City Island Recollections

In the winter of 1947 we had a terrible snow storm. We had something like 30 inches of snow in about 24 hours. – Leo Keane

City Island reminded my mother of her homeland, which was Ireland. It (City Island) was all full of trees and farms and apple orchards and things like that in those days. – Leo Keane

It’s a rural atmosphere. I thought nothing looked more like where I came from. I lived on the River Shannon. – William Clancy Sr.

There was a little community of houseboaters. There were conversations at that time in which City Island was described as a sort of peculiar place. There were always people of fill different niches. – Mary Ann Dann

The avenue was very quiet. Very, very quiet, both night and day. It was nothing, nothing like what it is today, nothing. I mean you would come down at 9 o’clock in the evening and you wouldn’t even see cars. Even the weekends were not like they are today, because I don’t think we had that many restaurants, and people who lived here then, especially in the winter, didn’t travel at night. – Alice Persteins

My sister’s music teacher was the organist at the Methodist church, and she was also the organist at Hart Island. And there was a young man over there. I don’t remember what he was in for. That’s when they had light crimes. Well, anyway, he was a youngster from a wealthy family who got in some kind of trouble, and he was on Hart Island for a year. He had a gorgeous voice. He was a soloist at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue. So Miss Isabelle used to have me go over to Hart Island to play violin for him. And then I had to go down to St. Thomas and play for him. I think we went downtown, probably took the Bartow train down to 125th Street and traveled from there. My father had a car, maybe he even drove us down. My father had a regular tin lizzie. He wasn’t a very good driver. He would only go out and drive once a week because he was in the store all the time. – Elsa Kroepke

John, the ice cream man, would make his rounds during the day and hit the beaches where all the kids were hanging out. And he knew every kid by name, so much so that he’d run a charge account. He’d know when your birthday was, Uncle John. – Hunter Hild

People somehow feel safe and protected here and don’t want to expose themselves to other life experiences. – Fay Jordaens

I thought it was like a haven. Right at the end of the street they had the beaches and they went swimming out and there were all the boats and everybody seemed to know each other. – Lucille DeRosa

We crossed the bridge and I looked at this place and I said, “My God. I had no idea there was such a place in the city of New York.” – William Clancy Sr.

City Island was the most beautiful place in the world, because they had the woods and they had the sea shore. – Louis (the Barber) Filipino

Now, actually, I see too many houses and not enough trees. – Vera Kehlhoffer

My father’s family lived down at 116th Street in Harlem, and for the summer, for I believe he said $60 the season, they would rent a tent and spend the summer at Orchard Beach. Then about 1914, 1915, they moved to City Island on a James Burns lot. Then they bought a house down on Cross Street, which a member of my family has always lived in since that time. – Theresa Henning Nativ

We did a lot of iceboating out here in the bay then. That was good fun in the winter. – Herb Hild

The buses in that time were a nickel and ride, and when you got to Williamsbridge Road, the bus driver went through the bus and collected another nickel if you were going to Fordham. – William Clancy Sr.

But I feel like, you know, that my little plot of ground here is my little island and if people would just leave me along, that would make me very happy. – Mary Ann Dann

Today you don’t see any empty lots. When I came on the island, there were a lot of lots. But now there are buildings on them. – Adolph Trahan

Everybody had orchards in their yards. They bring me cherries, they bring me pears. You see, I think the people then were smarter, because they planted trees. This way they get the fruit. Now they get the grass. They don’t get nothing. – Louis Filipino

After the war years, I think that is when we started to be inundated with, you know, the invasion which was discouraging, and we resented it tremendously here on the Island. What’s happening? We couldn’t get to the end of the Island. – Herb Hild

So you’ve got to find a little income one way or another. You’d go over to Orchard Beach and see how many bottles you could pick up. Now we have the bottle law again, so a lot of things full cycle. – Hunter Hild

It’s very scary when I invite people to my house on the weekend, and we do not know if they’re going to arrive or not because of this traffic. And if they do get here, it takes them a long time. My poor daughter was stuck at the bridge. It took her almost an hour to get home from the City Island Bridge because of the traffic. They were trying to get into the restaurants. The Police Department said that they had a method to push the cars through but they’re not really doing it. – Connie Cantor

