2005-03-18 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

The Raunt Bay Colony, Jamaica Bay _ 1880 to 1954
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

The long gone bay colony known as the Raunt, named after the Raunt Channel which surrounded the marsh island on three sides, started to take shape after the New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Railroad built the bay railroad across Jamaica Bay, to the Rockaway Peninsula, in 1880. Hotels, fishing stations and boat-fishing clubs – plus a few summer residences were constructed on the east and west sides of the railroad’s wooden trestle. All structures were interconnected by elevated wooden walkways, which led from the station on both sides of the Raunt Station. The bay railroad later became the LIRR, and is today the “A” line of the NYC Rapid Transit to Far Rockaway and Rockaway Park. The old village on stilts was located just to the north of the present Broad Channel, to the east of the visitor center at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. The south end of East Pond, was the west side of the Raunt settlement built alongside the old trestle, and landfill has replaced the elevated trestlework (for the IND Rapid Transit line). When this pond is very low in water content the stumps of Raunt building supports can still be seen. A few old pilings remain on the east side as well. At the height of its popularity, the Raunt had about one hundred leases issued to residents and businesses, and only fifteen remained as sort of a ghost town in 1953. A bird sanctuary occupies the site today.

The undated photo appearing today in Historical Views was found on a beautifully hand colored picture postcard, and I would date it as sometime between the late 1920’s and the early 1930’s. The number of structures visible helps in the dating of the picture.

The excellent view was most likely taken from atop one of the three story hotels on the east side of the railroad trestle or the high pedestrian crossover at the station proper. Two well-known hotels at the Raunt were Sehey’s East Side Hotel and O’Sullivan’s beside the trestle. Another was Paschke’s, but this pavilion was to the right and not shown in today’s photo. The camera is facing northwest towards Grassy Bay and Idlewild, where JFK International Airport is located today.

As in all the bay colonies, most fresh water was brought in by boat or train, until water lines were run out along the trestle. Before World War I, a deep well was sunk at Broad Channel with a filtering plant. Otherwise the houses with flat roofs tilted slightly to one corner to direct rainwater down to storage barrels for a water supply. A few storage barrels are visible at lower left in the picture. Oil lamps and candles supplied light at night. All radios were battery operated. The first electricity came when the LIRR was electrified in 1905, and that was limited to the railroad station and platforms. When Crossbay Road came in the mid-1920’s, electric lines were run out to the Raunt. The large utility pole in the photo indicates that power was available, but wires can only be seen on the left hand side of the pole. Perhaps a retouch person washed out a maze of wires for clarity. Early telephone service was limited.

You will notice the large amount of lightning rods, which gave a sort of fire protection. Fires in the bay colonies were fought by bucket brigades, and the rule was that each building was to have at least five canvas buckets stored for this brigade (and hopefully the tide would be high at the time when a fire started). Fire alarms were telegraphed to north and south (from all bay colonies) by the railroad stations, and firemen responded by railroad, that is, if the trestle wasn’t on fire. Serious fires did occur in the bay villages at times, with great losses.

To further orient Wave readers, use the maps of the Raunt from earlier Historical Views. The LIRR trestle is out of sight to the left in the photo and the Raunt Channel comes from the west (left) from under the trestle, and then behind the camera to the east (right). At the end of the line of houses the channel turns and does an about face before turning north on the left side of the view. The channel is visible between the peaked buildings at left center. Goose Creek is to the north and Broad Channel is to the south.

Boat ramps to the Raunt Channel can been seen in the lower right corner, and I wonder if those tiny little houses are shower stalls.

No brick chimneys are seen, as metal stovepipes were used. A few of those metal pipes can be observed going straight up from the first level, as the internal heat traveled up staircases and through floor grills to the upper floors.

Coal and wood came in by train or boat, and narrow elevated wooden walks connected all the houses. The consumers ice company, operated by Edward Schleuter of Broad Channel, delivered ice to the colonies and had storage sheds insulated with sawdust at the sites. The few winter residents used window boxes as iceboxes for perishables. Newspapers were used to insulate.

The three bay colonies, and Howard’s Shore Village at Howard Beach had a council with representatives from each holding individual meetings, and then attending a grand council meeting at rotating villages, the first being held at Broad Channel. The Jamaica Bay Colony Council always complained about paying city taxes and not getting any services. However, they and Rockaway Beach did get the NYC fireboat stationed in Jamaica Bay for a time, at Seaside Dock.

I never read of a general store at the Raunt or Goose Creek, but boats fitted out as floating grocery stores served Rockaway Point. I wonder if the same boats serviced the colonies. Broad Channel had a complement of various stores, and were a short train hop away. Some commercial establishments could have stocked items for residents. My big question of the day is, “How did they deal with the mosquito problem during the summer?”

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