2003-09-05 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

From The Rockaway MuseumDedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke
A Map Gap Plugged With Zap
by Emil Lucev, Curator
Historical Views

Historical Views
of the Rockaways
From The Rockaway Museum
Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke
A Map Gap Plugged With Zap –A-Gap/ Unrelated Subject Research Project

While researching an unrelated subject, the monorail planned in 1896 to run from Far Rockaway Beach to southeast Brooklyn, I came upon an 1896 map by the Hyde Company, which laid out the proposed route of the so-called bicycle railroad. It contained an interesting insight as to what the seashore at Far Rockaway looked like at that time, after the storms that struck the area between 1891 and early 1896.

You will remember from the series of Historical Views in past issues of The Wave, that the outer beach (Hog Island) at Far Rockaway (the map gap stretched from 1891 to 1911, due to the frequent changes thereat) that accurate charts of Jamaica Bay only showed the drastic changes taking place at Rockaway Point. It was not until 1911 that the change at Far Rockaway Beach was recorded. The scene was quite a bit different from what is shown in Historical Views today.

All we had to go on were the newspaper accounts given during these blackout years (so to speak) giving vivid descriptions of destruction by the hurricanes and nor’easters striking Far Rockaway and Rockaway Beach.

In 1893 the outer beach was totally destroyed by two great storms during the month of September in that year. It was reported that the Hog Island or outer beach was making a comeback – slowly. After the 1896 storm reports stated that bridges and bathing facilities were being considered for the new beach, which was relatively much closer to shore at this time. As you can see on the map portion appearing today, this was true, and Far Rockaway bay was now enclosed by a large sand buildup! James Caffrey and William Lockwood already put out bathhouses and two bridges. Between the two bathhouses is an inlet, which appears to have been man-made with its straight-line configuration. As you recall, it was written that these inlets or small canals were dug to flush buildups out of the bay at Far Rockaway.

East Rockaway inlet is shown at the lower right with black sand beach on both sides, and a small pond above it at Hick’s beach. A part of Far Rockaway is in Nassau County, which is still three years away, and the heavy line indicates the border of Far Rockaway village. Bannister Creek is the east line (between the letters R & O) in the bay of Far Rockaway. The arrow at the east end of the bay point to Norton’s Creek which was also manmade to cleanse Norton Basin, through Far Rockaway bay, to the ocean. This was now (in 1896) impossible. A timber dam was placed in the lower end (at the bay) and the creek was being filled in, as developers were on the move. Sewage was being diverted elsewhere and not spoken of.

Beach 94 Street is above the word far in the bay, and the bridges to Far Rockaway beach are at Central Avenue (left) and Beach 17 Street (right). The creek to the bay runs up at Beach 33 Street. Ocean water depths are given offshore. Compare these soundings to the present ones!

This version of the outer beach at Far Rockaway, during the following years, was pushed closer to shore each year, and gained or lost sand during the storms that followed: about the year 1900 the Long Beach Bar was extending itself to the west and greatly affecting the shoreline in Nassau County and Far Rockaway. The bathhouses were bigger than ever now, and the island was now awash at both ends at high tides. The bay of Far Rockaway was in turn getting narrower and narrower, the baths were moved closer to the mainland, but entrepreneurs adapted, and were contemplating to have the trolley, which ran from Far Rockaway station to the beach, go out onto the beach over its own bridge to a terminus near the water! The franchise was almost (and wholeheartedly) approved by all concerned, but the great storm of September of 1903 wiped out the outer beach.

Far Rockaway still had a beach, but the old owners of the bathing places sold out to syndicates, which developed Roche’s Beach, Ostend Beach, and Coronada Beach.

The Far Rockaway bay was now just a tiny fraction of its old self, and became a foul smelling and mosquito-ridden Shallow Pond. Ditches were dug to drain it out. The pond extended from Beach 27 Street and almost reaching Central Avenue on the east. By 1912 it had been filled and forgotten, as the bungalow building fever was setting in.

The Long Beach Bar, which came up and replaced by the outer beach at Far Rockaway, has caused problems at Far Rockaway and Edgemere. The stone jetty placed at the end of Long Beach bar in 1933, has a groin effect on the beach at these areas of the Rockaway peninsula. No matter what…beach erosion... is the order of the day. The sand-starved beach is nourished, but no matter, the sand is gone in a short time. What will happen when the big one comes?

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