A Little History of the Chimney Sweeps, Two Diminutive Pelham Rocky Islets
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Just north of High Island which, in turn, is just off the northeast tip of City Island, are two rocky islets known for hundreds of years as the "Chimney Sweeps." No record reveals how the islets got their names. There are several traditions, however. According to one, in days long ago, local chimney sweeps attached two rocks to their sweeps to use as weights to lower the sweep down chimneys to dislodge soot. The islands, according to this story, resemble the chimney sweep stones. According to another local story, the islands at low tide can look as black as soot, evoking thoughts of soot-covered chimney sweeps.
The two islets are tiny. One is about 2/5th of an acre. The other is slightly larger than 1/10th of an acre. At various times over the years a sandbar arose between the two islets. At low tide, there could be up to four mucky acres of flats surrounding the little rock outcroppings.
For such tiny islets, these rocky outcroppings have a very large and fascinating history. Today's Historic Pelham article tells a little of the history of the Chimney Sweeps, once part of the Town of Pelham, before their annexation by New York City in 1895.
The Chimney Sweeps were included in Thomas Pell's original purchase of lands from local Wiechquaeskecks on June 27, 1654. The little islets have been the scene of shipwrecks since at least the eighteenth century and, as one article recently noted, "modern-day boatsmen do well to avoid them."
During much of the nineteenth century, the Chimney Sweeps were owned by members of the Delancey and Hunter families. At least as early as 1890 a boat house stood on the Chimney Sweeps. It belonged to to Andrew Horton of City Island, although there is no evidence he owned the Chimney Sweeps at the time. It seems he likely was a tenant at the time.
By April 18, 1895, the Chimney Sweeps were owned by Henry DeWitt Carey of City Island. We know this because on that date his attorney prepared a notice for publication in local newspapers stating that on June 6, 1895, Carey would file with the Commissioners of the Land Office of the State of New York an application seeking a grant of title in fee simple to underwater lands surrounding the Chimney Sweeps. The notice further stated that: "It is the intention of the undersigned to appropriate the lands described to his beneficial enjoyment by filling in the same or enclosing same by a sea wall."
Henry DeWitt Carey was the former Sessions Judge who was a prominent City Island resident. His son, Henry DeWitt Carey II, became quite famous as an actor known as Harry Carey. I have written about both men on a number of occasions. See, e.g.:
Wed., Jul. 01, 2015: Western Actor Harry Carey of Pelham, Born Henry DeWitt Carey, Recalls His Boyhood Days in Pelham.
Mon., Jun. 02, 2014: Henry DeWitt Carey Of City Island in the Town of Pelham.
Mon., May 28, 2007: Brief Biography of Henry DeWitt Carey, 19th Century Pelham Justice of the Peace.
Interestingly, during a number of summers, Harry Carey lived "in a shack" on the Chimney Sweeps with his good friend, Joe Harris, a well-known "stage villain" in the acting world. See Hollywood News - by John Chapman, Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY], Jun. 7, 1941, p. 10, cols. 1-2 ("During summer layoffs he and Joe Harris, a stage villain, lived in a shack on Chimney Sweeps").
Clearly Carey's application to have title to underwater lands surrounding the Chimney Sweeps was granted. Most subsequent references to the islets make reference to the underwater lands belonging with them. On May 17, 1900, Henry DeWitt Carey transferred title of the Chimney Sweeps to Ella J. Carey for one dollar.
Occasionally the Chimney Sweeps figured prominently in local events. For example, on July 3, 1913, a couple of young men escaped from a reformatory on Hart Island. They swam to the Chimney Sweeps and stole a rowboat there. They used the rowboat to escape to the mainland where searchers sought them unsuccessfully.
It appears that although Henry D. Carey and, later, Ella J. Carey, owned the Chimney Sweeps for many years in this period, they leased the islets to Charles Swan in 1914. Swan served, for many years, as a captain of a volunteer life saving corps on City Island.
Swan, it seems, had grand plans for the Chimney Sweeps. Shortly after he leased the islets, the New York Herald reported that he planned to "erect a hotel and boathouse there." More interestingly, the same report stated that he had arranged for the Melrose Gun Club to "have their shooting ground on the rock."
Within a matter of days or weeks, Swan purchased the Chimney Sweeps from the Carey estate for $4,500 in the spring of 1914. It is unclear, but he may have initially sought to lease the islets and, instead, bought them.
Swan's plans never came to fruition. Within less than a year, on February 25, 1915, Charles Swan sold the Chimney Sweeps to Franz Marquardt of 2249 Maclay Avenue in the Bronx. Franz Marquardt was an eccentric fellow of "exceptional proportions." He became rather famous, locally, for his ownership of the Chimney Sweeps. Though news reports typically misspelled both his first and last names, locals referred to him as "Baron Marquardt." According to one account:
"It was the baron's custom on Sundays to swim out to his islands and there rest, dream or read until nightfall, when he would swim back to the Bronx. Occasionally he towed across to his island possessions, either one of which was not much larger than the 'baron,' who was a man of exceptional proportions.
