2007-08-31 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

Is This Broad Channel Before The 1880 Bay Railroad?
From The Rockaway Museum Commentary by Emil Lucev,Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S.Locke

For decades now, yours truly has been looking for a picture of Big Egg Marsh (today's Broad Channel) that shows the many fishermen and baymen's shacks scattered about. These shacks were reported in and around Jamaica Bay marsh islands and at various points on all bay shores. Fishermen, bay-men, and oystermen used the buildings to store equipment necessary to their respective trades.

After the railroad came, a trolley line was next, and reports were that the trolley company was moving buildings scattered about Broad Channel to a location along Shad Creek Road on the west side of Big Egg marsh. Summer homes and equipment buildings were mentioned. Nothing was said about the tenure status of these structures, but it was stated that some of the residents that NYC later called "squatters," had been there for decades.

It would not be a great stretch if yours truly stated that some old places were set up there to provide room, board, and thirst quenching bars for fishing parties, as well as a lunchroom or two for anglers, and all were only accessible by boat… until the bay railroad came.

Today's view is puzzling! It is printed on a souvenir real photo post card, which was printed or developed by the Shell Photo Studio at the Chaffee Tent City in Rockaway Beach's seaside section. Is it possible that someone had an old negative printed to send to a friend as a memory they both shared? The photo shows a group of buildings built on pilings and connected to each other by elevated walks. There is no railroad in sight, and the building in the foreground appears to be a hotel, with the staff posing on the back porch. Take notice of the cisterns near the front of the porch. Rain gutters and leaders are connected to these storage tanks, which collected rainwater as a source of freshwater out on the bay.

Could this be an early photograph of Broad Channel before 1880, and printed decades later, or is it anywhere, Jamaica Bay in the early 1900's or so? There are no signs or other means visible to help identify what is shown. But there is one clue that helps us put a date on this antique photograph! Can you find it? and New Mexico were admitted to the union in 1912.

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