2006-10-27 / Community

New Jamaica Bay Book Tells Rockaway's Tale

A Wave Review
By Howard Schwach


"Jamaica Bay," part of the publisher's "Images of America" Series, is available through bookstores or on the web."Jamaica Bay," part of the publisher's "Images of America" Series, is available through bookstores or on the web.

When Daniel Hendrick started to write a book about Jamaica Bay and its history, he did not realize just how big a task he had taken on himself.

"Jamaica Bay is such a large place, with so many different communities surrounding it and a long history, I had to spend lots of time in archives in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and even in the Library of Congress," he says. "Looking at the bay today, you would never guess that some ambitious industrialists wanted to carve it up to create the world's largest deepwater port, or that Rockaway used to be a fashionable resort for the city's elite, or that the first ever transatlantic flight left over the bay. People today know the bay primarily for its environmental problems and that's in my book as well."

Hendrick, the editor of the Queens Chronicle, has written a book about the bay, but the history of Jamaica Bay often parallels the history of Rockaway as well.

Richard Cornell, a wealthy ironmaker, built the first home in Rockaway in 1690. The home was roughly in the area where Wavecrest stands today.Richard Cornell, a wealthy ironmaker, built the first home in Rockaway in 1690. The home was roughly in the area where Wavecrest stands today. The book, filled to the brim with historical photographs and documents, presents a fascinating visual history of the peninsula, its grand hotels, amusement parks and its roots as Native American fishing grounds.

Those who read The Wave regularly know, of course, of the flight of the NC-4 and its quest to become the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.

Predating Lindbergh's flight by nine years, the Navy flying boat and its crew took off from Naval Air Station, Rockaway and did the crossing over a three-week period of time, stopping in Newfoundland, the Azores and other stops along the way before reaching Europe. All that is documented in Hendrick's book "Jamaica Bay."

What most people do not know is that Rockaway would have developed much differently had a group of businessmen had their way in 1905 when they proposed developing the entire bay as a deepwater port, linking the ocean with the bay by a canal that would have cut through the peninsula.

This 1961 photograph shows the Seaside Urban Renewal Area, where Dayton Towers stands today.This 1961 photograph shows the Seaside Urban Renewal Area, where Dayton Towers stands today. There was even a plan to cut a canal from that Jamaica Bay port to the Great South Bay in Flushing.

In the plan, chunks of Rockaway were slated to be shipyards and other facilities to serve the port.

The book is just chock full of Rockaway stories and is a must-read by anybody who is interested in the history of the peninsula.

"Jamaica Bay," one of a series called "Images of America" is published by Arcadia Publishing and is available at area bookstores, independent retailers, on-line bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or 888-313-2665.

This sketch shows the general distribution of Native American tribes in the Jamaica Bay area in 1620.This sketch shows the general distribution of Native American tribes in the Jamaica Bay area in 1620.

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