Believe it or not, all of these names at one point referred to the same place: the only inhabited island in the Jamaica Bay, now known as Broad Channel. Have you ever been to Broad Channel? If you have, then you know that it looks nothing like the rest of New York City. Having spent half of my youth in Queens and the other half on the east end of Long Island, I can say that the Jamaica Bay area looks far more like the latter than the former. How did this happen?
To start, Broad Channel has a history of being resistant to change. Established as a fishing village in the late nineteenth century, it became entangled in Henry A. Meyer’s proposition in 1910 to turn Jamaica Bay into a major port for trade and tourism (a proposition which, thankfully, fell through). You can read all of the wordy details in the Proceedings of the Barge Canal Terminal Commission of the State of New York. Broad Channel also refused to accept Prohibition laws in the 1920’s, and having no roads connecting it to the rest of the city, it became a haven for rum runners and yacht clubs, earning the nickname, Little Cuba.
One of the island’s most impressive demonstrations of resistance, however, was against the great Robert Moses, City Park’s Commissioner under Mayor La Guardia. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, Moses was a man with big ideas; he had huge plans for the Jamaica Bay area. It would become a wildlife refuge which would require the depopulation of Broad Channel. After a several year battle, Broad Channel residents defeated Moses, keeping their homes. Moses would create the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in the area surrounding the island, thus preserving its natural environment. However, unlike Montauk, Broad Channel has its own subway stop.
Writing this post I consulted some of my favorite works on New York City: W.P.A. guide to NYC, Encyclopedia of New York City, A.I.A. Guide to New York City, Forgotten New York, Jamaica Bay, The other islands of New York City and of course, the New York Times.