The Changing Shape of Coney Island

Even with the best of technology and intentions, early mapmakers didn’t always get it right. Browsing through the map collection a few weeks ago, I noticed that the shape of one of Brooklyn’s most iconic features, Coney Island, appears drastically different from one map to another.  While it’s easy to think of maps as authoritative, scientific representations of geographic space, looking at these helps me to remember that maps are also interpretative. As such, they are affected by the historical context in which they were created and may reflect biases or contain inaccuracies. Either that, or Coney Island has done some pretty incredible shape-shifting!

First up, an image of “Cunny” Island from a map published ca. 1770s. Please note that this is the 3rd state of the map, which was originally published in 1732.

A draught of New York from the Hook to New York Town. Mark Tiddeman. 3rd state. ca. 1770s. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Next, an image from ca. 1763:

Porti della Nuova York e Perthamboy. By Giuseppe M. Terreni. ca. 1763. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Then an image from 1778:

Entrée de la riviere d'Hudson depuis la Pointe Sandy Hook jusqu'a New York, les bancs, les sondes, les guides &c. : traduit de l'Anglais. 1778. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Followed by a map from ca. 1794:

Map of Long Island & vicinity. ca. 1794. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Then a map from 1869:

Map of the county of Kings showing the ward and town boundaries. 1869. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

And finally, a map from 1976 showing the Coney Island we all recognize:

Hagstrom Brooklyn, New York. 1976. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.


About Carolyn

Carolyn is the Project Map Cataloger on a grant-funded project until May 2012. When not reveling in all things cartographic, she enjoys knitting and exploring Brooklyn.
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3 Responses to The Changing Shape of Coney Island

  1. gary heiden says:

    hi, there are a few small Islands once located in brooklyn that disappeared altogether after hurricanes. It would be actually more surprising if old maps and newer maps showed no differences at all. The Graves End Bay area across from Coney..known to locals as “rat city” is a huge land fill where old coney Island is now buried. digging will reveal some of Coneys past, old sculptures from buildings ect. by the way my book on growing up in Coney Island during the 1950’s and 60’s will be published late in 2015. It is over 25 years in the making. Charlie Denson was my “best friend” during much of that time.

  2. Carolyn says:

    Hi Prudence,

    Thank you for your comment. You’re certainly right that the context of each mapping situation impacts the layout and construction of the map. Geography is not static, and the shape of Coney Island has changed throughout history due to landfill and tidal changes. It wasn’t my intention to criticize early mapmakers but to illustrate that maps are also historical documents that may contain inaccuracies.


    Carolyn Hansen
    Project Map Cataloger
    Brooklyn Historical Society

  3. Prudence says:

    I agree that these are pretty dramatic changes. But, who are we to judge without knowing the context of each mapping situation? Specific tidal changes that were viewed by the map-maker (very high/low water), and also more contemporary land creation/infill could all be reasons for the map variations.

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