Topography

“Brooklyn with its hills.”
“The ample hills of Brooklyn.”
The view from the morainal hill.

Here’s Whitman again, talking of the borough I’ve lived in for a quarter century. Hills? You ask quizzically if you’ve never walked up Union Street from Carroll Gardens across the Gowanus Canal up to Grand Army Plaza. Whitman was a great walker, and that’s the only way to discover Brooklyn’s Romanesque topography.

The hills are too shallow to really notice by car and the subway simply bores through them. The buildings and grids of roads obscure the topography. Of course, instead of the Eternal City’s seven, we actually have just one, a long, curving hillock that reaches 220 feet above sea-level at its highest. This is the Harbor Hill moraine, the depository of the glacial bulldozer. It’s pieces of upstate, jumbled till, bouldery erratics. It stretches, roughly, from the south of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights through Sunset Park, and Park Slope, and turns east at Prospect Heights. Through Crown Heights and Cypress Hills the great mole hill moves into Queens and then keeps going to the end of Long Island. The names of these neighborhoods have their altitude (if not attitude) written into them, although admittedly “Sunset Park” is a bit ambiguous, although its view isn’t.
An Atlantic Fiddler Crab, on the mucky edge where Brooklyn peters out into Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic.

Both Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery nestle on the divide between moraine and outwash plain. Their eastern-most sections are as flat as Flatbush and Flatlands, names of neighborhoods on the other side of the moraine, out there in the outwash plain that used to stretch a hundred miles south when all that water was locked up in ice. Both Green-Wood and Prospect also have the borough’s highpoints: Battle Hill (220ft) in the cemetery, Lookout Hill (196ft) in Prospect. Combined with Mount Prospect (198ft) above Grand Army Plaza, across Flatbush Avenue from the park, these are the highest spots in the borough. Fiddler better watch out…

2 Responses to “Topography”


  1. 1 Paul Lamb June 3, 2019 at 5:05 am

    My daughter speaks often of the Ample Hills Creamery!


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