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Precise Leveling in NYC 1909-1914 - visits to all Queens benchmarks

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Over the past 18 months I have endeavored to visit the locations of all 233 benchmarks set in Queens County between 1909 and 1914 by the Frederick Koop team. This has been a very time consuming project for two reasons. First, the Koop report talks in terms of street names in 1914, and the vast majority of Queens streets were renamed to their modern designations between 1915 and 1925. Second, Queens of 1915 was mostly small villages connected by a few main roads, with lots of farms and large estates throughout the County. Most of those farms and estates are long gone. Some streets no longer exist, or the right of way has been split to form several connecting streets. I was fortunate to have found a complete set of old-to-new street designations, and to have found a 1909 Insurance Map for all of Queens County so that I could match up old and new streets.


Of the 233 benchmarks set in Queens County, I have been able to visit 231, and find only 22, five of which are in the NGS database. Two more benchmarks (737 which is in the NGS database and 734 which is not) require access to the seawall in Fort Totten, behind a restricted NYPD area, and I'm trying to see whether I can get access to them. They're likely to exist, bringing the Found total to 24.


Here are the ones that I have Found and photographed, with their modern locations:


537 - KU1325 - a copper bolt at the Fire Department Building in Lawrence, Nassau County

575 - a chiseled square on PS64 in Woodhaven

580 - a copper bolt on an abandoned LIRR Power Station at Atlantic Avenue and 99th Street

589 - a chiseled square on PS34 along Springfield Boulevard

590 - KU1193 - a copper bolt on PS34 along Springfield Boulevard

593 - a chiseled square on the main entrance of PS33 at 222nd Street and 92nd Road

607 - a copper bolt on the school at 88-02 144th Street, Jamaica

616 - a chiseled square on PS68 in Glendale

617 - a copper bolt on PS68 in Glendale

636 - a chiseled square on the Borden Avenue Bridge

653 - a brass tablet (the only tablet surviving in Queens) on the school at 85-28 Britton Avenue, Elmhurst

654 - a copper bolt at the 23rd Street underpass of the Queensboro Bridge

655 - a chiseled square at the 23rd Street underpass of the Queensboro Bridge

660 - a chiseled square on the window of the old RR Depot at Northern Boulevard and 52nd Street

664 - a city monument at the corner of Vernon Boulevard and Broadway

672 - a copper bolt on PS84 in Astoria

673 - a chiseled cross on PS84 in Astoria

674 - a chiseled square on a bricked up window's sill at 21st Avenue and Steinway Street

721 - KU1110 - a chiseled square on a building at 110th Street and 15th Avenue in College Point

729 - a copper bolt, plastered over but obvious, on PS79 in Whitestone. Call this one a "diskless stem."

735 - KU0979 - a chiseled cross on building 615 in Fort Totten

736 - KU0976 - a copper bolt on building 637 in Fort Totten


Mark 709 (KU1136) on the Little Neck train station building is no longer visible under even more paint than before. I have visited this mark four times to try coaxing something out from underneath the paint, but have not been successful.


In addition to these survivors, I classified another 78 marks as "Not Found," meaning that the mark might still exist, but is buried or covered. These include city monuments, some chiseled marks on doorsteps, and tablet bolt 505 which is on a church in Rockaway that still survives but is likely under a recent façade. The majority of Koop's marks, 131 in all, clearly have been destroyed by the winds of progress that have swept through Queens over the past century.


If anyone else has been successful at finding any other Queens County marks established by Koop, besides the ones that I've listed, please let me know so that I can revisit them.


I am going to try to find all of Koop's marks in the other boroughs, as well, and have made good progress because those counties' streets have mostly not changed, and because there are many more surviving marks. I will post my results as I finish each county.

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Completely off-topic. How Queens has changed! My mother was born in 1912. When her father died, her mother and she moved in with an aunt in Queens, off of Metropolitan Avenue. Cold-water flat above a sewing store. Chickens in the back yard. Every Sunday, they would move the bathtub into the kitchen. Heat water on the stove for the bath. And take turns bathing. Every Sunday. Only Sunday.

Sorry. Bringing back memories. The world has changed.

Thirty-five years ago. I worked for a company that had a plant near there, but in Brooklyn. On Thames Avenue. "Don't park the car on the street! It'll be vandalized." "Where's the nearest subway station?" "Three blocks, but no one has ever made it." The receptionist was mugged. On the second floor. Once, burglars broke in. And threw the guard dogs off the roof.

Sorry. Just some strange memories. I wish you luck.

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Very nice reminiscences, Harry. I am a native of Queens, and, without giving away my age :), I was a child when the 1964 World's Fair opened and I grew up close to the Fair and went there almost every weekend. Much of Queens's post-Koop development happened before my lifetime, but I can remember some new construction in eastern Queens in the 1960s. It is a sad commentary that only about 10% of Koop's 233 benchmarks have survived in Queens, most of which are on schools, at Fort Totten, or on a couple of bridges. For this Koop benchmark project, I have thoroughly enjoyed researching 1909 Queens and translating the street names and road rights of way. I now have a much better understanding of the evolution of my home borough over the past 100 years, and I look forward to learning much more about the other 4 NYC boroughs, as well.

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Your project sounds fascinating! I have often wanted to look into more of the borough's history since reading Vincent Seyfreid's "Queens: A Pictorial History," which contains so many photos of places in Queens which have vanished. As a former resident of NJ, I used to explore Queens by subway and el. As a current resident of the Midwest, Queens is rather out of my range now. It is amazing that you have located so many of the Koop marks. Who knows? Maybe the NYPD will give you access to Fort Totten. Good luck!!

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It is amazing that you have located so many of the Koop marks.


Thank you for your kind words.


In some regards, it is remarkable that any of the Koop marks still exists in Queens, and a 10% success rate is probably pretty good, indicating the extensive construction and destruction that has happened throughout the Borough in the last century. A few of the "Not Found" marks are likely to exist, but are covered or, in a few cases, on a building to which I cannot get access, e.g. a subway power station in Rockaway.


I have not explored Staten Island, yet, but I have done some work in Brooklyn, Manhattan and The Bronx, and have been running about a 30% success rate in those Boroughs, though, so far, I've been looking for marks that I was more likely to find. For me, the most interesting - and most challenging - aspect of the Queens recoveries was to translate the Koop pre-1915 street names into their modern equivalents, which is a task that I have not had to do, for the most part, in those other three Boroughs. And it's always a thrill to find a mark that's not on a school, church or bridge, like the one on the old trolley depot and waiting room on Northern Boulevard - trolley service started there in the 1890s, part of the depot burned in 1930, the depot was abandoned for decades when Queens trolley service from that depot ended in the late 1930s, and finally it was renovated in 1987 into the Tower Square shopping center. But the Koop chiseled square is still on a bluestone windowsill, where it's been for more than 100 years.

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