Rockaway Through the Years

4600 B.C – Native peoples inhabit Southern New York, including the area of the Rockaways.

1609 – Henry Hudson, the first European to explore and map New York, and his ship, the Half Moon, sail into Jamaica Bay and make Rockaway Inlet his base. Hudson never found the passage to Asia he was looking for, but the area he sailed through is now part of the Rockaway peninsula.

1639 – Sold! The Mohegan tribe sells most of the Rockaways to the Dutch West India Company.

1664 – Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant surrenders New Amsterdam to the English. The lands, including the Rockaways, become part of the newly named “New York.”

1687 – Richard Cornell, an ironmaster from Flushing, purchases all of the land now known as Rockaway from Captain John Palmer. Cornell builds a house in Far Rockaway, near present-day Beach 19th Street, possibly the first ever built in Rockaway by a European settler.

1776 – During the American Revolution, Rockaway sees battles on land and between British and Colonial naval forces off the Atlantic coast and in Jamaica Bay.

1833 – The Marine Pavilion elite hotel opens in “fashionable resort area” Far Rockaway, and hosts Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Washington Irving, the Vanderbilt family, and other socialites and literati. It’s credited with introducing beach bathing to New York.  

1851 – Herman Melville writes Moby Dick and mentions Rockaway Beach in the first chapter.

1869 – The South Side Railroad company first brings train service to Far Rockaway and eventually Rockaway Beach.

1880 – The New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway railroad builds a line across Jamaica Bay, promising “30 minutes to the surf!” It became part of the Long Island Railroad in 1886.

1881 – The Rockaway Beach Hotel, the world’s largest hotel, is finished but never actually opens for business.

1883 – Rockaway’s first newspaper, The Rockaway Rattler, later The Rockaway Journal, is first published. The Wave newspaper is founded in 1893.

1897 – Far Rockaway High School opens. Notable alumni include psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers, financier Carl Icahn, many CEOs,, athletes, TV/film personalities, Pulitzer Prize winners, and three Nobel Laureates.

1898 – New York City (then just Manhattan) consolidates to encompass the city of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island and western Queens. Formally part of Long Island, Town of Hempstead, Rockaway becomes part of Greater New York.

1901 – Rockaway’s Playland opens! Originally called Thompson’s Amusement Park, it was one of Rockaway’s first amusement parks.

1902 – Hog Island vanishes. Emerging off the Rockaway coast in the 1860s, the mile-long island boasted resorts, saloons, shops, leisure pavilions, restaurants, beach and bathing facilities, and corrupt NYC Tammany Hall political deals. Eroded by many storms, it finally “sank” back into the sea.

1905 – St. Joseph’s Hospital, later to become St. John’s Episcopal, opens its doors.

1908 – Peninsula General Hospital opens on Beach Channel Drive.

1915/1917 – Far Rockaway, Hammels, and Arverne try to secede from NYC, twice, but legislation for the move is vetoed by Mayor John Purroy Mitchel.

1917 – Fort Tilden opens as a military base, serving as part of the New York Harbor coastal defense into the 1970s. Naval Air Station Rockaway, housing blimps, dirigibles and other aircraft opens adjacent to Fort Tilden. Demolished in 1930 to make way for Jacob Riis Park. 

1919 – U.S. Navy flying boat NC-4 departing from Rockaway becomes the first flight to cross the Atlantic.

1920 – Prohibition, banning production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcohol, begins. Rockaway/Broad Channel overflow with home distilleries, bootleggers, speakeasies, illegal booze deliveries by boat and train, and highspeed chases and shootouts between the Coast Guard and rumrunners.

1925 – The first Cross Bay Bridge opens. Due to more traffic, it is replaced in 1939, and again in 1970. The first toll, in 1939, is 15 cents.

1931 – The Rockaway Boardwalk opens!

1933 – Prohibition is repealed with a bill sponsored by Congressman William F. Brunner Sr. of Rockaway Beach.

