Left: 5-Mile marker photographed by Forgotten New York's Kevin Walsh in 2000; Right: The spot where the mile marker stood, photographed June 16, 2010

A closeup of the stone before it was removed. - Courtesy of Kevin Walsh/FNY

One of two remaining mile markers along Ocean Parkway was plucked from the ground recently after guiding the way for at least 127 years, attracting the attention of local preservationists seeking to safeguard the last gravestone-like signpost.

The stone, which read “5M” – marking the fifth mile from the Prospect Park circle at the southwest corner of the park – stood at the intersection of Ocean Parkway and Neptune Avenue. The last remaining stone sits in the grass on the west side of Ocean Parkway, just south of Avenue P. It reads “3M.”

It’s not confirmed yet who removed the stone or when, but the Neptune Avenue corner where it once stood is sporting a new B1 bus shelter and sign, indicating the Department of Transportation may have done it during the corner’s rehabilitation.

Preservationists are now sounding the call to see the remaining stone protected from future “improvements” along Ocean Parkway.

“Those two stones (now one?) are the survivors of a series that has marked the distance along Ocean Parkway for at least 127 years, if not longer,” said Joseph Ditta, author of Gravesend, Brooklyn and reference librarian at the New-York Historical Society. “They are reminders of the days when all travel was by horse and are two of the few markers still in their original positions.”

(Story continues after photo)

The last remaining mile marker on Ocean Parkway, south of Avenue P

The stones long sat unnoticed by historians, until their rediscovery in 1957 by a member of the New York Historical Society. A 1964 article by Richard J. Koke explored their history and significance, finding that they were in fact half-mile markers, and sat in 11 locations along the boulevard. At the time, only seven survived. He wrote:

Ocean Parkway had been planned in the 1860s to link Prospect Park and Coney Island, and in 1873-1876 the road was constructed by the Brooklyn Park Commission. Starting at the circle at the southwest corner of the park, it pursued its course westward for a few blocks and then turned southward in a straight course to the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island, five and one-half miles away, where it intersected a seaside promenade called Ocean Concourse (now part of Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk). The parkway’s broad central avenue was 70 feet wide and was bordered by side roads and park areas which made the total width 210 feet. Brooklynites considered it the finest drive in America. Thronged in the summer with carriages, trotters, and wheelmen, the road was one of the great factors in the development of Coney Island as a popular seaside resort.

Beginning at the Prospect Park circle, a stone was erected every half mile to where the parkway joined Ocean Concourse. Of the eleven original stones, those that remain are the 1st Half-Milestone near Cortelyou Road, the 1 1/2 at Parkville Avenue, the 2d near Avenue J, the 2 1/2 near Avenue M, the 3d near Avenue P, the 3 1/2 near Avenue S, and the 5th near Neptune Avenue. The exact locations are indicated with greater precision in the checklist which follows the body of the article. [NOTE: The four stones which are no longer standing are the 1/2, 4th, 4 1/2, and 5 1/2 Half-Milestones. The 1/2 Half-Milestone must have stood in the vicinity of Church Avenue, the 4th near Gravesend Neck Road, the 4 /12 near Brighton Court, and the 5 1/2 at the Ocean Concourse, now Surf Avenue.]

Despite all of his research, Koke still couldn’t find source materials revealing the erection dates of the stones. Based on vague references to “improvements” and “repairs” by the Brooklyn Park Commission, which managed the parkway, he estimated that they dated back to approximately 1876.

Ditta thinks he got the year right, noting that the earliest reference found since Koke’s work was a listing for Gravesend resident Thomas Ferguson in an 1883 directory. The listing noted Ferguson lived on the “Boulevard” at the “2 1/2 mile stone.”

3M marker (Click to enlarge)

The new bus shelter at Neptune Ave (Click to enlarge)

Ocean Pkwy btwn Ave P and Quentin Rd (Click to enlarge)

Other historians have also noticed the stones and similar ones elsewhere. Kevin Walsh of Forgotten New York published an entry on the markers in 2000. He wrote:

When renowned city planners Frederick Olmstead and Calvert Vaux built Ocean Parkway between 1874 and 1876, they envisioned a six-mile long extension of their earlier creation, Prospect Park, which some say is even better than their masterpiece, Central Park. When first laid out, Ocean Parkway was a direct route for pedestrians and mounted traffic, as well as buggies and wagons, to get to the Coney Island shore from Prospect Park. Even the bicycle wasn’t yet invented when the parkway first appeared.

