THE BOROUGHS OF BROOKLYN AND QUEENS
COUNTIES OF NASSAU AND SUFFOLK, LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK
1609-1924 by HENRY ISHAM HAZELTON

THE ROCKAWAYS

The Rockaways were made world-famous by a great hotel. The hotel was five blocks long, and nothing so extravagant in size or appointments ever had been undertaken. It stretched from First Avenue to Fifth Avenue in Rockaway Park. On top was an observatory. Private plants supplied water and gas and a private sewer system carried all refuse far out into Jamaica Bay through massive iron pipes. The venture cost $1,250,000, with an outlay for plumbing alone of $90,000. The hotel never was occupied fully, but a wing was opened in August, 1881, and the bar flourished for a time. In 1884, it was sold for $30,000 and wrecked for second hand lumber.

An iron peir, equally a failure, was built out into the ocean at Seaside by Theordore Havemeyer for a distance of 1,300 feet. It was the largest pier in the country with a pier head eighty-two feet wide and a width for its entire length of thirty-two feet

Rockaway is a corruption of the Indian Reckouwacky, a tribe of the Canarsies on Rockaway Neck. It meant the "Place of Our Owne People." The point of the beach in 1685, when the territory was deeded to the Dutch, was just west of Wave Crest, Far Rockaway, Rockaway Point, the end in 1924, is seven miles nearer the Narrows.

Governor Dongan turned the tract over to John Palmer and the trouble it aroused in charges of favoritism led to his removal from office. Hempstead claimed the land and brought action to upset the grant, but lost and was assessed the costs.

Bernice Schultz in Colonial Hempstead says on pg. 137-138: "..Hempstead was to lose the great stretches of beach and meadow on Rockaway Peninsula, where cool winds and the smell of the sea would eventually render precious every foot of sand in a crowded community. Hempstead's land was supposed to run due south as to the north. It seems, however, to have claimed land further west along Rockaway, Peninsula. This land, supposed to belong to the Pearsall family of Hempstead, was granted by Governor Dongan to Judge Palmer in 1685. When Dongan was later accused by the King and the Privy Council of having shown favoritism in the matter, he replied that he had summoned the people of Hempstead to appear and show cause why the patent should not be granted to Palmer.

There upon one person (Pearsall) came to mee, (he continued) and told mee that it was his land and that it was within the meers and bounds of Hempsted on which I ordered him to put a Caveat into the Secry's office against the passing of Judge Palmer's patent, and then the surveyor went to survey the lands accompanied by some of the inhabitants of Hempstead to show him their bounds, who returning this land to be without their meers and bounds the patent was passed.

Dongan testified that Pearsall let his suit drop, not because he was overawed by the prestige of Palmer's judgeship, for Palmer withdrew from the court in favor of Judge Nichols, but because he saw the "his pretense would not avail him."

Certainly in 1690 and 1691 Hempstead did not believe the Rockaway Neck to be "without their meers and bounds," for twice land was sold to raise money to prosecute the resulting suit in the court of sessions, but the Rockaway lands were lost to the town, and Hempstead ordered to pay the costs. That the town keenly felt the loss of these southern marshes and pastures is testified by a member of the Lloyd family who noted that the herds of local cattle thereafter taxed the capacity of the remaining pasture land."

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Two years after Palmer obtained his grant he sold it to Richard Cornell, an ironmaster of Flushing. Cornell spelled his name Cornwall and Cornwell. He was the ancestor of Ezra Cornell, founder of the university.

In 1670, Cornell obtained permission to sell liquor and powder to the Indians. He was a man of wealth when he bought the Rockaways, in 1687. The Cornell family moved to the Rockaways and built a large frame house, believed to be the first ever erected with the exception of Indian huts. It overlooked the ocean at Far Rockaway. In 1833, it was demolished to make way for the Marine Pavilion, Far Rockaway's first large hotel. This hotel was erected at a cost of $43,000. The Pavilion was a long, straight-front hotel, three stories in height, with a piazza and cupola near the ocean. The opening of the hotel was thus described:

"The cornerstone of the Marine Pavilion was laid on June 1, 1833 with appropriate ceremonies. It is in all respects a convenient and magnificent edifice, standing on the margin of the Atlantic, and it has been kept in a style not exceeded by any hotel in the United States. The main building is 230 feet front with wings, 75 and 45 feet in length on each side. The peristyles are Ionic, the piazza being 235 feet long by 20 feet wide. The sleeping apartments number 160. The drawing room is 50 feet long and the dining room 80 feet. Stephen Whitney of New York became the sole owner. The Pavilion was sold finally to Henry Bainbridge of Washington Avenue, Brooklyn.