1937 – Marine Parkway–Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge opens, with 1.7 million vehicles crossing in its first year, and 4 million by 1940.

1938 – The Great Storm or Great New England Hurricane of 1938, till then the third largest recorded behind 1815 and 1635, does major damage to Rockaway and Broad Channel.

1939 – Robert Moses destroys some 700 plus buildings and boardwalk amusements to build the Shore Front Parkway 2.5 mile “road to nowhere.”

1943 – Disguised as a “Lighthouse,” the Breezy Point Fire Control Tower serves to spot enemy ships and direct the big guns at Fort Tilden. Broad Channel would host a fortified radar base where the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is today.

1952 – Showcased in This Is Cinerama, Playland’s Atom Smasher roller coaster ride on film introduces the first “wow” of wide-screen to the world.

1956 – First A Train service rolls to Rockaway, on rebuilt trestles and tracks closed by the LIRR after a fire in 1950.

1956 – Rockaway born Bernie Madoff graduates Far Rockaway High School. Later masterminded $50 billion Ponzi scheme, one of the world’s largest frauds. 2021: Madoff dies in prison.

1960 – Hurricane Donna does major damage to the peninsula.

1973 – Mayor Abe Beame, NYC’s first Jewish mayor, is sworn in at his home on Beach 131st Street.

1977 – The Ramones release their single “Rockaway Beach” with its catchy “Rock, rock, Rockaway Beach/Rock, rock, Rockaway Beach” chorus.

1987 – Rockaways’ Playland, the last amusement park on the peninsula, closes due to the high cost of insurance.

1993 – The cargo ship Golden Venture runs aground pre-dawn at Fort Tilden beach with 286 people illegally smuggled from China aboard.   

1996 – The Surfside Twin, Rockaway’s last remaining movie theater, closes. Opened as the Jerry Lewis Cinema in 1971, it became the Surfside Cinema in 1973.

2001 – A terrorist attack crashing planes into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, kills 59 firefighters, policemen, rescuers and workers from Rockaway. Another 11 summer and former residents perish.

2001 – American Airlines Flight 587 departing JFK for the Dominican Republic, crashes in Belle Harbor shortly after takeoff. All 260 crew and passengers aboard are killed, as well as five people on the ground. Second deadliest U.S. aviation accident in history.

2006 – Flight 587 Memorial is dedicated. A ceremony in remembrance to those lost is held each year.

2010 – The “Rockaway Renaissance,” a major resurgence in the peninsula’s popularity, begins as new businesses like Rockaway Taco take hold, artists and celebrities like musician Patti Smith move in, crowds pour in and media dubs it the new “in” place. The Wall Street Journal trumpets “Hamptons Out of Reach? Rockaway Beach!”

2012 – Despite protests, Peninsula Hospital Center is shut down by New York State. It’s demolished in 2016 for planned housing and commercial development.

2012 – Hurricane Sandy pummels the Rockaways and Broad Channel from end to end with waves, wind, fires and massive destruction. Ten residents perish. Rebuilding starts the next day. Power, heat, essentials are out for weeks and months. Help flows in from all over the world.

2014 – Red letter day: The Rockaway Times is launched.

2015 – Fun, floats and frolicking sea creatures march down a spectator packed boardwalk in the first annual Poseidon’s Parade, organized by the Rockaway Mermaid Brigade.

2017 – The Rockaway Ferry, running between Beach 108th Street, Brooklyn and Wall Street, is one of the first in the city’s interconnected system. A popular ferry ran after Hurricane Sandy until 2014, while the storm-wrecked A train line was repaired.

2017 – The newly completed rebuilt Rockaway Boardwalk opens!

2020 – With major area cases surging, Rockaway struggles through COVID, social unrest and economic uncertainty.

2020-21 – Construction of the jetties begins on Beach 36th Street and Beach 142nd.

2023: Construction continues…

2024 – Once again, the winter hibernation is over! Sun’s out. Surf’s up.  Barbecues are on. The drinks are cold.

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