Aude J. Lagorce
The pier at Smitty's bait and tackle shop, built on
a rickety pier in Jamaica Bay.
2,630 (2000 Census)
Take the A train to Broad Channel Station. Or, take
the Cross Channel Boulevard from Queens or Rockaway.
1.88 sq. mi. (4.86 sq. km.)
of Current Name: Named after the "Broad Channel"
leading to the Atlantic Ocean.
Current use: Residential
Up in the Bay
won't find a Starbucks or a Duane Reade on the island of Broad
Channel. You won't even find a gas station. And this small island
just south of mainland Queens the only inhabited island in
Jamaica Bay is home to more birds than people.
Channel used to be a fishing village for Jameco and Canarsie Indians,
but now it is a tight-knit community made up of mostly Irish- and
Italian-Americans. This is a community where people walk down the
middle of the empty streets and park their boats or cars in their
driveways. Almost every house flies an American flag. <Click
here to see an animated slideshow of the mailboxes of Broad Channel>
island, which is about 1,200 acres, is divided between the residential
community in the south
and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in the north.
1880, Broad Channel was merely a stop on their way for vacationers
traveling to the Rockaway Peninsula. A railway was built across
the bay in 1880 and connected the island to mainland Queens. By
the early 1900s, the trains were carrying 3.5 million passengers
across the bay each year.
The area became known for its fishing oysters, clams and
other shellfish and hotels and fishing shacks began to develop
along the railway. But in 1912, seafood from the bay was blamed
for a typhoid breakout in Brooklyn and Queens. Eventually, commercial
fishing in Jamaica Bay was banned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The bay became extremely polluted from untreated sewages poured
into its waters, and in 1921 shellfishing was banned completely.
The fishing ban cost the island jobs and changed its way of life,
but during Prohibition, Broad Channel found a new purpose. The island
became known for rum-running, attracting more hotels, speakeasies
and yacht clubs. Even more visitors made their way to Broad Channel
in 1923 with the addition of Cross Bay Boulevard, which connected
the island to Queens. The new thoroughfare and its affordable rents
also brought year-round residents to Broad Channel.
New York's infamous Parks Commissioner Robert Moses sought to develop
a park on the island. He envisioned a wildlife sanctuary and a recreational
area along the island's shores. A fire burned the wooden railway
in 1950, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority offered to build
a subway line in its place. Moses agreed as long as the MTA would
build two ponds. A wildlife refuge about 9,000 acres in size
was finally built on the northern half of the island, attracting
birds with vegetation and ponds. Moses wasn't concerned with whether
his project would displace residents already living on the island.
Aude J. Lagorce
all homes on Broad Channel are decorated with American flags
large and small.
have defended their homes again and again once when Mayor
John Lindsay declared the island a health hazard because of its
raw sewage and again when the Port Authority proposed extending
runways from Kennedy International Airport into Jamaica Bay. The
city finally installed a sewer system in 1988 and the city rejected
the runway plan because it would displace birds living in the Jamaica
Bay Wildlife Refuge.
families have been here for generations, often living in the same
home. One such resident is Charles Howard, a fourth-generation islander
who made quite a bit of money in the portable toilet business. Rather
than move away, he built his $1 million home on Broad Channel. Some
residents criticized the mansion, which seems out of place among
the modest box houses that line the island's streets, but some believe
the fact that he stayed on Broad Channel is proof of the residents'
dedication to the island.
Channel became infamous in 1998 when the island's Labor Day parade
included a racist float. Rudolph Giuliani, then mayor, fired three
city officials for portraying African-Americans in a degrading fashion.
JAMAICA BAY ISLANDS
Bar hosted a resort in the first few decades of the 20th century
and, later, a small residential community, which dwindled away during
most of these whimsically named islands, including Black Wall
Marsh, Broad Creek Marsh, Canarsie Pol, Duck
Creek Marsh, Duck Point Marsh, East High Marsh,
Elders Point Marsh, JoCo Marsh, Little Egg Marsh,
Nestepol Marsh, Pumpkin Patch Marsh, The Raunt,
Silver Hole Marsh, Stony Creek Marsh, Subway Island,
Winhole Marsh and Yellow Bar Hassock, have figured
little into New York's history.
of these islands are currently inhabited, and most are marshes.
Some appear and disappear with the coming of the tide. They are
all within the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, part of the Gateway
National Recreation Area.
additional five islands belong to the borough of Staten Island:
the Isle of Meadows and Prall's (to the west of Staten), Shooter's
(to the north), and Hoffman and Swinburne (to the east, in New York
Harbor). None is inhabited.
Swinburne Island, originally called Dix Island, was built
in 1870 from landfill. Hoffman Island was created the same
way three years later. Both served as quarantine
stations for immigrants until the 1920s. Later, they functioned
as bird quarantines and, during World War II, a Coast Guard station.
Isle of Meadows was once farmed for salt hay and later used
as a dumping ground for landfill. It was transfered to the New York
City Parks Department in 2001. Eighty-acre Prall's Island,
named after an early Dutch settler, Arendt Jansen Prall van Naarden,
became Parks Department property in 1984. Shooter's Island,
51 acres large, straddles the border between New York state and
New Jersey. During World War I, the island was home to Standard
Shipbuilding Company, where cargo ships were built for the war effort.
Later, many ships were abandoned off its coast. All
three islands are important bird
santuaries and nature