance, the story of the Fleet.  “After the Great Fire it was resolved to convert what had become a squalid nuisance into a beautiful asset. Under the direction of Wren and Hooke the lower 640 metres (2,100 feet) of the Fleet were deepened and widened, and an elegant canal created, 15.25 meters  (50 feet) wide, lined on either side by wharves… crossed with high bridges.”  (139) This modified Fleet is shown in the 1745 Rocque Map of London as the “Fleet Ditch”.

And while it was used for a time, in perhaps a refrain heard many times since, there “was not enough demand for a canal and too much demand for a street.”  After covering portions of it , “the wharves became roads and the central strip a long arcaded covered markets. The remainder of the canal was covered over in 1766, and the canal became a sewer.” (141)

Barton & Myers do get a bit speculative as well,with the last chapter Regaining an Asset, where they discuss the new visibility and popularity of lost rivers, and the desire to restore the physical and spiritual connections to these urban waterways.  They discuss a series of proposals for a number of of the rivers, including daylighting short stretches of the Walbrook, Fleet, Tyburn and Westbourne Rivers.  Beyond restoration, they do acknowledge “It is simply not possible to just open up long lengths of the Lost Rivers to the surface, particularly within the inner city, downstream. These stretches have been completely integrated into the sewer system.” (206)

The solution could be attained by tapping source waters high up in the watershed, stating that “The springs there may be the only source waters of the Lost Rivers which have escaped pollution and remain accessible.” (206)  An more expansive Fleet River Revival Project, seen below, would use gravity in “renewing a connection which existed before the rivers became polluted” (207) creating an abstracted system through the urban zones not following the exact route but taking advantage of current conditions to restore the general idea of the Fleet and other river corridors.

The update is a good exploration and adds a lot to the overall narrative, and the additional images, and the inclusion of the glossary is a nice touch.  They have, unfortunately jettisoned the fold-out map, and the internal maps, in my opinion, are not as effective, varying in scale, cropped and rotated weirdly, and overly detailed as to overwhelm the key hydrological information.  It’s funny to think of a book from 50 years ago actually having better maps than one published just a couple of years ago – but I guess it’s a case where color and detail isn’t always a positive, and this info in the hands of skilled mapmakers and graphic designers would make them more effective.

CONCLUSION

The book and its different editions provides a compelling history that is worth a deep dive.  Someone can prove me wrong, but I think the 1962 version, beyond some early tomes on springs and spas, is the oldest version of the hidden hydrology literature. And it still holds up today.  The updates add some technical rigor, and maps, but with the addition of the engineering co-author, it loses a lot of the original by trying to be too detailed and include too much explanation of routes, which is pretty boring reading.  If you are in London and at all interested, I’d look at a local bookstore or get online a track down a copy.  It’s worth a look.


HEADER:  Image from Barton’s original 1962 Map of London’s Lost Rivers.

My previous postscript ran somewhat longer than anticipated, due to the massive amount of work happening in and around New York City.  Thus a focus on this post on the cartographic, including some of the great resources available, and the rich history of maps new and old that emerge to tell a visual story of hidden hydrology in the city and larger region.  There are so many, that one who wants to dive in can jump down to the resources section below to see lots of great sites showcasing the maps, my focus here is to highlight a few I thought were interesting and beyond general map nerdiness, some that had a particular relevance to hidden hydrology.

An old version dates back to the early settlement times, from 1639 the Manatvs gelegen op de Noot [sic] Riuier (via Library of Congress) is a fun introduction to the area, north to the right showing the section of Manhattan (Manatvs) and areas surrounding.  Fun to see a map from this far back, and it does represent some of the topography and hydrology in some rudimentary ways.

The 1660 Castello Plan (original and a later reproduction drawn in the early 1900s) offers a glimpse of the tip of Manhattan, or New Amsterdam.

Many maps come via The Iconography of Manhattan Island, via Wikipedia “a six volume study of the history of New York City by Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes, published between 1915 and 1928 by R. H. Dodd in New York. The work comprehensively records and documents key events of the city’s chronology from the 16th to the early 20th centuries. Among other things, it shows the evolution of the Manhattan skyline up to the time of publication”  More: “Stokes’s worldwide research teams scoured public and private collections of maps, guides and obscure source material to complete his encyclopedic monument to New York City. It describes in detail the growth of a fortified Dutch settlement into a major city, and ultimately included six volumes sold to subscribers and libraries in a limited edition of 360 sets printed on Holland-made paper and 42 on Japanese vellum.”

