Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Princeton's Underground Brook--Exposed!

There she flow! Ain't she a beaut? Harry's Brook, in all her glory. Where has she been all these years? Why, just beneath the ground, buried alive, embraced by concrete, seven feet wide, seven feet high--spacious compared to most pipes, I suppose, with all the room in the (under)world.

No squeaky wheel, this brook, silent and forgotten while it flows from its beginnings in Palmer Square down past Spring Street and the rest of eastern Princeton towards Carnegie Lake.

Even when it "daylights", which is to say emerges from its underground concrete bondage, at the intersection of Harrison Street and Hamilton Avenue, most people don't notice.

This wasn't always the case. Back when kids had free-range, be-back-for-dinner childhoods, some used to spend part of their summers spelunking, which is to say exploring this manmade underworld, from Harrison Street almost up to Madison Street before the pipe got too small. Must have been nicely air conditioned on a hot summer's day.

On this map, from p. 55 of Princeton's  Environmental Resource Inventory, the Harry's Brook watershed is in off-white. Carnegie Lake is on the right, with a blue line extending towards that black box that used to be the borough's boundaries. The blue line ends abruptly at the "t" in Princeton, which is Harrison Street. From there leftwards on the map to the purple point at Palmer Square, Harry's Brook is underground. When heavy rains fill its concrete corridor to the brim, the brook spills out onto the streets, which can be thought of as ephemeral tributaries of the brook. The streets we drive on are connected by pipes directly to the brook, and are therefore part of it. If the streets are dirty, the brook is dirty.

This photo is at the same location as the first photo, prior to excavation, with two parallel orange lines marking where the brook flows through a clearcut lot on Linden Lane just up from Hamilton Avenue.

A friend sent these photos of the excavation for the basement, looking from the opposite side, with the concrete chamber for the brook exposed there on the left.

In this view of streets from above, the colored line is the creek, which flows underground through the backyards of houses on the south side of Hamilton Avenue.

Before it was put underground, Harry's Brook upstream of Madison Street was made to conform to the grid of downtown Princeton, as seen in this map from 1906.

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