Historical Views of the Rockaways
The Beach Channel Train And Fishing Station – 1888 to 1903
From The Rockaway Museum
by Emil Lucev, Curator
Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke
It has been 102 years since the once famous fishing station was destroyed by fire. When the “A” train to Rockaway Park or Far Rockaway (of the NYC IND Rapid Transit System) leaves Broad Channel Station, it first crosses the waterway known as Broad Channel, and then runs over a landfill island.
Next is a trestle portion which grades upward to the Beach Channel Swing Bride; over Beach Channel, of course. Then a downgrade leads to a grade separation for the rise east to Far Rockaway, or west to Rockaway Park.
Seven years after the New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Railroad opened its trestle route over Jamaica Bay to the Rockaway Peninsula, the opening of The Raunt and Goose Creek fishing stations on the railroads trestlework and right of way in the areas mentioned, spurred Thomas A. Smith of Freeport, Long Island, who was an ex-congressman from the town of Hempstead, to lease trestle bents 135 to 161, located about halfway between Broad Channel and Rockaway Beach. At this point the trestle crossed a relatively shallow spot called Long Bar.
At low tide, Long Bar has about a foot of water on its claw shaped perimeter, with a small patch of marsh at the center of a spike-shaped bit of sand above water. Railroad leases usually ran for five years and were renewable. On both sides of the trestle, Smith built a fishing station where meals were served, and fishing tackle could be rented as well as 25 boats.
Later, a two-story house (42’ x 50’) and two hotels were added, with a hotel on each side. At this time there was a railroad drawbridge across Broad Channel and another over Broad Channel. Beach Channel Station opened for the 1888 fishing season and was an instant success.
The map appearing today was taken from a fisherman’s map of Jamaica Bay, published for anglers of the time. The base map used by the published was 1879 vintage.
As time went by, the place changed hands, time unknown, to Dr. J.C. Ubert, a Brooklyn druggist. At about 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, December 11, 1903, Dr. Ubert’s hotel caught fire. The alarm was given by a beach resident and a telegraph operator. By the time the firemen got there, the hotel and three hundred feet of trestle had already been lost. Bucket brigades and a favorable wind caused the buildings of the opposite side to be saved. The firemen had to walk out onto the trestle from the Broad Channel and Rockaway sides due to the blazing creosoted timber of the trestlework, and dipped their buckets into the cold bay waters. After a long while the fire was extinguished.
The doctor had no insurance and his loss was said to be about $5,000, with the railroad reporting about $3,000 in damages.
It was said that the doctor used the place infrequently during the off-season. He was expecting a party down for dinner on that Sunday and it was feared that he was lost in the flames. When he arrived on the scene, as fast as he could from Brooklyn after he received word of the fire, all were relieved.
After the fire the railroad discontinued the stop, and after the station abandonment proceedings, the buildings that remained were moved to Bayside Place (Beach 84 Street and the bayfront).
As a result of the fire, train service over the bay was lost for about a week, while service was rerouted via Far Rockaway and Jamaica Station. Civic leaders demanded better fire protection by fireboat service in the bay area, and better transportation via a crossbay road.
Forty years later, The Wave published a story about the fire, stating that the good doctor used the hotel between seasons as a laboratory to work out new remedies and to manufacture medicines, which he sold to druggists in other parts of the city. The source of this information was not given, and I will leave the final verdict up to you.
Fire, ice and shipworm damage and other assorted problems led to the city filling in the route over the bay in the early 1950’s.