Coney Island Palimpsest

Looking west through the temporary arch over Surf Avenue at West 8th Street, Coney Island, August 1893 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

Looking west through the temporary arch over Surf Avenue at West 8th Street, Coney Island, August 1893. {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

Twenty-seven thousand firemen descended on Coney Island in August 1893. No, the place wasn’t burning, for once! They came for the 21st annual convention of the New York State Firemen’s Association and a week of dinners, speeches, boxing matches and parades. As the New-York Tribune described the setting on Monday 14 August 1893 (p. 10, col. 1), Coney Island “was one mass of flags and bunting. It looked as if . . .

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. . . every one tried to outdo his next-door neighbor, and the result was the most lavish display of decorative material ever seen at the Island. The preparations for the firemen’s convention ended with these decorations, and yesterday was given over to welcoming the delegates. The line of march for the big parade next Friday is covered with flags, and across Surf ave., near Eighth-st., a big arch has been erected, decorated with pictures of engines, hose carts and hook and ladder wagons. Across the top, in big letters, are the words ‘Welcome to Coney Island’.”

It’s easy to imagine this fanciful arch stood where the pedestrian bridge would later span Surf Avenue connecting the West 8th Street subway station to the New York Aquarium. The arch is long gone, of course; it probably came down right after the convention. The bridge went up in the mid-1960s and served for half a century. Safety concerns prompted its overnight demolition in August 2013.

The New York Aquarium's pedestrian bridge spanning Surf Avenue as it looked in June 2011 {Courtesy of Google Street View}.

The New York Aquarium’s pedestrian bridge spanning Surf Avenue as it looked in June 2011. {Courtesy of Google Street View}


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Summering in Sheepshead Bay

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Jones’ Cottages, circa 1910. The four houses to the left in the main image (nos. 2631-2639 East 19th Street) and the bungalow (no. 1908 Jerome Avenue) survive as private houses. Another house (not shown) stood next to the bungalow, near the southwest corner of Jerome and Ocean Avenues.

Not sure where to beat the summer heat? A century ago you could have taken rooms at Jones’ Cottages, a compound of seven boarding houses in Sheepshead Bay clustered around the southeast corner of Jerome Avenue and East 19th Street. The houses — furnished by proprietress Mrs. J. C. Jones-Moneuse in mahogany and Circassian walnut furniture — enclosed a communal “rustic garden” of “peaceful delights for those seeking a cool, quiet evening.” Covered walks connected each cottage to a dining hall, where guests devoured home-cooked Southern fare — fried chicken, sweet potatoes, corn bread, and sour milk biscuits — before sinking into hammocks to the strains of nightly music. Every room had hot and cold running water, with valet, manicurist, and Lady’s maid services available at all hours. All this for $2.00 a day and up. Five of the Jones’ Cottages stand today as private houses.

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Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Father’s Day on Gravesend Bay

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“Gravesend Bay, near New York, Sep. 5, 1884,” signed “R. O’B.” {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

I like to imagine the figures in this little watercolor of Gravesend Bay are father and son, wading on the rocky shore, watching the small moored ships and seagulls wheeling by while the scrubby hook of Coney Island dips into the sea at Norton’s Point. My father had no real interest in history, but to humor me he’d drive us around the neighborhood exploring. We “found” Coney Island Creek this way. I never tired of gazing across it with him.


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Gravesend, Cradle of Invention

I’m always on the prowl for historical Gravesend tidbits (thank you for not reminding me to get a life), and I’m always stunned by what’s out there, waiting to be drawn into the present. I’ve learned to look for information everywhere, not in just the usual published sources or image collections. Check out these reports from Scientific American about patents issued to two Gravesend inventors for a steamer and presser, a shellfish dredge, and a skewer puller. Who knew our sleepy little burg harbored such creative folk?


Scientific American, vol. 43, no. 20 (13 November 1880), 310, “Recent Inventions”:

An improved milliner’s steamer and presser has been patented by Mr. Thomas Hicks, Jr., of Gravesend, N.Y. This invention relates to that class of devices designed for milliners’ use for the purpose of raising the pile on velvets, etc. [Here’s a link to the patent.]


Scientific American, vol. 49, no. 2 (14 July 1883), 18. (Click to enlarge.)

Scientific American, vol. 49, no. 2 (14 July 1883), 18. (Click to enlarge.) [Here’s a link to the patent.]


Scientific American, vol. 50, no. 7 (16 February 1884), 106, “Miscellaneous Inventions”:

A skewer puller has been patented by Mr. Augustus F. Friend of Gravesend, N.Y. It is intended to facilitate the withdrawal of skewers from cooked meats, and provides for handles pivoted to each other at their forward ends, where are jaws with their faces concaved. [Here’s a link to the patent.]


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Extra, Extra, Read All About It!

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A. G. Byne, “The Old Fashioned Garden of the Lady Moody House in Gravesend,” in Mildred Stapley, “The Last Dutch Farmhouses in New York City,” Architectural Record, vol. 32, no. 1 (July 1912), 35.

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has released its designation report for the house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road, forever known as “Lady Moody’s House,” but officially called the “Van Sicklen House” for the family who built it in the early-to-mid-1700s and occupied it until the start of the 20th century. Read the fascinating report online at:

http://s-media.nyc.gov/agencies/lpc/lp/2145.pdf

There are pictures beginning at page 16. Perhaps someday the house will be restored to look as it did in the 1912 photograph above. For now, at least, it is safe.


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

 

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