In 1926, it appears that Franz Marquardt sought to register his deed to the islets. A question arose over Marquardt's title to the Chimney Sweeps. Apparently, governmental authorities questioned whether the deed could be registered on the ground that the the islets were "an interference to navigation." Consequently, Marquardt filed a lawsuit to clear title to the islets. The action was heard by Justice Hatting of the Supreme Court of New York. Justice Hatting ruled that the islands were not an interference to navigation and that the earlier grant to Henry DeWitt Carey contingent upon the development of the land by a sea wall enclosure and by filling in land had been met. (See New York Law Journal, Oct. 6, 1926.)
Following the successful efforts to clear Marquardt's title to the Chimney Sweeps, ownership of the islets was transferred to the "Chimney Sweeps Corporation." Several "cottages" arose on the islets. It seems that ownership thereafter became a little more complicated. Nine "owners" cooperated and organized as "Chimney Sweeps Islands, Inc." While those nine owners may have enjoyed the Chimney Sweeps for a time, soon the feared Parks Commissioner Robert Moses turned his attention -- and desires -- toward the islets.
It turned out that for a number of years, Park Commissioner Robert Moses had been responsible for fireworks displays above the nearby, newly-opened Orchard Beach facilities. Consequently, he was paying $600 a year to rent "an old barge" from which fireworks were fired into the skies for beach goers. Moses looked at the Chimney Sweeps and saw an opportunity. He asked the Board of Estimate to appropriate $3,500 for the purchase of the islands and to start condemnation proceedings.
Moses, it seems, faced a fight. According to one account:
"Russell Smith, employed by a bank in this city, is the president of Chimney Sweeps. He and the other owners believe that they spent about $9,000 for the land and cottages. The only notice they ever received, they claim, was a letter from the real estate division of the Board of Estimate asking the owners to sell. A refusal was sent."
Research has not revealed precisely how the situation was resolved, but clearly Robert Moses won. For a time, the City Parks Department used the Chimney Sweeps as "a base from which to set off fireworks displays."
In 1939. the City of New York formally acquired the "Chimney Sweeps." No one lived there afterward.
Today, however, the Chimney Sweeps are home to many birds including gulls, skuas, and great blue herons. Part of Pelham Bay Park, the islets are true gems of Pelham.
* * * * *
"City Island. . . .
Andrew Horton is making quite an extensive alteration to his boat house on the Chimney Sweeps. . . ."
Source: City Island, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Feb. 28, 1890, Vol. XXI, No. 1276, p. 3, col. 3.
"CITY ISLAND. . . .
The advertised sale of the chimney sweeps will not take place on June 13th as previously stated but will be sold on June 27th, at same hour and place. . . ."
Source: CITY ISLAND, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], May 24, 1893, Vol. 2, No. 354, p. 1, col. 4.
"NOTICE OF APPLICATION FOR A GRANT OF LAND UNDER WATER. -- Take Notice, that the undersigned will file with the Commissioners of the Land Office, on the sixth day of June, 1895, an application for a grant of the lands under water hereinafter described, and by resolution of said Commissioners, any person deeming himself liable to injury by said grant, should file before said date with said Commissioners, at the Capitol in Albany, a remonstrance, stating his reasons for opposing said grant.
The land under water above mentioned is bounded and described as follows, to wit:
DESCRIPTION OF LAND UNDER WATER AROUND THE 'CHIMNEY SWEEPS.'
All that certain piece or parcel of land under the waters of Long Island Sound, in front of and adjacent to upland known as the 'Chimney Sweeps,' and owned by Henry D. Carey, situated off the north shore of City Island, in the town of Pelham, County of Westchester, and State of New York, described as follows: Beginning at a point in the waters of Long Island Sound, said point lying distant two hundred and sixty-six and forty-three one-hundredths feet, on a bearing of south, twenty-nine degrees twelve minutes and twenty seconds east, from an iron bolt set in the high water mark of the west shore of the before mentioned property owned by Henry D. Carey, and running thence north, seventy-eight degrees west, three hundred feet; thence north, twelve degrees east, four hundred feet; thence south, seventy-eight degrees east, six hundred and twenty-five feet; thence south, twelve degrees west, four hundred feet; and thence north seventy-eight degrees west, three hundred and twenty-five feet to the place of beginning, containing five and two hundred and nine one-thousandths acres of land under water, exclusive of all the upland contained in the above description, which is owned by Henry D. Carey and described as follows: Beginning at the before mentioned iron bolt, which is set in the high water mark, and running thence along the said high water mark the following courses and distances: North, forty-six degrees forty-eight minutes and thirty seconds west, forty-one and ninety-seven one hundredths feet; thence north, thirty-five degrees thirty-five minutes and thirty-seconds east, twenty-three and forty-nine hundredths feet; thence north, eighty-three degrees and twenty-one minutes east, eighty-seven and fourteen hundredths feet; thence south, forty-five degrees and thirty-six minutes east, thirty-eight and thirty-nine one hundredths feet; thence south, fourteen degrees twenty-two minutes and thirty-seconds west, thirty-three and four-tenths feet; thence south, eighty-nine degrees and thirty-four minutes east, seventy-nine and thirty-three one hundredths feet; thence south, six degrees forty-three minutes and thirty-seconds west, sixty and forty-four one-hundredths feet; thence south, fifty degrees thirty-six minutes and thirty seconds west, fifteen and eight-tenths feet; thence north, eighty-two degrees forty-five minutes and thirty-seconds west, hone hundred and eight and forty-one one hundredths feet; thence south, twenty-five degrees forty-nine minutes and thirty seconds west, thirty-one and ninety-five one hundredths feet; thence north sixty degrees and fifty-six minutes west, twenty-five and ninety-two one-hundredths feet; thence north, three degrees thirty-five minutes and thirty seconds west, seventy-four and sixty-two one hundredths feet to the place of beginning.
