Though I have lived in New York City for 12 years, it took me a while to realize that this city is not exclusively a dominant fortress of pavement and hi-rise buildings. I knew as most others do about Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Staten Island – the biggies – and rightfully so. But there are little swathes of land that a lot of people speed by on the way to JFK that have a long and often lovely history that get lost. Plumb Island, now known as Plumb Beach, is one such place.
This past summer, I took a staycation in Brooklyn that included a bike ride to the beaches of Fort Tilden every other day. The ride was approximately 11 miles each way and took anywhere from one to one-and-a-half hours depending on my blood sugar level, caffeine consumption, and extent of beach gear attached to my bicycle. Inevitably, I would stop at Plumb Beach and therefore became relatively familiar with it. I say inevitably, but I had to stop because the bike path was already collapsing a bit into the sand. So, I walked a bit, then refilled my water bottle, and perhaps ate half a sandwich and shared the other half with the strange population of cats who lived in the grassy area near the picnic tables. This is the Plumb Beach I know. But its history includes not only being a site for mortar fortification, a beach resort, an army base, but also a colony of bungalows inhabited by squatters whose only access to the mainland of Sheepshead Bay was by ferry. There were no utilities available in this beach colony until 1939 when the Belt Parkway was installed.
Plumb Beach became a lovely spot for many people over the years. Unfortunately, on my last ride from the Rockaways toward central Brooklyn, I couldn’t find anything that reminded me of the Plumb Beach I stopped for respite, refueling, parasail watching, or in the historic photographs. The parking lot, wading area, everything is covered in sand.
I’m sure we’ll find a number of paths missing and we’ll have to create new memories of new places or places that look different. However, I do hope to see Plumb Beach again on a bike rather than speeding by toward the airport.
As the recovery from Sandy progresses, Brooklyn will recover and reinvent itself once again and Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) is committed to documenting this process. We are now inviting YOU to join us! The beginnings can be viewed online, at our Storify page and by reading the letter outlining the experience from the Director of Library & Archives on our blog. Your participation is greatly encouraged to point us to the important stories, memorable photographs, and wonderful people and organizations that have made a difference. Please post comments on our blog, through our Facebook page, tweet @brooklyhistory, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, if you are interested in seeing more photographs from BHS’s collection? We invite you to visit our online image gallery for a selection of our images. Or to -search our entire collection , visit BHS Othmer Library Wed-Fri 1:00-5:00 p.m.