The following plate from this Iconography is from 1693, showing Manhattan and the shift from New Amsterdam to Nouvelle Yorc:

The Bradford Map is another resource, showing “…the city of New York at the time of the granting of the Montgomery charter …” and “from an actual survey” and starting to highlight some hydrological resources like the Collect Pond.  The map is a reproduction from the 1800s, but shows the area in 1730 and is similar to the later Maerschalck map, showing similar area in the 1750s.

A beautiful map is a 1777 version Plan de New-York et des Environs, showing a similar zone with a lot more detail, a precursor of some of the more detailed maps (and sophistication of mapmaking) in the late 18th century.

A larger area comes via 1766-1777 and the Plan of the city of New York in North America – surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767 by Ratzer, showing a larger zone beyond the Hudson and East Rivers.

From the header above we see the influential British Headquarters map that was used heavily in the creation of the Welikia project.  This map shows the larger area of Manhattan in fine detail, with topographic relief – a zoomed in section shows why this was such an important historical document.

Fast forwarding a bit to the early 1820s, the Randel Map was an atlas of.  Via The Greatest Grid website: “Between 1818 and 1820, John Randel, Jr. prepared an atlas of 92 watercolor maps that vividly illustrates the properties, old roads, and major features of pre-grid Manhattan as well as the future location of the new streets and avenues of the 1811 grid.  Drawn at a scale of 100 feet to 1 inch, the Randel Farm Maps provide a detailed picture of Manhattan before its transformation. Hand drawn and colored, they are among the most significant documents in the history of New York as well as a rarity in American urban history, as no comparable maps exist for other early-19th-century American cities”.   There are 92 individual maps, but an online map stitches them together in a beautifully detailed composite here.

The maps got more broad, with titles to fit like “Topographical map of the city and county of New-York, and the adjacent country : with views in the border of the principal buildings, and interesting scenery of the island.” from 1836 showing the entire island of Manhattan with relief,

This was perhaps the precursor to one of the most fantastic maps, that created by Egbert L. Viele, the 1865 gem “Sanitary & Topographical Map of the City and Island of New York.

The detail is amazing, and it’s available as a high-res download at multiple sources, including Wikipedia which describes it as such: “…survey of the original streams, marshes and coastline of New York City, superimposed over the street grid. The map is still used by modern geotechnical engineers, structural engineers and planners to design the foundations of new buildings and structures in the city.”  A few close ups illustrate this point, and allow for georeferencing to the modern city:

A few other maps that caught my eye, specific to Hidden Hydrology Broadside of the Collect Pond, New York and Steam Boat (Five Points) highlights that the pond was still there in 1846 (or at least as represented here from 1793).

And the birdseye perspectives are another great resource, showing a different viewpoint.  As a tool to communicate place, I’ve always been fascinated by these, such as this 1870 version from Currier & Ives (source unknown as I got this via Twitter) but I believe it’s from Library of Congress.

And some map-objects and infrastructure systems that are fascinating, including this one, a ” Sketch showing the ground under carriageway at intersection of Wall, Broad, and Nassau Streets : as occupied by water, gas, steam, pneumatic, cable and electric pipes, sewers, basins, culverts and vaults to houses, etc., February 1885″  

 

There’s also a wealth of maps covering many Boroughs, but these map be for another time – and the resources below offer lots of chances for locals or the curious to dive in to more depth.

INTERACTIVE MAPS

There’s great interactive maps like  the interactive to quirky side, there’s a fun historical Spyglass Map, showing the New York City of 1836 vs. today,   The Smithsonian, had David Rumsey provide some discussion of this map to go along with an article about it, where: “Rumsey looks to the map’s delicate shading to tell much of its story, noting that the heavily shaded areas represent the most densely populated portions of the city at the time of the ma’s drawing. “Pretty much everything past 14th St. is country,” he explains, adding that much of what is considered Manhattan today wasn’t yet settled. In addition to the population shading, the hills of Manhattan are shown by hachures, an antiquated method of showing relief on drawn maps. “A lot of the history of Manhattan is the destruction of its hills,” Rumsey says. “Basically that topography was obliterated, except for Central Park.”

And a fun but perhaps limited in usefulness ‘Urban Scratchoff’, which does a similar thing with by revealing a 1924 map underlay.  I feel as if I keep scratching but never really win anything.

MAP RESOURCES

A great site focused on Manhattan that filled in much of the above content is the map page of Manhattan Past which is connected to the site and book ‘Street Names Past & Present’ focused on the place name origins of area around the City.  The maps are broken down chronologically back into the 1600s, with links to originals and some brief text, a great primer for delving into the larger pool.

