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.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Once Proposed as Another Site for New York City's Principal Airport, Cuban Ledge is Now a Virtually Unknown Pelham Island

For a mere two hours a day, a tiny island seems to rise from beneath the waters of Eastchester Bay, once part of the Town of Pelham, not far from Pelham Bridge.  Some say the islet is more of a shoal.  Nevertheless, the island only appears at ebb tide, then slowly seems to sink about an hour later as the bay water starts to flow.  The cycle repeats twice a day with every change of tides.  Thus, the islet "appears" for only about two hours each day.  The islet lies about a half mile south by southwest of Rodman's Neck (also known as Pell's Point and Pelham Neck) and is named "Cuban Ledge."

Cuban Ledge once was proposed as a possible site for New York City's principal airport.  Thus, as one might expect, the history of the tiny island and the legends as to how it got its name are fascinating.  Today's Historic Pelham article provides background on "Cuban Ledge."

No one knows why the little islet is called "Cuban Ledge."  Indeed, there are many legends told about how it received its name.  According to one brief item that cites multiple sources:

"According to some accounts, it was formed in 1898 when sailors dumped cargo rocks overboard from a ship that was abandoned when its crew left for Cuba to fight in the Spanish–American War.  Another version of the story indicates that it was created when a large barge carrying sand and gravel ran aground on a shoal.  A salvage crew was mounted there and the barge was rescued, but much of the sand and gravel it was carrying needed to be removed in order to aid the rescue. The workers dumped the sand and rock overboard to get the barge off the shoal, thus forming the reef.  One story of its name stipulates that a ship by the name of Cuban Lady ran aground on the reef in the 1880s.  Other theories suggest that the ledge resembles the outline of the island of Cuba."

Source:  "Cuban Ledge" in Wikipedia -- The Free Encyclopedia (visited Nov. 25, 2017).

While no one seems able to agree about how Cuban Ledge got its name, everyone seems to agree that it is a shipping hazard.  Indeed, as one might imagine, for centuries vessels have had difficulty negotiating Eastchester Bay to get to and from the mouth of the Hutchinson River (also known as Eastchester Creek).  Coming into Eastchester Bay via the Stepping Stones area from Long Island Sound, for example, Big Tom would be on the west and Cuban Ledge would be on the east.  Either of those hazards could rip the bottom out a a small vessel or cause a larger vessel to run aground and become fouled in the bottom.  Thus, a great deal of attention has been paid to such hazards in and around Pelham waters including Cuban Ledge for hundreds of years.

During at least the latter years of the 19th century, Cuban Ledge was marked with a "spindle" -- i.e., a spindle buoy that looks a little like a spindle and floats vertically in the water above the hazardous area.  In about 1911, however, local mariners began agitating to have lights placed on Cuban Ledge.  It was not until the Waterway League of Greater New York and Long Island got involved that something finally was done.  After four months of pressure on Federal officials by a Waterway League committee, it was finally announced to members of the league that the lights had been installed.  Only a few years later, on about June 25, 1918, the spindle buoy was replaced with a more substantial "Cuban Ledge Buoy, HS," a fourth class spar.  

One of the most interesting aspects of the history of Cuban Ledge occurred in 1927.  At the time, urban planners were considering where to establish a number of major airports to serve the New York City region.  Among the areas considered, of course, was a portion of today's Pelham Bay Park adjacent to the Pelham Manor border and even extending into a portion of Pelham Manor.  See Mon., Sep. 28, 2015:  Pelham Manor Narrowly Avoided Becoming Part of the World's Largest Airport.

While potential airport sites were being considered, a suggestion appeared in The New York Sun on July 19, 1927 that the airport should be constructed at the tip of Rodman's Neck extending out into Eastchester Bay onto Cuban Ledge and beyond.  Thankfully, like the similar proposal to locate New York City's principal airport adjacent to the Pelham Manor border, the proposal to build the airport at the tip of Rodman's Neck.

Some have suggested that the many, many islets including those that were once part of Pelham but since have been annexed by New York City should be assembled into a "Little Island Park"  Indeed, a pair of authors who have studied the so-called "Pelham Islands" (and other islands in the New York City region) have written about such a Little Island Park as follows:

"could offer rentals of kayaks, canoes and sailboats, as well as snorkeling and scuba-diving trips out onto the Long Island Sound.  It could even sponsor swimming races to and from 'islets' like the East and South Nonations, the Blauzes, Chimney Sweeps and Cuban Ledge.  And, if all went well, maybe concessionaires would start opening shops on some of those tiny outcropping.  Just imagine a line of New Yorkers waiting for their goodies from the Shake Shack while sitting in kayaks and canoes.  It's not as crazy as you think."

Source: Miller, Stuart & Seitz, Sharon, Miller and Seitz:  The Unloved Islands of New York, N.Y. Daily News, Oct. 5, 2011 (visited Nov. 25, 2017).  

Indeed, such an idea as a Little Island Park with concession sales and kayak, canoe, and sailboat rentals is not as crazy as you think.  It actually is an idea that goes "Back to the Future."  Such concessions and rentals were handled from a number of rocky islets, (particularly those near Pelham Bridge in Eastchester Bay), throughout much of the last half of the 19th century.  

Detail from 1899 Navigation Chart Showing Cuban Ledge
in Lower Left Quadrant of the Image.  Source:  "LONG ISLAND SOUND
Coast and Geodetic Survey, May 1899).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

Progress Reported on Several Important Matters.

