2008-12-19 / Columnists

Historical Views

In The Old Days! … They Built Canals
From The Rockaway Museum Commentary by Emil Lucev, Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

During the early 1900s, a few canals were projected south to the Jamaica Bay from Newtown Creek and Flushing Creek. (The latter name reveals the true intention, other than barge and boat traffic through same).

Would a canal from the bay to the East River be feasible today for a ferry run to Manhattan's east side? This way eminent domain would serve a useful purpose for a straight line (if you will) to the city.

Today's view contains a postcard image of a long forgotten canal city on the north side of Jamaica Bay, south and easterly of Howard Beach. The canal place was called Hamilton on the Bay, and was built in the years just before and shortly after World War One. An area called Hamilton Beach survives to this day between Hawtree Basin and the IND subway line to the Rockaways.

The expansion of JFK Airport at its southwest extreme, during the latter part of the last century, covered over and buried what was left of this old development which once thrived on the shore of Jamaica Bay.

A few other small canal centered hamlets appeared to the east, but these were buried under landfill dredged from Jamaica Bay, when JFK Airport was under construction in the late 1940s.

Yours truly has only found two postcards of Hamilton on the Bay, and none concerning the others found on old maps.

Ten canals were proposed on the original plan for the Hamilton project, but only four were completed, as interest waned before and after the World War. Names selected for canals were Dempsey, Meyer, Charlton, Jackson, Dunton, Allen, Panama, Morris, Altje, and Ocean. The latter is shown today with bulkheads on both sides, as well as bungalows with varied architectural designs so as not to be boring to look at.

Ocean Canal was several thousand feet long with a loop turn around on its north end. The island within this loop contained a hotel.

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