Additionally, The Greatest Grid is a site that emerged from the exhibition The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan 1811-2011, at Museum of the City of New York in 2011 to 2012, which “documents the creation of Manhattan’s signature grid, which set a remarkably flexible framework for growth as a town of 100,000 in 1811 became today’s world city of 1.8 million people (in Manhattan only). Balancing order and freedom, uniformity and individuality, the grid continues to serve as a model of urban planning in the 21st century.”  Some great background on the development of the city and the grid, as well as great maps, are found within.

The resources available are amazing, drawing on local and international institutions – one of the best being the Open Access maps from the New York Public Library, where the The Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division has over 20,000 free, high resolution downloads available, many of the maps above coming from this source, and their active Twitter feed @NYPLMaps showcases many more.

Plan of the town of Brooklyn and part of Long Island – 1767 (NYPL)

Another I thought was very comprehensive and well organized was via Stony Brook University called NYS Map Pathfinder.  Larger institutions carry plenty of maps of New York City due to it’s significant, as The Library of Congress has extensive holdings for New York City, and as most map nerds know, the David Rumsey collection is the go to for maps, including lots for New York, with some great tools, as well for viewing and sorting.  Just sifting through you find the historic, but a wealth of interesting map techniques, such as this Map of Greenwich Village made for the Whitney Studio Club from 1920.

And speaking of other non-historic maps, not specific to hidden hydrology, I’d be remiss without mentioning the New York version of Rebecca Solnit’s atlas collection Nonstop Metropolis, A New York City Atlas, authored with Joshua Jelly-Schapiro and true to form with the other regional versions from San Francisco and New Orleansis part of the compendium of maps as storytelling devices.  Read this great long essay via Public Books entitled Visible Cities by Laura Yoder for where she dives into “maps that catalogue social and cultural complexity, and teach us to engage with difference in productive and generous ways.”  Another good review via Hyperallergic, “Creating an Atlas of Overlooked Cartography for New York City” where they relate that “Every map is an intense act of creative collaboration, with essays and illustrations in Nonstop Metropolis from over 30 artists and writers.”  The image below is indicative of this style, showcasing “Wildlife”

A book that looks interesting by Marguerite Holloway is the author of The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel, Jr., Cartographer, Surveyor, Inventor, and another on the maps, there’s the 2014 publication Manhattan in Maps 1527-2014 by Paul E. Cohen &‎ Robert T. Augustyn 

For modern mapmakers, there’s a rich collection of resources, including NYCityMap and OASIS both displaying tons of thematic info on current conditions in the city, the latter even providing a historical slider showing the Mannahatta layering.

I could post maps and larger stories of hidden hydrology every day for a year and not run out of interesting tidbits here in the Big Apple, which reflects the richness of historical context and also the passion for many people to investigate their hidden hydrological histories.  And it seems a fitting segue to where we are heading.  Next up, we head over the pond to the undisputed champion of Lost Rivers – London.

Stay tuned.

 


HEADER:  Facsimile of the unpublished 1782 British head quarters coloured manuscript map of New York & environs – via David Rumsey

The history of hidden hydrology isn’t just that of erasure, but of ‘made land’, significant areas that were added to cities through the process of landfilling. A June, 2017 post from National Geographic’s All Over the Map blog captures this on the east coast, telling the story of “How Boston Made Itself Bigger” illustrated with some fantastic maps.  The focal map shows the extent of landfilling throughout the span from 1630 to present, from the original shape of the downtown area (Shawmut Pennisula), and the modern shoreline in blue.  The massive extent of fill is pretty evident with significant percentage of the metro area on land that at one point in the not-so-distant past was water.

Much of Boston’s coastline is man-made land. The original shoreline, from 1630, is visible in dark green on this map. Land made between 1630 and 1995 is light green. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE NORMAN B. LEVENTHAL MAP CENTER, BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY; CARTOGRAPHY BY HERB HEIDT AND ELIZA MCCLENNEN, MAPWORKS

A 1630’s map shows the Shawmut, and the narrow spit of land that connected this (for a time at least) to the mainland (rotated north to the right).

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE NORMAN B. LEVENTHAL MAP CENTER, BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

The impetus for the post on Boston was driven by lowering of the water table to levels that started to potentially reveal many of the wood piles, which stay preserved in anerobic conditions – as similar situation to a water-based city like Venice, for instance, but once water levels reveal them, makes them highly susceptible to rot.  From All Over the Map:

” A large portion of the city sits on man-made land. Structures built on the landfill are supported by dozens of 30- to 40-foot-long wood pilings, similar to telephone poles, that reach down through the landfill to a harder layer of clay. These pilings sit entirely below the water table, which protects them from microbes that would attack them in dry air, causing rot.”

