Historical Views of the Rockaways
From The Rockaway Museum
by Emil Lucev, Curator
Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke
In the middle to late 1870’s, William Wainwright, partner of James S. Remsen – the founder of the seaside amusement area, broke the ice of the problem to get steamboats into Jamaica Bay through the dreaded Rockaway Inlet.
Wainwright had buoys placed in the inlet with the assurance that they would be moved, if and when the tricky channel moved. He also hired local boats captains to act as pilots for the steamboat services. This excellent move led to the increased patronage to Seaside and other bay docks as far as Hammels.
Also taken under Wainwright’s supervision, were the problems and complaints of the steamboat captains plying the bay waters between Canarsie Pier and the docks at Seaside. The most frequent complaints concerned constantly shifting underwater shoals and channel changes which resulted in severe groundings or the sudden decelerations of big boats. The second most important complaint was that the painted poles used as channel markers were insufficient. At time they disappeared, either washed out or stolen or run down by boaters.
Since the United States Coast and Geodetic Surveys of Jamaica Bay had been drawn since 1835, Wainwright was instrumental in having a chart of the Rockaway Inlet, and the bay conditions up to and including the Canarsie Dock, drawn and published for steamboat captains and other baymen. The first was issued in 1878 and only covered the west side of Jamaica Bay, and is reproduced today in Historical Views. From then on, yearly updated charts of the entire bay were issued, and the main changes taking place at Rockaway Point and in the Rockaway Inlet, plus other areas of concern were noted for mariners.
On the chart, Canarsie is at the top, and Rockaway Point and Rockaway Inlet are at the bottom. Pay particular attention to the depth of the water at low tide. The tidal station at Canarsie Dock and the narrow channel out to the main or big channel were dug out and maintained by the steamboat company running boats to Rockaway Beach in order to get their boats in and out of Canarsie. Bottom left is the way to the Atlantic Ocean, and bottom right is the way to Seaside. Barren Island is above Rockaway Inlet.
If you can, compare this chart with the latest one printed covering the Jamaica Bay area.