Originally a series of tidal creeks, the native Americans named it Gowanes Creek in honor of Chief Gowanes of the Canarses tribe, who lived, hunted, and fished along its length. The Dutch purchased the land from the tribe, and soon Gowanus Oysters became the first international export from Brooklyn.

As the neighborhoods boomed through the end of the 19th century, sewers and streets were laid out with the canal serving as the drainage point for the wetlands that were replaced by housing. Sewage flowed into the canal as early as 1858, and by the 1880’s the waterway had gained the moniker “Lavendar Lake” for its odorous qualities. Over 30 businesses handling lumber, coal, firewood, hay, grain, oil, building materials, and chemical fertilizers were using the canal.

The Environmental Protection Agency designated the Gowanus Canal  a Superfund site on March 2, 2010. The agency estimated that the project will last 10 to 12 years and cost $300 million to $500 million.

The cleanup is underway with costs ballooning to over $1.5 billion and a  completion date of mid-2023.

Mark D Phillips' photographic collection documents his generational view of the Gowanus Canal from abandoned, industrial filth to the beginning of gentrification and the EPA's start to cleaning the Superfund site.

“I discovered the Gowanus Canal in 1989, an abandoned, desolate location in the heart of Brownstone Brooklyn. The more time I spent on its length, the more I came to love it,” said Phillips.

ALL IMAGES ©Mark D Phillips