Early City Island Businesses
[From Alice Payne’s City Island: Tales of the Clam Diggers]
George Washington Horton purchased 42 acres on City Island in 1819 and worked in the shipping and transportation business until 1833. One of his sons, Benjamin Franklin Horton…ran Horton’s Shipping News Office and Information Bureau and became a pilot and a postmaster.
In 1830 Orrin Fordham, a shipbuilder from Essex, arrived and sarted the oyster planting business. It is claimed that City Island was the first place in America to practice oyster culture.
This year a small solar salt plant was built on City Island by E. C. Cooper but it was discontinued when mining of salt became more economical in other parts of the country. The solar type operation depended upo the evaporation of sea water and the subsequent deposit of salt.
Peter Cooper of Cooper Union fame bought property on City Island in 1835 with the idea of building a glue factory. [He started in the glue business in 1920 and expanded several times; it made him very rich.] He gave up the idea, however, due to poor transportation facilities, and sold his land to the Leviness family.
There was also a small brick manufacturing industry at the foot of west Centre Strest. This business also failed due to the limited supply of clay.
In the year 1853 a potter from Garrison, N.Y., by the name of Moses C Bell arrived on City Island and located a fine deposit of blue clay on the land of George W. Horton. Mr. Bell established a very successful pottery business between Marine and Pilot Streets on the west shore. Unfortunately Mr. Bell became blind and when the supply of clay was exhausted his sons John and George went into the oyster business.
About 1854 three farms were being operated on City Island by George W. Horton, William Scofield, and David Scofield, and there was a large apple orchard between Ditmars and Reville Street east of Main Street [City Island Avenue].
An oysterman in the 1870s operated a very lucrative business, earning about $1,500 for a week’s dredging delivered to the Fulton Street Fish Market. By 1880 each oysterman had his own oyster bed, marked off with different colored stakes which he replanted each year, harvesting his crop with steam dredges.
The earliest record of a sailmaker on City Island was the establishment of William Darling, who had his loft on Rochelle Street and turned out sails for the oyster fleet. Prior to that most oystermen made their own sails…In 1900, the firm of Ratsey & Lapthorn, Ltd., of Cowes, England, established a sail loft on City Island in Jacob’s Shipyard.
The first shipyard on City Island was established by David Carll in 1862. It was located at the foot of east Pilot Street on land purchased from George W. Horton on the site of the present Consolidated Shipyard. In 1866 Carll sold the yard to Henry Piepgras who is turn sold it to Robert Jacob in 1900. To the Jacob’s yard came some of the most famous boats in the world, among them Vincent Astor’s Nourmahal, J. P. Morgan’s Corsair, Thomas Lipton’s Shamrock, and several of the America’s Cup defenders and challengers.
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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.
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The City Island Nautical Museum wishes to thank the following City Island businesses that have become Corporate Members.