I hope that it won’t be all condominiums and skyscrapers and what not. – Mary Ann Dann

The most dramatic change, and I can’t understand why it didn’t happen many years ago, was perfectly predictable; it was that City Island would become a totally “in” place to be. It’s going to become, I think, like the elite Greenwich Village. I figured that this would happen many years ago. – Fay Jordaens

I have a feeling 50 years from now that City Island will be like Atlantic City. I have that feeling because that’s what the trend is in the world. – Alice Persteins

During the winter, we used to hitch on the back of the buses and we would have sleighs, you know. The old buses would go up and down City Island Avenue. The bus driver knew we were back there. There were never any fatalities. – Herb Hild

I think City Island has something special to offer to people. So on a hot summer night, you know, they want to cool off. They get in the car and drive up here, and of course the end of the Island is the attraction with shrimp, clams, and you know they went for that. Next thing you know the traffic was being backed up and before we realized what was happening, it had already happened. – Herb Hild

Here you don’t need a car. You walk. – Kate Laue

I wish I didn’t have to see all this graffiti on City Island’s walls and doors. It means City Island is changing. – Vera Kehlhoffer

The biggest change I could tell you is the fact that City Island became valuable all of a sudden, overnight. – Captain Fred Schmahl

With the condo business, that’s an overpowering thing. Sooner or later they’re gonna eat these houses up like there’s no tomorrow. I mean, they’ll come down the road and buy your house and probably give you a fair enough price, but where the hell do you go to live? – Vincent Hauptner

They didn’t open City Island roads as they’ve been doing for the past 10 years. I remember my husband walking from Pelham Bay, walking home because there was no bus service and they don’t clean the roads. Things are much better now than they were then. – Alice Persteins

From 115th, when I lived in Harlem, it took sometimes about an hour and a half because you had to wait for the shuttle and then you had to wait for the in Pelham Bay or West Farms. – Louis Filipino

If you’re an isle-o-maniac, you’re someone who has to live on an island, who has to be able to see the water. I think it has something to do with insecurity. When you’re in your mother’s womb, you’re surrounded by water, and that’s the sense of security you get from living on this island. We’re all isle-o-maniacs. We’re all nuts up here. I think they put us up here to seclude us from the rest of society. – Leo Keane

City Island was a lot of open property. Right on City Island Avenue, about where the bank would be and across from Nevins Shipyard, there was a lot called Pat Burns’s lot, and it used to just grow upward like hay and it would be about four feet deep. And that went for blocks and then there would be a street in there. When we went a little further, down like about where Buckley Street, between where the church is and Horton Street, that was all covered over. You could hardly even walk through there. It was full of big spines. Oh, boy, what a place that was and we found a meteor in there. – Vincent Hauptner

I don’t remember traffic ever being bad on the weekends that I had to worry about, you know, back then. – Theresa Henning Natiw


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The City Island Nautical Museum is operated by the City Island Historical Society, a not-for-profit organization, which relies on donations, grants, and membership dues. Admission to the museum is $5 per person (no charge for members and children under 12). We welcome new members as well as contributions to our general fund and to our endowment fund, and all donations are tax deductible. Annual membership dues are: Individual $20; Family $25; Corporate $50; Student $10. Please make checks payable to the City Island Historical Society and send to City Island Historical Society, P.O. Box 82, Bronx, NY 10464.


Open on Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. and by special appointment.

The City Island Nautical Museum wishes to thank the following City Island businesses that have become Corporate Members.

A-Quality Glass
Barron's Marine Services, Inc.
City Island Beer Company
CI Construction
City Island Pharmacy
City Island Sunoco
City Island Yacht Club
Connie's New Way Market
Consolidated Yachts, Inc.
Eben Hansmire
Charles Mandel
Seafood City
Drs. Robert Seigle and
Audell Ray
Tony's Pier Restaurant

Thanks in part to Councilmember James Vacca, CIHS received a larger grant than usual this year from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. This funding will enable us to mount two important exhibitions in the spring—the work of Mark Whitcombe and images of the City Island Bridge. If you have works of art that you would consider lending to either show, please call to let us know. Ron Terner of Focal Point Gallery will be curator of Mark’s show; call him at 718-885-1403. Bridge artists should call 718-885-0507. The show on the yacht building will remain in place until December 18, when we close for the season.


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