Milestones were a common method of marking private routes beginning in the colonial era and lasting until the start of the 20th Century. Relatively few NYC thoroughfares boasted them, although the old Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway) in upper Manhattan had them, as well as Jackson Avenue (now Northern Boulevard) in Queens.

Walsh added that several roads in the city had milemarkers similar to this one, including Kings Highway, Boston Post Road and Northern Boulevard. And modernity hasn’t been too accommodating with other mineral memorabilia: two millstones in Long Island City, which remain the oldest man-made objects in Queens, are threatened as Queens Plaza gets renovated.

Walsh and Ditta are both looking into getting area historical societies and even the Brooklyn Museum involved in their protection.

But they have to move quickly, since the “3M” stone near Avenue P stands in the way of the Ocean Parkway bike path renovation. The repairs have seen the DOT moving south, block by block, tearing up the bike and pedestrian paths from curb to curb. They’re currently only three or four blocks away from Avenue P. The last remaining stone may just be a few months away from becoming history.

Walsh said the problem is one of institutional neglect. He proposes making a list of all remaining historic milestones in the city and communicating their importance to city agencies like the DOT.

“Their preservation has been a catch as catch can affair,” Walsh said. “The DOT junks anything nonstandard they come across. Locusts strip cornfields slower than the DOT strips historic artifacts.”

(Thanks to Walsh and Ditta, who both provided background material for this article. Special thanks to Queens Crap, who tipped us off to the stone’s removal.)

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  • Jim

    Come on Ned. Don’t tell people where the remaining marker is at. Some idiot will just take it. Please edit your post.

  • Jamesforsyth

    You don't really have to tell folks where the last marker is at. That makes it a target. Why not remove the location from your post? Please.

  • http://www.nedberke.com Ned Berke

    There are a couple of websites that list the location. I don't think the stone would be worth much, and I don't see anyone being able to pull up on the very busy Ocean Pkwy (even at night), stop their car, get out, and yank a stone that weighs at least a couple hundred pounds out of the ground. I think it's better to publish it and let those who want to see it go visit it before it's gone.

  • Jamesforsyth

    Not a responsible reply. What the stone is worth is not the point. Vandals don't care. There are websites which tell people how to make bombs, but I am always perplexed about why responsible media tell us which ingredients are confiscated from terrorists.

    By the way, there is at least one marker left other than the one you indicated.

    • Svetlana Filipovich

      Where? I’ve been a project manager for Ocean Parkway since 1995 and currenly looking to reconstruction bw/Ave O and Kings HWY. It is in my project to preserve it, and I will be happy to learn the location any other historic mile stone(s)

  • http://www.nedberke.com Ned Berke

    I'll run your concern past the preservationists and see what they have to say. If they agree, I'll remove it. I'm not looking to be responsible for its destruction.

    In the meantime, why don't you shoot me an e-mail with the location of the other stone? Everyone I spoke to said it was just the two (now one). If it's true it would definitely have an impact on the situation. E-mail me at nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

    Thanks.

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  • Eitan

    Ive walked by the stones many times in my life, as a child I was fascinated with them, they reminded my then of a gravestone. Its sad to see it go, but I can imagine a worker assigned to renovate the corner asking his foreman what he should do with it, and getting a quick reply to just get rid of it. Probably because the foreman himself wasn't given instructions.

    My opinion is that information about them should be published, since that is how noise will be generated to eventually preserve the one(s) that are left. Construction and renovation will occur, but if people give a damn, its easy enough for instructions to be given during those times on how to preserve them for future generations. Im sure this is a case where there was no malice, only ignorance and a lack of concern.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    The stones have been written about for years, as has other small landmarks.

    The concern is commendable. But if we don't discuss our history we render it meaningless and unknown. It is more likely that vandals will sabotage that which they do not understand than they which they do. Sometimes education is the best preventative.

    The vandals which concern us most now are those who are working on the bicycle path restoration project. It is possible that they will inadvertently damage or lose this marker when they prepare this block for resurfacing.

