The Islands of Jamaica Bay : Broad Channel and the Wildlife Refuge (Part 2)

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge:

The beach and marshes on the western shore, and the rangers station

The paths fanning out from the Visitors Center and circling the west pond

the osprey family

With the Manhattan skyline in the far distance, Elders Point Island can be seen beyond the refuge's shore. Since 2006 the Army Corps of Engineers has been filling and replanting the disappearing island. It's estimated that almost 1,400 acres of salt marsh from the islands has been lost since 1924. At the current rate of erosion, the salt marsh islands will disappear completely in 30 years

Broad Channel:
Excerpts adapted from "The Other Islands of New York City "
by Sharon Seitz & Stuart Miller
"The city issued permits to anyone who wanted to live in, or develop, the bay area. Broad Channel, unlike the patchwork communities on The Raunt or Goose Creek, grew into a thriving community. By 1908, there were stores, a church, a volunteer fire department with 185 firemen, and four hundred houses, each paying an average of twenty-five dollars rent to the city's dock department.

By 1917, plants in Queens and Brooklyn were daily discharging fifty million gallons of inadequately treated waste into the bay, poisoning clams, oysters, and ultimately people. The water became so polluted that in 1921 the department of health abolished shellfishing in Jamaica Bay altogether, destroying both a major industry and a way of life.

Despite the demise of the long-established fishing industry and the collapse of plans for the harbor, Broad Channel flourished, albeit illegally. During Prohibition, the island, too remote for police raids, proved the perfect venue for rum-running. This sleepy island getaway suddenly became a notorious nightspot. Yacht clubs, speakeasies, and lodgings like the Enterprise Hotel sprang up on what became known as Little Cuba, a
homegrown Havana tucked away in New York City.

Broad Channel's popularity increased when Cross Bay Boulevard was finished in 1923. Motorists in dandy new cars now zipped to the island at whim, free from train-schedule constraints. The road also paved the way for Broad Channel's growth as a year-round community, a change ushered in by the Great Depression and the need for cheap housing. Bungalows were winterized and many summer residents moved in permanently."

views of Broad Channel from the turn of the century

From the 1970s; urban farming and open ditches

And Broad Channel today....there are still a number of houses and structures built on stilts

 these cottages are only reachable by a narrow footbridge

The Iroquois Yacht Club founded in 1894

A small houseboat decorated and owned by the Rockaway Artists Alliance     ( )

more waterfront homes

and of course the A train

did this one start out as a summer cottage?

some interesting decorations........
                                                  Jesus, Mary and a wide mouth bass

and an eclectic mix

archival photos from Library of Congress collection
all other photos copyright nycedges 2011

The Islands of Jamaica Bay; Broad Channel, The Raunt and Goose Creek (part 1)

                              "New York has a picturesque Venice all her own..."

Excerpts from "The Other Islands of New York City" by Sharon Seitz & Stuart Miller
"The bay's fishing tradition prospered after the Civil War, when ferries carried vacationers from Canarsie, Brooklyn to beaches on the nearby Rockaway Peninsula.

The bay islands remained sparsely populated until 1880, when the New York, Woodhaven, and Rockaway Railroad erected a 4.8-mile-long wooden trestle across Jamaica Bay. The line, which connected mainland Queens to Rockaway, made four stops— Goose Creek, The Raunt, Broad Channel, and Beach Channel—and accommodated far more passengers than the ferries.
Within four years, as many as eighty-seven crowded trains chugged through the Jamaica Bay islands each summer day. The route was sold in 1887 to the Long Island Railroad, and by 1895, the trains carried a million and a half passengers. In 1902, three and a half million fun-seekers rode the line.
Transportation put Jamaica Bay on the map. Tiny fishing shacks, boathouses, fishing clubs, and small hotels-many built on stilts-rose near the railroad trestle. 

In 1906, an estimated four hundred fifty thousand tons of oysters and clams, valued at $2 million, were harvested from the bay.
The Jamaica Bay islands were a homesteader's paradise during the late nineteenth century. The town of Jamaica had jurisdiction, but did not exercise title or collect taxes, encouraging squatters to settle there." 

LIRR trestle c. 1914

 Broad Channel is the largest island in the bay and the only one that remains inhabited. In the 1950's NY Parks commissioner Robert Moses razed the settlements on The Raunt and Goose Creek to create the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Moses struck a deal with the NYC Transit Authority to replace the old wooden trestle that had been plagued by fires for decades with a new subway trestle and bridge. The dredging and landfill required to build the new track also created a single island with two fresh water ponds for the newly designated refuge.

Goose Creek train stop and homes

This is what the area around Goose Creek looks like now
the subway tracks are in the background and JFK Airport in the distance

the tracks run along the eastern edge of the island

The Raunt at the turn of the century and the area today, a few pilings visible at low tide in the east pond are remnants of the docks and houses that once stood there.

around the east pond paths

The beach and the subway bridge at the north end of the island

Lots of abandoned boats and curious debris along the shore

artifacts from the original bridge?
bathroom tiles, one cent signs and Rose bricks washed up on shore -- probably part of the landfill from 1950.

 a side note; the Rose Brick Company yard was located north of the city on the Hudson River, the bricks can still be found in old buildings throughout New England, it closed in 1918.

A few of the other islands in the bay;
 Ruffle Bar Island had a community of oyster and clam fishers at the turn of the century; it's been uninhabited since the 1940's and is now a protected bird sanctuary

Silver Marsh a bird sanctuary less than a mile from JFK airport

Current map of Jamaica Bay compared with 1923, and 1938 after Cross Bay Blvd. and Bridge were built

Historic photos from Library of Congress
Maps from The Jamaica Bay Research and Management Information Network
all other photos & text copyright nycedges 2011

Continued in Part II