Ecology & Early History

Dismantling the old Gerritsen grist mill after arson, 1935 (NYC Parks Photo Archive).

Marine Park surrounds the westernmost inlet of Jamaica Bay.  The bay is one of several formed during the last 5000 years as ocean currents deposited sand in a series of long strips off the south shore of Long Island.  These strips of beach form a barrier against the surf and allow salt marshescoastal wetlands which are flooded and drained by tidesto grow in the calm water on their protected bay side.

Gerritsen Creek, originally called Strome Kill, was a freshwater stream that once extended about twice as far inland as it does today.  Around 1920 the creek north of Avenue U was converted into an underground storm drain.  Yet it continues to supply the salt marsh with fresh water, which helps the marsh support a wide range of organisms. Broad expanses of fertile salt marsh, wildflower-adorned meadows, and rolling sand dunes dominate the landscape of Marine Park.  Myrtle warblers, grasshopper sparrows, cotton-tailed rabbits, ospreys, horseshoe crabs, and oyster toad fish are a small sampling of the animals that inhabit these plant communities and live in or around Gerritsen Creek.

Old paddle wheel that powered the grist mill, 1935 (NYC Parks Photo Archive).

The creek was probably a favorite hunting and fishing spot for Indians living in the nearby Keshawchqueren village.  Archaeological excavations in the Marine Park area have revealed arrowheads, pottery, and food preparation pits dating from 800 to 1400 A.D.  The first Europeans to settle here were the Dutch, who found the salt marshes and coastal plain of southern Brooklyn reminiscent of Holland’s landscape.  Their diet consisted of farm produce, livestock, game, and harvests of oysters and clams.  Gerritsen Creek takes its name from Dutch colonist Wolfert Gerritsen, who built a gristmill and a field house on the creek in the latter half of the 17th century.  The mill was in continuous operation until 1889, and it was destroyed by fire in 1935. The old field house was demolished by the city in 1937. According to local legend, the grist mill produced flour for both the armies of George Washington and Lord Cornwallis at different points during the Revolutionary War.