In 1840-1850, Far Rockaway had become a famous seaside resort, Its guests were from the East, the West and South. Longfellow, Washington Irving, Trumbull the artist, and General George P. Morris, were registered at the big hotel. It was burned down on June 25, 1864.

On old Long Island's sea-girt shore
Many an hour I've whiled away
In listening to the breakers roar,
That wash the beach at Rockaway
Transfixed I've stood while Nature's lyre
In one harmonious concert broke
And, catching its Promethean fire,
My inmost soul to rapture woke.

Joseph Tyler, a noted English comedian, kept a boarding house at Rockaway, where he died in January, 1823, aged seventy-two. Joseph Holman, also a noted actor, died at Tyler's house, August 24, 1817, aged fifty-two. His daughter Miss Holman, a beautiful and talented actress, married Major Charles W. Sandford, a New York lawyer. In Dunlap's "History of the American Theatre," is said of Mr. Tyler that "he was in early life a barber, and consequently was an uneducated man." To which Thompson in his history responds: "It is, therefore, more to his honor that he could represent the pere noble on the stage, and play the part of the noblest work of God, an honest man, in society."

Richard Mott, a descendant of Matthias Nichols, died in Far Rockaway on April, 1901. He was familiarly known through the Rockaways as Uncle Dick. He was born in Far Rockaway, October 10, 1810, and lived there all his life. He was never married. His mother was Miss Lucy Nichols of Islip, a granddaughter of Mathias Nichols. John Mott, his father owned almost all the Rockaways early in life and was known as Squire Mott. Uncle Dick was educated in Brooklyn and was of a literary turn. He wrote short poems for the New York "Evening Post" when William Cullen Bryant was editor, and he was a personal friend of Peter Goelet.

Rock Hall (q.v.), a large boarding house mentioned by Mrs. Mowatt, the actress in her autobiography, was near by, with rows of cottages rented by families. It was originally the summer home of Dr. Marton. Over one of the fireplaces was the painting of the "Child and Dog," executed on the spot by John Singleton Copley, the noted American artist, and father of Lord Lyndhurst lord chancellor of England.

Country seats were owned by Edward LaMontagne, Nathaniel Jarvis, John L. Norton, Harry Schoonmaker, Horace F. Clark and Mr. Lawrence.

Bathing came into style with the opening of the Marine Pavilion. Benjamin C. Lockwood and John L. Norton were the first to make a practice of entering the surf. They also opened the first establishment for bathers, providing bath houses on wheels. Bathers were pulled into the surf, bathouse and all by horses. After a sufficient depth had been reached, the horses were unhooked and taken ashore until the bather and his house were hauled back.

The Marine Pavilion led to many other hotels. Far Rockaway became a village of hotels. About the middle of the last century the place was first called Far Rockaway to distinguish it from Near Rockaway, now East Rockaway.

A steam railroad was built to Far Rockaway in 1869. Benjamin Mott gave the company seven acres of land as a station site, which is occupied today.

The railroad had no shelter or platform until the line was extended to Rockaway Beach. A siding led to Lockwood's Grove, now Wave Crest. The only roads in Far Rockaway consisted of Broadway, Greenwood Avenue, Cornaga Avenue, Mott's Lane and Catherine Street. Far Rockaway's first store was opened on Greenwood Avenue in 1844 by William Caffrey

The Bayswater section was laid out about 1878 by William Trist Bailey, who purchased the property from J.B. and W. W. Cornell. The first Rockaway hunt with hounds started from this spot and the first yacht club was erected there.

Far Rockaway became an incorporated village in 1888, with Edmund J. Healy, later a police magistrate of New York City, as president. On January 1, 1898, Far Rockaway and the other Rockaway communities became part of Greater New York, and were designated as the Fifth Ward, Borough of Queens.

Far Rockaway achieved state-wide fame on September 9, 1890, when it was the scene of the first test of a new election law that enforced secret ballots.

Edgemere was developed by Frederick J. Lancaster in 1892. The area was a sandy waste, with only two or three houses and the Half-Way House. Mr. Lancaster called the place New Venice. In 1894 the Edgemere Hotel was opened. Ten years prior to this Arverne had begun to develop. William Scheer built the first house. Remington Vernam, a New York lawyer, one of the early settlers, was so active that the community was named after the sound of the quick pronunciation of his initial and name: "R. Vernam."

William H. Amerman made the discovery that he owned a strip of land eight hundred feet wide, running from the ocean to the bay. It appeared that during the cholera epidemic in New York in 1837 Amerman's father purchased this tract from the Cornell heirs, laid in a supply of food and isolated himself there. After the epidemic he went back to New York and forgot all about his land. The Arverne Hotel was built in 1888 at a cost of $200,000. In 1895 the place became an incorporated village, named Arverne-by-the-Sea, with John R. Waters as president. He remained in office until consolidation. For almost half a century there was a United States Life Saving Station at Arverne. The first keeper was Daniel B. Mott.

