2004-09-03 / Community

Historical Views of the Rockaways

From The Rockaway Museum by Emil Lucev, Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke



From The Rockaway Museum
by Emil Lucev, Curator
Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

Many early writings on the community of Broad Channel, located in the middle of Jamaica Bay, refer to “fishing shacks” as being the only structures in and around the area of Goose Pond Marsh. I have found reference to summer homes, clubs, boat renters, fishing stations, oyster beds, etc,: most of which were found to be run by squatters when the City of New York gained jurisdiction over Jamaica Bay in 1892.Squatters abounded for many years.

Also in 1892, the town of Jamaica (as was shown in many lawsuits in later years) illegally transferred the common lands and marsh of Jamaica Bay to an Alonzo B. Smith, by lease for fifty years (to 1942) and to a William H. Boynton for an additional fifty years (to 1992). Later in this same year, Alonzo B. Smith transferred the bay lands to the United States Land and Improvement Company, which began issuing leases on the north side of the bay. In 1899, the United States Land and Improvement Company transferred the bay area and leases issued to the Cooperative Society of New Jersey, headed by Frederick A. Dunton, who just a few years earlier, engineered the illegal transfer of the bay to Alonzo B. Smith and William H. Boynton. To make a long story short, the Cooperative Society of New Jersey leased a 150’ wide right of way over the bay to the Brooklyn and Jamaica Bay Turnpike Company, formed in order to build a trolley car line over the bay to Rockaway, over landfill and trestlework. The work was to be done by Patrick J. Flynn, a Brooklyn trolley car line czar. The new right of way was to the west of the Long Island Railroad trestle, about a quarter of a mile.

By 1901, part of the raunt area of Jamaica Bay (to the north of Broad Channel) had been filled in for the trolley line, as was Goose Pond Marsh from the north end down to Beach Channel at the south end. Much of the foundation piling on the marshes was in place, including a portion crossing Grassy Bay (just below Howard Beach) to the marsh on the south side of Grassy Bay. This trestle portion was about 1500’ in length, and can be seen today at low tide on the west side of the North Channel Bridge. A channel passes through it now.

A trestle bridge with a draw type opening was in the works for the crossing over Beach Channel to Rockaway Beach and the trolley terminal to be built at Beach 87 Street thereat. By this time lawsuits and injunctions against the trolley company began had begun fishermen, boat captains and marsh residents.

On the trolley car line right of way, the Cooperative Society of New Jersey had already begun to evict those who would not sign new leases with the society at spots on and along the strip, and leased the greater part of the Goose Pond Landfill (which is Broad Channel proper today.)

Joan Kay of Brooklyn is a dealer, and also editor of the club’s newsletter.
Joan Kay of Brooklyn is a dealer, and also editor of the club’s newsletter. The fill was leased to John H. Eldert and Charles E. Twombly of Richmond Hill. These two leased a right of way through the fill to the Brooklyn and Jamaica Bay Turnpike Company. The lease was for a trolley road and horse carriageway, 100’ wide, with a bicycle path on each side. The side of the fill was 1600’ east/west and 900’ north/south.

All sorts of plastic goods are available to protect the valuable postcards that are bought by collectors.  Kit Barry from Brattleboro, Vermont is the plastic man.
All sorts of plastic goods are available to protect the valuable postcards that are bought by collectors. Kit Barry from Brattleboro, Vermont is the plastic man. By the early spring of 1902, the trolley company and the Cooperative Society of New Jersey, after being defeated in court over the fraudulent transfer of Jamaica Bay land and marsh back in 1892, were trying to correct and recover.

A typical dealer table set-up in the ballrooms. The top grade and rare postcards are kept in albums inside heavyweight plastic pages. A postcard mailed from the ocean liner Titanic, before it left Liverpool on that fateful journey, is valued at $1,475.00 as is!
A typical dealer table set-up in the ballrooms. The top grade and rare postcards are kept in albums inside heavyweight plastic pages. A postcard mailed from the ocean liner Titanic, before it left Liverpool on that fateful journey, is valued at $1,475.00 as is! In Broad Channel proper (the new landfill) they had a fly in the ointment by the name of James S. Williamson. The one document on record revealed that Williamson had succeeded William B. Dooley. Just when is unknown. Dooley had leased Goose Pond Marsh from the town of Jamaica before the illegal transfer of bay jurisdiction in 1892. (It is not known what Dooley built, nor does the record show what Williamson built.)

