Over the years, I have repeatedly expressed my admiration for the community of Broad Channel, a picturesque village perched on three land masses in the middle of Jamaica Bay–Big Egg Marsh, Rulers Bar Hassock and Black Wall Marsh. Until the train line’s arrival in 1881, you could only get there by boat, and it was another 44 years before roadways connected Broad Channel to the mainland. Although I have never lived there, I have spent a lot of time visiting friends and fellow environmental activists who do, over the past decade. Several local businesses became my regular advertising customers when I worked for The Wave, so I learned a lot about that quirky little place.
The village is a study in contrasts. Majestic ospreys nest in the world-class Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, and egrets can be seen wandering casually about on docks and in backyards along the bay. However, there are notable manmade eyesores, including the former site of Schmitt’s Marina on West 19th Road, now fenced in, as it is being cleaned up to create waterfront parkland. And you can’t miss the Cross Bay Boulevard headquarters of Call-A-Head, one of NYC’s largest portable toilet operations, which occasionally draws criticism for blocking bike lanes with its vehicles, but seemingly, not much else. Surely it must be the community’s largest employer. You’ll see the porta-potty operation northwest of the entrance to the wildlife refuge.
The neighborhood is home to a few thousand patriotic middle-class residents who vote and attend civic meetings regularly, and love to parade down their main street (that would be Cross Bay Boulevard) to honor veterans, volunteer firefighters, old traditions and Old Glory. Yet most locals of the 100-year old community did not own their land or homes until the 1980’s. The remote community was a hotbed of bootlegging and speakeasies during the Prohibition era in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and squatters once occupied marsh islands like Ruffle Bar and Goose Creek, until evicted by Robert Moses during construction of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in the 1950’s.
To introduce visitors to the charms and challenges of this nautical enclave, I will be leading a walking tour through Broad Channel on Sunday, October 11 at 2 p.m., sponsored by the Municipal Art Society of New York City (with support and assistance from the Broad Channel Historical Society). We should be able to walk from end to end and see remnants of the village’s historic past, as well as the current social and civic gathering spots. I am trying to arrange for a stop along the way at one of the area’s coolest waterfront dwellings, and Barbara Toborg of BCHS has offered to give all participants a 2015 Broad Channel Historical Calendar. With a copy of this local mainstay, you’ll be all set with the times of high and low tide for the last quarter of the year, plus about a dozen great vintage photos of the area. Tickets can only be purchased online, at http://www.mas.org. Click on “Tours.”
Text and parade float photo, copyright 2015 Vivian R. Carter. Remaining photos copyright 2014 Vivian R. Carter.