The pioneer developer of Rockaway Beach was James S. Remsen, of Jamaica, known as "Uncle Jim." Michael P. Holland purchased in 1857 the section named after him, and soon afterward Louis Hammel acquired the tract east of Holland's named after him. The beach extended only about as far as Belle Harbor, and was valued chiefly for the salt hay it produced. Rockaway Beach was first called Oceanus. One of the first dwelling houses the old Dodge homestead, at the Boulevard and Dodge Avenue, was demolished seven years ago.

There were only four fishermen's shacks when Remsen, Holland, Hammel and others came. In 1863 Remsen sold all his holdings save a strip 1,150 feet wide from ocean to bay to a Dr. Thompson, who agreed to build a railroad from East New York to Canarsie and maintain a steam ferry route from Canarsie to Seaside Park, as Remsen named the portion he retained. The ferry was the beginning of the growth of Rockaway Beach as an amusement resort. In 1872 a steam railroad extension was run from Far Rockaway. All railway travel had to be done by way of Valley Stream, in Nassau County, for the railroad trestle over Jamaica Bay to Rockaway Beach was not built until 1880. The trestle route owed its existence to Senator James M. Oakley and his associates, incorporated in 1877 as the New York, Woodhaven & Rockaway Railway Company. During the summer elevated trains of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company were run over the trestle from Brooklyn to Rockaway Beach, but this service was discontinued a few years ago.

William Wainwright conceived the project of making Rockaway Beach a combined summer and amusement resort. Chiefly through his efforts, steamboats brought thousands of visitors daily, all landing at Seaside, where three piers were built. In 1878 Remsen and Wainwright gave the New York, Woodhaven & Rockaway Railroad Company the site of the present Seaside station, Michael P. Holland the site for Hollands station; Hammel gave a tract where the Hammel station is, and the Rockaway Beach Park Association gave the site for the Rockaway Park station, at the end of the line. A condition of each gift was that the station should always bear those names.

In 1886 the boulevard between Far Rockaway and Rockaway Beach was completed. Rockaway Park, Belle Harbor and Neponsit were developed as the other sections of the Rockaways became crowded. St. Malachy's Home for Boys and the Hebrew Home are two large charitable institutions at Rockaway Park. Rockaway Beach was incorporated on July 1, 1897, with John W. Wainwright as president. In the same year the Ocean Electric Railway, owned by the Long Island Railroad, was established, supplementing the railroad service between Rockaway Park and Far Rockaway. A year later the village as absorbed by Greater New York. In 1915, 1916 and 1917 efforts were made by Far Rockway, Arverne and Rockaway Beach to secede from Greater New York, but, although the necessary bill passed both houses of the legislature in 1915 and again in 1917,the measures were vetoed by Mayor John Purroy Mitchel.

The Rockaways to-day are as different as can be imagined from the salt marsh area of a comparatively few years ago. There are about thirty large hotels and several hundred smaller ones in the Fifth Ward. There are 5,000 bungalows. There is a tent city at Arverne accommodating between two hundred and three hundred tents. There is now being erected the first real apartment house in the Rockaways, a $250,000 project at Broadway, opposite Mott Avenue, Far Rockaway, to accommodate fifty-five families.

The city is planning the erection of a real boardwalk-constructed of concrete-from Rockaway Park to Far Rockaway. The present boardwalk exists only here and there. Rockaway Park has a $150,000 concrete walk half a mile long, built by the city and opened in May, 1923. The original boardwalk there was erected by the Rockaway Park Improvement Company, under Austin Corbin. When the city agreed to build a walk if the property owners would cede the ocean front to the municipality, the dwellers at the park raised $10,000 to buy the necessary strip from the individual owners and sold it to the city for $10,000 with the proviso that the ocean front should ever remain open and free from all obstruction. Hollands and Seaside have about half a mile of boardwalks owned by the beach front owners and Arverne has spots where the boardwalks, owned by individuals, have not fallen away or been closed.

A big prospective municipal improvement was the bringing of Catskill water to the Rockaways. Mains along the new Rockaway Boulevard and along the Cross Bay Boulevard cost $350,000. The city appropriated $250,000 for a new high school for the Fifth Ward.

At Rockaway Point are 2,000 bungalows populated by probably 8,000 people in summer. The colony is reached most readily by a ferry from Sheepshead Bay.

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Transcribed and edited© Linda Pearsall Harvey