    The DOT should temporarily remove and store this marker in a safe and documented place before work on this block begins. I say documented because markers an other historic artifacts have been misplaced in the past.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    I think I know where the third one is. But I shall be quiet as I am not 100% sure it's still there.

  • Joseph Ditta

    Ocean Parkway was designated a scenic landmark in 1975. The rather skimpy designation report (viewable at http://www.neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/d…) does not mention the surviving half-milestones, but the language of the final paragraph makes it clear that EVERYTHING between the eastern and western curb lines of Ocean Parkway–and by that, they mean the curb lines of the outer service roads–is landmarked, and thus subject to the jurisdiction of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. But, my guess is that there was no communication between the DOT and the LPC about the Neptune Avenue stone (I doubt LPC even knew of its existence). Just another day of “one hand not knowing what the other is doing” in little olde New York.

  • Joe from Brooklyn

    I think it was either the new bus sign or the cement work rather than the bus shelter that was used as the excuse for ripping out the marker by the DOT.
    Funny how they tore out a real piece of history in order to put that “retro” style bus sign.

  • http://www.nedberke.com Ned Berke

    I take bus shelter to mean the entire bus stop. The concrete was replaced to set the shelter and sign. But I could've been more specific. Thanks.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    DOT didn't even do the work, it was contracted out to Cemusa. That makes it totally unlikely that the stone can be found again.

    And it was the sidewalk reconstruction that doomed the marker.

  • Joseph Ditta

    I think the 3/M stone south of Avenue P is relatively safe, since it stands mid-block, in the grassy strip close to the roadway. I remember that stretch of Ocean Parkway being under construction last year, with wooden cribs put up around the trees, so I think whatever work the DOT was doing there is finished. Still, we must keep an eye on that stone!!!

  • Joseph Ditta

    Here's a link to a map showing the approximate locations of the original eleven half-milestones along Ocean Parkway:

    http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&ms

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    One of those historic signs might help bring attention to it when work is done near it. Like the one that they have at Ocean Parkway and Church Avenue for the highway itself.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001/4714504

    A photo of the historical sign for Ocean Parkway.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    A group of us are trying to get DOT to respect the protected status of the mile stones. Yesterday I walked a significant portion of Ocean Parkway trying to locate the 3rd stone. I checked at the locations where the stones were originally placed, and the surrounding area, such as the bench side of the strip. Nothing was found.

    If you know something we do not, it would be helpful if we did know it. The real threat does not come from vandals, it comes from city workers who are unaware that these stones are historically significant, and should be left alone. We are in contact with DOT officials, in the hope that they will tale steps tp preserve the last known stone, as well as any others that we have not located.

  • Joseph Ditta

    I think the 3/M stone south of Avenue P is relatively safe, since it stands mid-block, in the grassy strip close to the roadway. I remember that stretch of Ocean Parkway being under construction last year, with wooden cribs put up around the trees, so I think whatever work the DOT was doing there is finished. Still, we must keep an eye on that stone!!!

  • Joseph Ditta

    Here's a link to a map showing the approximate locations of the original eleven half-milestones along Ocean Parkway:

    http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&ms

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    One of those historic signs might help bring attention to it when work is done near it. Like the one that they have at Ocean Parkway and Church Avenue for the highway itself.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001/4714504

    A photo of the historical sign for Ocean Parkway.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    A group of us are trying to get DOT to respect the protected status of the mile stones. Yesterday I walked a significant portion of Ocean Parkway trying to locate the 3rd stone. I checked at the locations where the stones were originally placed, and the surrounding area, such as the bench side of the strip. Nothing was found.

    If you know something we do not, it would be helpful if we did know it. The real threat does not come from vandals, it comes from city workers who are unaware that these stones are historically significant, and should be left alone. We are in contact with DOT officials, in the hope that they will tale steps tp preserve the last known stone, as well as any others that we have not located.

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  • Sal Mondrone

    Why cant I find photos of the old STANCHIONS that were in the middle of every intersection along ocean parkway in the 50s?

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  • nolastname

    What does this box on the 3 mile marker signify?http://www.flickr.com/photos/34224145@N04/5712332891/in/photostream

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