2006-09-22 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

The Story Of A Ship/T Canal, Edgemere, Rockaway
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

Long, long ago... in a Rockaway far, far, far away... Far Rockaway had an out bar beach. Picture in your mind that the Long Beach bar of the present time had been allowed to advance westward (which the stone jetty built in 1933 had stopped) and connected itself to the beach at Edgemere.

In between the outer bar and the mainland in 1872, a body of water a thousand feet wide existed, and was called Far Rockaway Bay.

As Far Rockaway had been growing people-wise for the last several years, raw sewage was being deposited in Norton Basin and Far Rockaway Bay, with the hope that the changing tides would flush away the smell of "the great unwanted."

Come 1876, things were such (you know what I mean!) that property was secured by Far Rockaway civics, from the head of Norton Basin to the western end or head of Far Rockaway Bay, for a canal to be dug between the two points for a positive flush of the basin and the bay. Tidal changes and resulting currents in and out of both bodies of water were expected to improve an unhealthy situation, especially at the beachfront where in summer Far Rockaway proprietors make their bread and butter!

The route of the canal was staked out for a width of about one hundred feet, and for unknown reasons, that is all that was ever done. Nimby is the only reason I can come up with as an historian!

But by 1889, it seems that a local sort of "eminent domain" won the day, and a contractor named Benjamin Tweedle was hired to finally dig out Far Rockaways' Pitkin Avenue Canal (if you will). Swift tidal currents did the job, but residues remained in the muck and mire of the two connected bodies of water, and Norton's Bridge of wood over the canal was undermined. A new bridge of steel, a swing open kind, was installed.

The Long Island Railroad was asked to rebuild its trestle over the man-made ditch, so as to also open as Norton's Bridge did. This would allow vessels and boats of a considerable size and draught to travel from Jamaica Bay to the ocean, instead of doing so via Rockaway inlet at Rockaway Point.

The railroad flatly refused to convert the triple tracked trestle and began laying stone in the water around the abutements and piling, but left an underpass for only small-sized boats. A watermain also crossed the trestle to the Edgemere Hotel.

There had always been thoughts to build an inland waterway from Jamaica Bay thru Woodmere Bay to the great south bay-all the way out to Riverhead on the eastern point of Long Island. This canal at Far Rockaway (described as a "ship" canal in a city paper, which hit a key four letters from the true intent) was to be a key part of that canal system, or, the Erie Canal of south Long Island shores.

The Ship/T Canal was dug out from below the present Far Rockaway Boulevard, south to the present Lewmay Road, just west of Beach 32 Street.

Storms had moved sands and created Far Rockaways' outer bar beach and storms in 1893 and later destroyed that bar, and a smaller one that appeared in 1897 (destroyed in 1903) never to appear again.

Great amounts of sand were pushed inshore, filling Far Rockaway Bay and closing up the canal on the beach side. By 1911 the rest of the north as far as Norton Basin had been backfilled. Norton's Bridge, which connected Far Rockaway Boulevard with Rockaway Beach Boulevard, was removed and both roads adjusted. The LIRR was happy with the fill.

Talk was always heard about opening a new canal to the Atlantic Ocean at Far Rockaway, and the master builder from New York City, Robert (The Pharaoh) Moses was one of them. He was a king of a guy that he never forgot a thing when opposed, and did afterthings for spite and reason...that maybe if I horse this through quietly, and get what I want eventually (Shorefront Parkway was supposed to run from Beach 169 Street to the Atlantic Beach Bridge).

Moses came up with four routes for "his" canal thru the Five Towns from Jamaica Bay to Woodmere Bay. Guess what the residents of the areas effected told him? That's right!!!

But 'ole Bob did dredge out Bannister Creek from Reynold's Channel above Long Beach Bar, up to Rock Hall Road, on a north/south line to the east of Route 878 in extreme southeast Nassau County. Moses said this would help Bannister Creek flush itself better than it was doing. Riiiggghtt!

The dredge provided fill for development and a segment of one of 'ole Bob's projected canal routes.

There is still talk of a new canal here, but this time it is to give Jamaica Bay a flush job and to provide incentive to marina building, so boaters will have a quicker and safer route to get out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Where on the peninsula is the question.

Should it be at:

+ Beach 32 Street

+ Beach 49 Street

+ Beach 60 Street

+ Beach 75 Street

+ Beach 108 Street

+ Beach 169 Street

If it were my choice I would select the Beach 108 Street site for a new canal to the ocean. This is a central point in relation to Jamaica Bay. Waters from the east side of the bay could get out quicker, and the west side of the bay can move out of Rockaway inlet faster.

And while we're at it, I suggested to the Jamaica Bay Task Force a long time ago to build a solar operated pumping station in Far Rockaway, so fresh salt water can be pumped into the east end of the bay directly from the ocean. A large diameter pipe can be placed along the south shore of JFK Airport with multiple outlets equally spaced.

Planners said they would have to study this type of flush for cause and effect down the Jersey coast.

Yours truly remarked, "What's to study?

Whatever is leaving the bay now is already down the coast, isn't it?"

My idea was taken under advisement, so...

So c'mon Wave readers, let's raise a stink about a new canal, with puns intended!

Let us hear your views on this subject. Would you like to see a new canal opened up thru the peninsula?

Pick up your pen and drop us a line, or email your comments to The Wave at editor@rockawave.com. Make sure you put the word "canal" in your subject line.

Food for thought: old nautical charts drawn when Rockaway inlet was a north/south direction, and later, show a bowl-shaped deep hole directly below the south end of the inlet.

As a matter of note, when the levee broke in New Orleans during Katrina, this is what happened when the water did rush in over the breach in the levee!

I have no doubt that there would be a movement of sand at the beach end of a new north/south canal anywhere on the peninsula!

But if one has OJT, and not a PHD, after his nome de plume , what is said don't usually carry any weight with those who make the decisions!

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