Historical Views of the Rockaways
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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.