Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, March 15, 2010

More on 19th Century City Island Oyster Industry - City Island Oystermen Complain of Pollution

Recently I have devoted efforts to researching the history of oystering in the waters off City Island in the Town of Pelham during the early 19th century.  For a few of the many examples of postings to the Historic Pelham Blog that deal with oystering, see, e.g.:

Fri., March 12, 2010:  Early History of Oystering in the Waters Off City Island in the Town of Pelham.

Thu., March 11, 2010:  The "Great Oyster War" Between City Island and Tarrytown in 1877 and 1878.

Mon., July 30, 2007:  1885 Report Notes Decline of Oyster Industry Near City Island in the Town of Pelham.

Thu., July 26, 2007:  Pelham's City Island Oystermen Feud with Long Islanders in 1869.

Fri., July 27, 2007:  Possible Origins of the Oyster Feud Between City Islanders and Huntington, Long Island.

Fri., April 13, 2007:  Oystermen of City Island (When It Was Part of the Town of Pelham) Pioneered Oyster Cultivation.

Mon., September 18, 2006:  A Brief Description of Oystering in Eastchester Bay and at Pelham Published in 1881.

Fri., January 26, 2007:  A History of the Early Years of City Island When it Was Part of the Town of Pelham, Published in 1927.

Thu., December 3, 2009:  Pelham News on May 30, 1884 Including Allegations of Oyster Larceny and Meeting of the Pelhamville Improvement Association.

It seems that in 1889, City Island oystermen complained to the State of New York that pollution from a dye manufacturing plant on West Farms Creek was floating into the Long Island Sound and poisoning the contents of their oyster floats.  Oyster floats typically were floating holders containing young oysters that were placed near the mouths of fresh water creeks where the creeks met the salt water of Long Island Sound.  Young oysters exposed to the less salty water "fattened" nicely for the markets. 

Below I have transcribed an excerpt of a report filed by the "State Oyster Protector" on October 1, 1889 for the ten month period ending a year earlier on October 1, 1888.  The report describes the matter referenced above.

"Report of the State Oyster Protector.
October 1, 1889.
EUGENE G. BLACKFORD, Esq., Commissioner of Fisheries and Shell Fish Commissioner, State of New York:

DEAR SIR. -- I have the honr to transmit herewith my report for the ten months ending October 1, 1888 [sic - 1889].

Very respectfully,
State Oyster Protector.

October 1, 1889.

EUGENE G. BLACKFORD, Esq., Commissioner of Fisheries and Shell Fish Commissioner, State of New York:

DEAR SIR.-- I respectfully submit the following report of my operations as State Oyster Protector for the ten months ending October 1, 1889. Since my last annual report in accordance with your directions, I have reported daily at this office, except on the dates hereinafter mentioned, viz.: December 25 and 28, 1888; January 1, 1889; February 12 and 22, 1889; March 19, 1889; April 18, 24 and 30, 1889; May 1 and 30, 1889; July 4, 1889.

I have been on duty only part of a day on the dates hereinafter mentioned, viz.: February 21, 1889 ; April 19, 1889.

On all other days from December 1, 1888, to September 30, 1889, inclusive (except Sundays), I have been on duty all day, subject to your instructions.

During the past year I have made daily inspections of manufacturing districts and other localities from which pollution of the waters might be expected, as is fully set forth in detail in my daily and monthly reports; this systematic surveillance has resulted in maintaining the general improvement of the waters of this section, and has elicited many encomiums from oystermen, yachtsmen, marine railway people, anglers and the press.

Fault finding is not a lost art; and men whose pleasures or business interests suffer restriction, or injury, are prone to vent their grievances. The commendations aforesaid, coupled with the fact that but very few complaints have been received, argues that public interests have been protected and much good accomplished. . . . .

*  *  *  *  *  *  

In April last the oystermen of City Island complained that the waters of West Farms creek, Westchester county, were polluted by refuse from the Metropolitan Dye Works, situated on the south bank of said stream.

The oystermen alleged that at times on the ebb-tide, the waters of the creek were discolored, assuming from time to time various hues; the discoloration extended from the dye works the entire length of the creek, out into the sound, and along the beach. It has been customary for the oystermen to place their oyster-floats at or near the mouth of the creek to allow the oysters therein to 'drink' the fresh water flowing out of the creek, to thus freshen or fatten them for market. Oysters so placed were subjected to the discolored and poisonous water from tLe dye works.

This matter was promptly investigated, and per your directions the offending party was officially, notified that the law would be enforced if the offense continued. No further complaint has been received at this office relating to this matter. The arrangement made some months ago with Lieutenant J. J. Hunker, U. S. N., supervisor of the port of New York, relating to dumping dredgings from Pelham creek, was satisfatory to the oystermen of that section, and seems to have been faithfully observed, as no complaint has since been received in reference thereto."

Source:  State of New York - No. 14 - In Assembly, February 10, 1890:  Eighteenth Report of the Commissioners of Fisheries, New York, N.Y., September 30, 1889, pp. 102-03, 107 (Albany, NY:  James B. Lyon, State Printer 1890).

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