Local Native Americans called the stream “Mannette,” which was translated as “Devil’s Water.” Over the years, this name was spelled and respelled and spelled again in a variety of configurations: Minnetta, Menitti, Manetta, Minetta, Mannette, and Minetto. The Dutch called the water Mintje Kill, meaning small stream. In Dutch, “min” translates as little, “tje” is a diminuitive, and “kill” translates as stream. The water was also known as Bestavers Killitie, Bestevaas Kelletye, Bestavens Killitie, Bestavers Killatie, and Bestaver’s Killetje.
Several families of freed slaves, released by the Dutch, established farms and homes along the Minetta Brook as early as the 1640s. With African Americans continuing to settle here in the 18th and 19th centuries, the area became known as “Little Africa.” Most of the brook has been covered over, though some Village residents claim that it flows beneath their basements and sometimes causes flooding. In the lobby of the apartment building at 2 Fifth Avenue, there is a transparent tube that is said to contain murky water spouting up from Minetta Brook. The brook’s most recent claim to fame is providing the namesake for the Minetta Tavern, one of the original watering holes of the Beat generation.
Minetta Triangle, located at the northeast corner of the Avenue of the Americas and Minetta Street, is one of three nearby parks named after the feisty brook. The City of New York acquired this parcel in 1925 as part of the southerly extension of Sixth Avenue (now Avenue of the Americas) and assigned it to Parks in 1945 after deeming the .075 acre excess.
In 1992, community members formed the Bleecker Area Merchant and Resident Association, or B.A.M.R.A. Along with the Bedford Downing Block Association, or B.D.B.A., they began the process of revitalizing Minetta Triangle and nearby Sir Winston Churchill Square and Minetta Green. With the help of Community Board #2, B.A.M.R.A. and B.D.B.A developed a successful proposal for the renovation of all three parks. In 1998 State Senator Tom Duane, who was then their council member, and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields funded the $742,000 reconstruction of the parks.
New trees and shrubs, along with the creation of a curvilinear bluestone path featuring images of trout, transformed the rigid geometry of Minetta Triangle. The garden path is punctuated by small circular sitting areas surrounding trees, world’s fair benches, boulders and fluted cast iron urns. Small mounds, built up in the interior of the path, add depth to the previously flat landscape and create more of a pastoral setting. Once predominantly concrete, the sitting areas have become green garden coves.