The filling also was facilitated by damming, such as seen below, where what was the current Back Bay “neighborhood is marked “Receiving Basin” on this map. Boston Common is the uncolored area marked “Common.”  By damming the areas, thus separating them from the larger bodies of water and tidal changes, it was easier to then start to develop and fill in with railroads, industrial lands and more development.  The image shows expansion parcels, notably widening of the neck and further encroachment into the water.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE NORMAN B. LEVENTHAL MAP CENTER, BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

As mentioned, it wasn’t just increased development area that was driving the land filling:  “Over the years there were many other motivations for making new land, including making harbor improvements, burying pollution from wastewater, safeguarding public health, building public parks, adding railroad tracks and depots, adding more shipping facilities to compete with other port cities, establishing appealing neighborhoods to entice Yankees to stay (and to counter Irish immigration), and creating space for the city’s airport.”  Another driver was public health, including filling in ponds and creeks, which were starting to smell.  Concurrent with filling (and a great source of fill) was removal of hillsides, another common city strategy, which provided plenty of earth to create more land while levelling, in this case, Beacon Hill. (via Wikipedia)

Cutting down Beacon Hill in 1811; a view from the north toward the Massachusetts State House

The Back Bay was a source of both significant filling due to its location as a locus of sewage (and a super complicated hydrological regime change that was involved), as mentioned in All Over the Map“…an 1849 report from a city committee that reads: “Back Bay at this hour is nothing less than a great cesspool into which is daily deposited all the filth of a large and constantly increasing population … A greenish scum, many yards wide, stretches along the shores of the Western Avenue [Mill Dam], whilst the surface of the water beyond is seen bubbling like a cauldron with the noxious gases that are exploding from the corrupting mass below.”  The area was filled with trash and other debris, as fill material was less available, along with being set on the aforementioned pilings, placing it in the awkward position of being even now “one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods, but also among the most vulnerable to foundation rot.”

I’d be remiss as well if I didn’t mention, in the context of this, one of my favorite Olmsted projects, the Back Bay Fens, which came at the tail end of the filling, in the 1870s (via Wikipedia):  “Olmsted’s challenge was to restore the spot of marsh which was preserved into an ecologically healthy place that could also be enjoyed as a recreation area. Combining his renowned landscaping talents with state-of-the-art sanitary engineering, he turned a foul-smelling tidal creek and swamp into “scenery of a winding, brackish creek, within wooded banks; gaining interest from the meandering course of the water.”

The extent of land filling is hard to visualize, but the map that shows it most clearly in terms of downtown is a simple overlay of the original Shawmut Pennisula over the new shoreline (you can see the tip of the Back Bay Fens in the lower left hand corner).

Via Written in Stone…

And while not the most up-to-date map in terms of graphic style, a good way to illustrate the evolution of landfilling over time that is hard to capture on maps is this animation via the Boston: History of the Landfills page at Boston College.   Someone has probably updated this, so if you know of it, let me know any updated sources.

A later map in 1867 from the NOAA US Coast Survey below shows further expansions closer to the modern coast.  Although the land and coast changed less in the ensuing century and a half, the continuing legacy of the land filling continues to be costly to maintain, exacerbated especially in times of changing water levels that we are experiencing with global climate change.

The hydrology as well, although hidden, is evident in repairs for pilings and other issues of groundwater – a symptom of building and ‘making land’ on areas formally water. And as concluded in All Over the Map, “…with more than 5,000 acres of man-made land—more than any other American city (except perhaps San Francisco, where the landfill hasn’t been comprehensively totaled)—Bostonians will be living with this problem for the foreseeable future.”

ADDENDA

Plenty of folks have covered this in Boston and the idea of land filling, with a variety of maps and imagery, such a Boston Geology, and some more context on the pilings from the Boston Groundwater Trust.  Also, this great post from the Library of Congress ‘Putting Boston on the Map: Land Reclamation and the Growth of a City’ features a few maps, including one of the earliest maps, which highlights the former tight pennisula.

William Burgis and Thomas Johnston. “To his excellency William Burnet, esqr., this plan of Boston in New England is humbly dedicated by his excellencys most obedient and humble servant Will Burgiss.” 1728. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress.