Twice a year, in May and Nov-ember of each year, an international antique postcard bourse (show) is held in Manhattan. Dealers come from all areas of the states, and from all over the world. No matter what your favorite subject or category…there are postcards to cover it! Rockaway history is my bag and my tag whenever I do attend….and I do all the time!
In November of 2002, nationwide dealers came from VT, NJ, MD, NY MA, OH, MI, CT, ME, FL, WA, and NYC, plus Las Vegas, NV!
World dealers came from Herenth-out in Belgium; Herzilla in Israel; York in England; Budapest in Hungary; Gentilly and Frejus in France; and Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.
Dealers were set up by the Metro-politan Postcard Club in the New Yorker Hotel on 34 Street in Manhat-tan. For the event, the Grand Ball-room, The Crystal Ballroom, and the large foyer between the two, were filled with 50 dealers in antique postcards. Visitors to the show kept the hotel’s Eighth Avenue entrance revolving doors spinning during the Vet-eran’s Day weekend.
The club was founded in 1946 by a handful of people and has grown and prospered since. Meetings are held monthly in the hotel and a mini-show is held in March to help shed the winter blahs! Club auctions and album competitions are also held during the year. Once an album of postcards about the Ole! Night Party won a prize. See, I told you there were cards for all subjects!
Today’s Historical Views presents photos of the international bourse of November 2002, and one postcard I found in the patriotic category. The card is white with a light blue border, and Old Glory is in the great red/white /blue colors with green leaf florals at the gold flagpole crossing God Bless America!
As all Wave newspaper readers already know, the history of the Rock-aways and Broad Channel has been well documented through the picture postcard, since they were first issued in the 1890’s. Artists’ drawings were gravured at first, followed by the black & white halftone printed photos, followed by color gravure photos, and then sepia-tone real photos; black & white real photos; and real color photos.
Yours truly got married, so to speak, to postcards at a small flea market style table in the second floor hallway of King’s Plaza Shopping Center in Brooklyn.
It was run by a fellow from Coney Island, Alex Stein, who happened to be a collector of Coney Island memorabilia! And a rabid one at that!
During a conversation I mentioned that I was into bottle collecting, especially Rock-away Beach and Far Rockaway. Alex then said that he wished he had a Coney Island bottle. I said that I had one… And at that…he grabbed my hand and filled it with Rockaway postcards, stating that if I brought him the Coney Island bottle, he would give me all he had of Rockaway postals.
I did, he did, and a friend at work told me about the metropolitan Post-card Club, which I joined as soon as possible.
My research on the old Rockaway bottles was well underway at the time, but the postcards showed me, and followers of my Historical Views column in The Wave, what old-timers talked about, but had no pictures of! The rest is history!

