Bushwick Inlet, the truncated, morose, post-industrial body of water west of Kent Avenue at North 14th Street, hardly seems worthy of the huge controversy for a shoreline park, nor would it appear to have a rich history, but the body of water is both controversial and historic. Although park protests have generated a lot of headlines, few know its history.
There was not always a Bushwick Inlet. The inlet is a relatively recent creation. It was once Bushwick Creek, which was a far longer, deeper and prettier estuary whose headwaters covered much of what is today McCarren Park. A tidal creek, at high tide its waters covered a large area encompassing much of McCarren Park, forming a water boundary between Williamsburg and Greenpoint and beautiful miniature bays. Low tide, though, was a different story as the waters receded they left a stinky slime whose odors offended local noses for generations.
Shortly after the Civil War, Charles Pratt built the nation’s first modern oil refinery on the northern shore of the creek, which dumped huge amounts of oil into the creek killing the shellfish and turning the once pristine creek into a malodorous stagnant horror. The swampy ground around the creek quickly became a dumping ground and sewers from recently built houses in Greenpoint began to discharge sewage into the creek. The area developed a horrible stench. Much of the marsh on the sides of the creek was filled in and rock fights regularly erupted there between the children of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. The creek quickly became industrial.
CLANCY’S coal yard was founded at the edge of the Creek, but the creek started to fill up with refuse and silt, blocking navigation of the creek. CLANCY made every effort to have the creek dredged up to his coal yard but the government refused to appropriate the necessary money. In order to prove that the creek was navigable he had a canal boat towed up the creek to his yard, but it could not sail back out of the silted up creek. There it remained and rotted and was used for firewood. A local gang of hoods, the Rainmakers, used to hide under the bridge over the creek in the 1870s and would waylay and rob unsuspecting pedestrians crossing the bridge. In 1895 Bill Cody brought his wild West show to Greenpoint and the cowboys and Native Americans camped in the fields by the creek.
By the 1900s the stench was so powerful from the creek that the public demanded that it be filled in and McCarren Park arose on the new land. Bushwick Inlet was soon born.