And a fabulous birdseye from the late 1800’s showing more significant filling.

Charles R. Parsons and Lyman W. Atwater. “The city of Boston.” 1873. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress.

See the some of the timeline of history via the USGS series of maps of Boston here, or a more interactive map via MapJunction with an array of base and historical map overlays of Boston, including a cool 4-way slider that allows you to do an overlay left-to-right and control transparency top-to-bottom.  A couple of screen shots of these.

1776 Hybrid Map (Boston and Environs – Pelham)
1917 Hybrid Map (Boston Bromley Atlas)

And an out-of-print book worth tracking down is Nancy S. Seasholes Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston (MIT Press, 2003) where the “story of landmaking in Boston is presented geographically; each chapter traces landmaking in a different part of the city from its first permanent settlement to the present.” 

Many cities share this trait, using fill to gain area, which has been both boon and boondoggle.  Locally, a great resource worthy of a deep dive is Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography by David B. Williams (University of Washington press, 2015), which I’ve read and re-read which explores in detail, a similar massive manipulation and use of made land here in my current particular West coast City.

HEADER:  Image via National Geographic, “A map of Boston in 1775 shows the dam that closed off Mill Pond, which was later filled in to make new land. “  PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

 

Having gone to undergraduate school at North Dakota State University in Fargo in the mid-1990s, one became aware of a distinct transitional zone as you headed east towards the Twin Cities.  A short drive across the Minnesota border, you could see what was the shoreline traces that marked a clear shift of geology and with some study, begin to piece together the story of the past millenia, involving a glacier, a lake, and the reason the Red River flows to the north.

A recent Ghosts of Minnesota post “A Minnesota beach where there is no water”  by Troy Larson, reminded me of this place and the influence the immense glacial Lake Agassiz on the landscape of the upper sections of the Plains, a lake formed at the end of the last ice age, some 8,000 to 14,000 years ago.

A map of the territory by Warren Upham, from the earth 19th Century shows the extent of the Lake, and as mentioned by Larson, “Today, Lake Agassiz is believed to have been even larger than what is represented on this map.”

Larson gives some context:

“Lake Agassiz was a massive body of fresh water in the middle of North America, larger than all of the Great Lakes combined. As the ice sheet retreated, ice dams held back the meltwater to create glacial Lake Agassiz. As the lake drained, sometimes slowly, other times in sudden, catastrophic outflows, the lake shrank and changed, leaving behind a table-flat landscape with some of the richest farmland in the world, and even sandy beaches from it’s ever-shifting shoreline. To the geologically educated, the signs of Lake Agassiz are everywhere, but even to those like myself, without a geologic eye, there are places where you can see the remains of this monster lake.”

A close up shows the area around the North Dakota-Minnesota border, bisected by the Red River (of the North).

The post covers some photos of the area near Fertile, Minnesota, home of the Sandhill Recreation Area and nearby Agassiz Dunes Natural Area, and as explained in the Ghosts of Minnesota post by Larson: “These dunes were formed as the ice sheet retreated and the weather became dry and hot. In wetter times, foliage appears and covers the dunes, and in dry periods, the growth retreats and the sand becomes more visible.”  With places like a dune called “Death Valley” named due to the instability of the shifting sands, this is an atypical plains landscape.

image – Ghosts of Minnesota

image – Ghosts of Minnesota

While there are plenty of lakes in Minnesota (yes, well over 10,000) the sort of expansive lake left traces of a more significant water body, as mentioned by Larson:

“The sand feels just like beach sand. It’s a soft, fine grain sand that shifts beneath your feet when you walk on it.” 

image – Ghosts of Minnesota

A more expansive map from a recent CBC article that covered a new book by Bill Redekop (@billredekop) entitled “Lake Agassiz: The Rise and Demise of the World’s Greatest Lake” exploring the hidden mystery of the lake.  “For millennia, the evidence of its existence remained hidden in plain sight, but slowly details of the landscape began to merge in the minds of people passing through the province.” The modern map (via the CBC article) shows a more expansive Lake Agassiz, and the extent:

As Redekop explains, the investigation of the hidden connects the modern to the historical.  He summarized the feeling after writing the book:

“”Now I have two landscapes: the one that I see and the one that I imagine, that I know was there 10,000 years ago.”

The deep time of geology, as mentioned here in the post on Seattle area, leaves many traces and clues to .  Beaches without lakes, valleys without creeks, all connect us to a historical past that shapes our present and future.

Header image of Lake Agassiz dunes – via Ghosts of Minnesota