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Islands of New York City: High Island
The photograph on the left is of High Island, an 8 acre spit of land between the Pelham Bay and the Long Island Sound, as seen from its more well-known neighbor, City Island. After researching High Island it remains somewhat of a mystery to me. Artifacts have been found on its shores, alluding to a time prior to the arrival of Europeans, but its Siwanoy name is still unknown. Even the origin of its present day name is uncertain. Some would guess that its name describes its physical location in the Northern reach of the city, or perhaps describing the profile of the island which is comparatively high. John McNamara, in History in Asphalt, states that it could be a Dutch name, Haai Eylgant, meaning shark island, due to the warm shallow waters of the Pelham Bay which tend to attract sharks.
Here is a page from the 1920 census. This is the enumeration for High Island, listed as having a population of two. Along the side of the page where street information is recorded is written: No streets on this island, no house number. I wonder what it was like for enumerator, Bourke Donnelly, travelling on a cold January day just to record the names of two people. George Flavin, has demystified some of the island’s past in his article, Summers on High Island, 1913-1925, in the Bronx County Historical Society Journal (1984 v.21:2). Flavin is the nephew of Arnold and Nora Beatty, the island’s caretakers. The Beatty family lived on High Island all year round and in the summer rented out make shift bungalows to about 20 families, some of whom took up permanent residence on the island. By 1925, the island was purchased by a Nan Miller, who later sold it unknowingly to WCBS as a site for transmitter towers around 1960. The two radio towers send out signals so strong that they are transmitted through odd household appliances, producing talking toaster ovens and garbled phone conversations. The island also seems to go against normal trends of New York City population growth. It presently has a population of zero.