Twice a year, in May and Nov-ember of each year, an international antique postcard bourse (show) is held in Manhattan. Dealers come from all areas of the states, and from all over the world. No matter what your favorite subject or category…there are postcards to cover it! Rockaway history is my bag and my tag whenever I do attend….and I do all the time! In November of 2002, nationwide dealers came from VT, NJ, MD, NY MA, OH, MI, CT, ME, FL, WA, and NYC, plus Las Vegas, NV! World dealers came from Herenth-out in Belgium; Herzilla in Israel; York in England; Budapest in Hungary; Gentilly and Frejus in France; and Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. Dealers were set up by the Metro-politan Postcard Club in the New Yorker Hotel on 34 Street in Manhat-tan. For the event, the Grand Ball-room, The Crystal Ballroom, and the large foyer between the two, were filled with 50 dealers in antique postcards. Visitors to the show kept the hotel’s Eighth Avenue entrance revolving doors spinning during the Vet-eran’s Day weekend. The club was founded in 1946 by a handful of people and has grown and prospered since. Meetings are held monthly in the hotel and a mini-show is held in March to help shed the winter blahs! Club auctions and album competitions are also held during the year. Once an album of postcards about the Ole! Night Party won a prize. See, I told you there were cards for all subjects! Today’s Historical Views presents photos of the international bourse of November 2002, and one postcard I found in the patriotic category. The card is white with a light blue border, and Old Glory is in the great red/white /blue colors with green leaf florals at the gold flagpole crossing God Bless America! As all Wave newspaper readers already know, the history of the Rock-aways and Broad Channel has been well documented through the picture postcard, since they were first issued in the 1890’s. Artists’ drawings were gravured at first, followed by the black & white halftone printed photos, followed by color gravure photos, and then sepia-tone real photos; black & white real photos; and real color photos. Yours truly got married, so to speak, to postcards at a small flea market style table in the second floor hallway of King’s Plaza Shopping Center in Brooklyn. It was run by a fellow from Coney Island, Alex Stein, who happened to be a collector of Coney Island memorabilia! And a rabid one at that! During a conversation I mentioned that I was into bottle collecting, especially Rock-away Beach and Far Rockaway. Alex then said that he wished he had a Coney Island bottle. I said that I had one… And at that…he grabbed my hand and filled it with Rockaway postcards, stating that if I brought him the Coney Island bottle, he would give me all he had of Rockaway postals. I did, he did, and a friend at work told me about the metropolitan Post-card Club, which I joined as soon as possible. My research on the old Rockaway bottles was well underway at the time, but the postcards showed me, and followers of my Historical Views column in The Wave, what old-timers talked about, but had no pictures of! The rest is history! I got the impression that Williamson fought the Cooperative Society of New Jersey tooth and nail to avoid eviction from Goose Pond Marsh, and that he also had an iron clad lease – as Dooley did.

However, in May of 1902, the record shows that Williamson relinquished his right to Goose Pond Marsh, except for a piece on the east bank of Shad Creek, 141’ by 95’: the larger bank of Shad Creek. How and why he gave in is not known, but we can guess why – and that is – he was made an offer he just could not refuse. The record shows that Williamson was not a novice at owning land and marsh in the bay. He also had a complex on the shore of West High Meadow, to the northeast of Broad Channel, which he had leased from the town of Jamaica in 1874 for 25 years and was also involved at the raunt in 1892.

According to leases on record, issued by the Cooperative Society of New Jersey in 1901-02, Williamson was not alone on the banks of Shad Creek. There were about a dozen others who had signed on with the society, and it is probable that they were forced to move to this site or else.

Map # one can be dated at 1903. There are 13 structures shown on the east side of Shad Creek – and four structures are shown on the walk (Sixth Road) leading from the train station.

Map # two is an earlier map, which only shows four buildings on the said walk. Both maps show the same amount of buildings near the railroad trestle, with the difference being the artist’s choice if you will. (Barnes Creek, which came into Goose Pond Marsh, by the station and ran in towards Shad Creek, was filled in by the trolley company’s sand dredge. But who was Barnes?)

In James S. Williamson’s new lease from the Cooperative Society of New Jersey (May 1902) item three states that the society can replace the walk with a solid or firm substance. This 1902 record tells us that the walk was there, but not who built it. Was it Eldert, Dooley or Williamson – and when? It could be that the society built the walk especially for those people forced to move to the bank of Shad Creek.

And the fact that Williamson had a dozen neighbors on the bank of Shad Creek brings to mind a Wave article of 1902 stating that a dozen fishermen were living there – but no names were given.

In January 1898 came the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The incorporation of greater New York City, which added the boroughs to Manhattan, also brought Jamaica Bay’s common lands and marsh under the jurisdiction of the city. Shortly thereafter, the city joined the battle for the bay in the courts. By mid-1902 corporation counsel had the courts declare that the transfer of jurisdiction of the common lands and marsh in the bay was invalid. All those living on the bay lands had to sign leases with the City of New York. Squatters were found to have been living on the bay for nearly forty years.

To be continued in next week’s Wave.

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