Sewage flowed into the Gowanus Canal as early as 1858, and by the 1880’s the waterway had gained the moniker “Lavendar Lake” for its odorous qualities.

From the Great Depression through World War II and on to the 60s, the canal suffered the same slow decline as the rest of the waterfront. In 1961, the flushing tunnel and its pumping system stopped working, and would not work for the next 37 years. By the late 1970s, it was estimated that half the property along the canal was abandoned and unused.

My first decade of photographing the waterway from 1989 to 1999 was of an abandoned, desolate area with few residents or open businesses. In 1999, a New York City-led cleanup effort involved repairs to the Gowanus Canal flushing tunnel and a partial dredging at the head of the waterway. The results were immediate, with an increase in fish and wildlife. The politicians jumped on the bandwagon, patting themselves on the back for making major changes along the canal. The 2000s boded well for a clean canal.

All images are ©Mark D Phillips. Photographs may be licensed and downloaded through our site.

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 are ©Mark D Phillips. Photos may be licensed and downloaded through our site.