Historical Views of the Rockaways
The Disappearing Marsh Islands Of Jamaica Bay
From The Rockaway Museum
by Emil Lucev, Curator
Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke
The creeks, channels, and marsh islands of Jamaica Bay, Queens have changed way, shape and form, as recorded in the many maps drawn by early pioneers and early cartographers over the years of recorded history.
The earliest description of Jamaica Bay was recorded by the Dutch Envoy Devries, about his trip to the woods at Rechquaakie, from Fort Amsterdam in 1647, to meet with the Native Americans for a peace conference. His trip to and thru Brooklyn went well, but he and his party had to wait for high tide in the northern part of the Bay, so the natives could transport them to the meeting site in their canoes.
Another written description during the War of 1812, sent to Governor Thompkins after a blockhouse fort was constructed at Rockaway Inlet, described the Bay as a giant mudflat at low tide, with only one navigable channel to the east at low tide (archaic Beach Channel). It was also stated that there were other channels at high water, but of little use for navigation.
A few general type drawings and maps gave the idea that most of the water drained out of the bay, due to sand banks shown fronting the bay area. This tells us that the ocean level was at a much lower level than at present. Some researchers into this subject have printed charts that indicate the ocean was eight feet lower then at present 800 years ago, and has risen on the average of a foot a year since…and is still rising!
As the present years go by, underwater exploration is finding more and more evidence of submerged places where people have lived, and the rising level of our oceans is the result of the Earth warming and melting away the remnants of the last Ice Age. This melting process is still ongoing, and is reflected in the higher tides being experienced the world over in coastal areas. Jamaica Bay is one of these areas being affected, and the higher tides, which cause much stronger tidal currents due to the greater volume of water (also added to by indiscriminate dredging of the bay bottom) are washing away the very topsoil upon which the marshes grew and took centuries to accumulate.
There are those who say that mankind is the cause of the Earth warming up at a fantastic rate, (the greenhouse effect) but I beg to disagree, saying that it is a natural phenomenon that has occurred three times in the Earth’s past.
In the world of geology, educational publications reveal that “pacha mama,” or Mother Earth, has undergone several Ice Ages in the past, and in between were interglacial periods-when there were no icecaps at the poles or glaciers in high mountainous locations worldwide. This means that there was worldwide and uncontrollable flooding of our planet. What the previous civilization on Earth did to fight this is being uncovered (underwater) today, and is classed as the unexplained or natural phenomena by non-believers.
Yours truly sincerely believes that our planet is entering into a fourth interglacial period, and that entry began about 18,000 years ago when the last Ice Age came to an end, and in a couple of centuries or so it will be blub! blub! blub! for the Rockaways (as we know them) and the beautiful Jamaica Bay as we old-timers knew it!
So save this picture of Jamaica Bay and Broad Channel for a future class of historians, who will use it when they say that, “Under this water once stood the bay community called Broad Channel, and a body of inland water called the Jamaica Bay Estuary. The bridge remnants seen were once part of a roadway and a railroad that ran out to a peninsula called Rockaway Beach, now represented by hi-rise rubble jutting up at low tide.
It was a great area once.
And our archive has old Wave Newspaper columns called Historical Views, by Rockaway historian Emil R. Lucev, Sr.”
Now today’s Historical View is of Jamaica Bay in 1937. The western part is shown with the LIRR trestle, Crossbay Road, and the community of Broad Channel in about the geographical center of the Bay. Since this photo was taken many years ago, bay pollution, higher tides, indiscriminate bottom dredging and much stronger tidal flows in and out, have taken their toll on all of the marsh islands shown when compared to a present day photo, and a photo from the 1920s and earlier!
There have been a few serious and well-intentioned projects to make the marshes grow back. But in my estimation, they will only grow back if the bay area is jacked up several feet, and nature’s topsoil is replaced, that is, before the permanent flood of the future becomes a reality! It will be a long time before the next ice age comes, and believe it or not, there are ancient maps that show not even an ice cube on Antarctica and Greenland. They are not publicized because no one can explain them, and their projections for their drawing are classed as superb.