In the absence of President George J. Vestner, who is ill, the well attended meeting in the Johnston Building last night, of the Waterway League of Greater New York and Long Island was presided over by First Vice President Acker.  It was the first gathering since the summer days and many topics of interest were discussed.

Although much influence was brought to bear upon the Government officials, by wealthy residents of Long Island, to have lights placed on Cuban Ledge and No Name Rock, two large rocks in Long Island Sound, nothing was accomplished until the Waterway men took hold of the matter.  It was reported that after four months work their committee had succeeded in having lights installed. . . ."

Source:  WATERWAY LEAGUE MEETS -- Progress Reported on Several Important Matters, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov. 15, 1911, p. 3, col. 5.  


New York -- East Chester Bay -- Long Island Sound -- Cuban Ledge Buoy, HS, to be established about June 25, 1918, a fourth class spar, in about 1 1/4 fathoms of water, in lieu of Cuban Ledge Spindle, which will then be discontinued.  Belden Point tangent, 106 deg (SE by E 5/8 E mag):  Stepping Stones Lighthouse, 128 deg (SE 1/4 S mag); Throg's Neck lighthouse, 168 1/2 deg (S 1/8 E. mag)."

Source:  NOTICE TO MARINERS, N. Y. Herald, Jun. 18, 1918, p. 8., col. 2.  

"Letters to The Sun
A Plan to Make an Airport by Extending Rodmans Neck.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN -- Sir:  I was greatly interested in your editorial article of Friday on 'Metropolitan Airport Sites.'  While the Hackensack meadows, favored by Merchants Association, would undoubtedly be ideal for Western and Southern air traffic they would be very inconvenient for Eastern traffic.  There seems little doubt that this great metropolitan area will require more than one airport, and as Pelham Bay Park was given favorable comment by the Port Authority the following suggestion is made which would overcome the objections of 'park protectors,' to which you refer, and in fact, should elicit their hearty support.  

There is in Eastchester Bay a shoal area covering several acres at low tide known on the charts as Cuban Ledge and locally as the Middle Grounds.  There is also a strong appeal for a regatta course at a convenient place in New York Harbor, as the Harlem River is now almost impossible for boat racing.  Hence my suggestion is for the city to obtain permission from the War Department to fill in the area between the southern point of Rodmans Neck in Pelham Bay Park and Cuban Ledge to an extent which will include an airport of the necessary 120 acres area and at the same time create a straightaway racing course of one mile and a half from Pelham Bridge south to the end of the filled in area at Cuban Ledge.  The water in the proposed fill is quite shoal and the bottom is of soft mud, so that the expense of creating this combined airport and regatta course would not be excessive.

I have within the last month inspected the great airports at Le Bourget in France and Croyden in England, and believe that this Pelham Bay site would be superior to either of them, both for convenience of access and for the landing of planes.

The creation of a suitable racing course for rowing regattas has long been advocated, and this very site has been the one selected by oarsmen, as several of the boat clubs have recently moved up there.  The disadvantage has been the lack of protection of the southerly part of the course from easterly and southeasterly winds, which protection would be amply provided by this proposed Airport.

New York, July 18."

Source:  Letters to The Sun -- A Plan to Make an Airport by Extending Rodmans Neck, The New York Sun [NY, NY], Jul. 19, 1927, p. 20, col. 8.

New Lighted Markers to Be Installed Soon at Entrance to Channel

The Eastchester Creek Improvement Association was advised today by the Department of Commerce in Washington that new marker buoys will be placed in the waterway 'in the near future.'

J. T. Yates, superintendent of the Lighthouse Service, wrote that, since dredging work was nearly complete, a lighted buoy will be provided to mark the entrance to the creek on the west side of the channel, and buoy Number 2 will be shifted to the edge of the new channel.

Two more markers, he said, will be installed between Cuban Ledge and the present buoy Number 2. 

Meanwhile, a committee of five, headed by Robert Jennings and A. P. Brooks, officers of the association, was preparing today to sound out opinion of owners of property along the waterway on contributing to the cost of financing Mount Vernon's share of the waterway improvement."

Source:  U.S. TO PLACE BUOYS IN CREEK -- New Lighted Markers to Be Installed Soon at Entrance to Channel, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Oct. 8, 1936, p. 9, col. 1.  

"Cuban Ledge

South of Rodman's Neck in Eastchester Bay, this islet can be seen only at low tide.  Several legends attempt to explain its name, one originating in 1898, when a crew threw its cargo of rocks overboard after learning that the USS Maine had been blown up in Havana Harbor.  The sailors went ashore and enlisted in the Spanish-American War, leaving the rocks to form a reef or ledge.  Others say the islet is cigar-shaped like Cuba, while a different tale says the island was so named when the intoxicated crew of the Cuban Lady ran aground there in the 1880s."

Source:  Seitz, Sharon & Miller, Stuart, The Other Islands of New York City -- A History and Guide, 3rd edition, p. 148 (Woodstock, VT:  The Countryman Press, 2011).  

"Cuban Ledge lies about 1/2 of a mile S. W. by S. from Rodmans Neck and is marked by a spindle.  It is dangerous for any draught."

Source:  Pugsley, R. M., Pugsley's New York Pilot and Guide to the United States Local Inspectors Examination of Masters and Pilots for New York Bay and Harbor to Yonkers and Great Captain Island and a Complete New York Pilot Containing All Useful Informationp. 41 (NY, NY:  R.M. Pugsley, 1916).


Post a Comment

<< Home