Excepting also all that certain piece or parcel of upland owned by said Henry D. Carey, and lying east of the above described piece of upland described as follows: Beginning at a point in the high water line of the parcel hereby described, and being distant one hundred and seventy-five and forty-six one hundredths feet on a bearing north, seventy-eight degrees fifty-two minutes and thirty-seconds east, from a cross cut in the rock on the above described parcel of upland, and running thence north, ten degrees thirty-seven minutes and thirty seconds west, fifty and sixteen one hundredths feet; thence north, forty degrees nineteen minutes east, twenty-four and sixteen one hundredths feet; thence north, eighty-eight degrees and eight minutes east, twenty-five and ninety-seven one-hundredths feet; thence south, forty-six degrees forty-one minutes and thirty seconds east, twelve and eighty-one one hundredths feet; thence south, twenty-five degrees and fifty-six minutes east, twenty-five and fifty-five one hundredths feet; thence south, fourteen degrees thirty-four minutes and thirty seconds east, ninety-seven and sixteen one hundredths feet; thence north eighty-five degrees and twenty-one minutes west, fifty-five feet; thence north, seven degrees and nine minutes west, twenty six and twenty-four one hundredths feet; thence north, thirty-six degrees twenty-eight minutes and thirty seconds east, twenty-one and six one hundredths feet; thence north, seventy-two degrees fifty-one minutes and thirty seconds west, thirty-three and nineteen one hundredths feet to the place of beginning.
The soundings, taken every fifty feet, on the whole exterior line of land under water, beginning at the point of beginning of the above description, are as follows:
Thirteen and a half feet, thirteen feet, thirteen feet, twelve and a half feet, thirteen feet, fourteen feet, fifteen feet, thirteen and a half feet, twelve feet, twelve feet, twelve feet, twelve and a half feet, thirteen feet, thirteen and a half feet, fourteen and a half feet, fourteen feet, thirteen feet, twelve feet, ten feet, seven feet, seven feet, nine feet, twelve feet, thirteen and a half feet, fourteen and a half feet, sixteen feet, eighteen feet, nineteen feet, eighteen feet, eighteen feet, eighteen feet, eighteen feet, eighteen feet, eighteen feet, eighteen feet, eighteen feet, seventeen and a half feet, fourteen feet, twelve feet, twelve feet, twelve and a half feet, and thirteen feet.
The mean rise and fall of tides is seven and a half feet.
The uplances of the undersigned applicant are islands in and surrounded by the waters of Long Island Sound, and said uplands are actually occupied by Jacob Gruse, applicant's tenant.
(b.) It is the intention of the undersigned to apply for an absolute title in fee simple to said lands under water.
(c.) It is the intention of the undersigned to appropriate the lands described to his beneficial enjoyment by filling in the same or enclosing same by a sea wall. -- Dated New York, April 18th, 1895.
HENRY D. CAREY,
Post-Office Address --
Westchester County, New York.
HENRY G. K. HEATH,
Attorney for Applicant,
Office and Post-Office Address --
No. 54 Wall Street,
New York City. 4w6"
Source: NOTICE OF APPLICATION FOR A GRANT OF LAND UNDER WATER, The Eastern State Journal [White Plains, NY], May 25, 1895, Vol. LI, No. 9, p. 4, cols. 6-7.
"CONVEYANCES. . . .
Lots 441, 442, 450, 452, 570 to 573, 622, and 623, map of the property of Elizabeth R. B. King, City Island; also Scofield Ave., s. s., 100 ft. w. of Main St., 100x108.3, City Island; also two islands known as the 'Chimney Sweeps,' off the n. shore of City Island, contain 530-1.000 acre, with land under water in front of and adjoining the land of Henry D. Carey on w. shore of City Island, contains 3 398-1.000 acres; Henry D. Carey to Ella J. Carey, q. c., May 17.....................1"
Source: The Evening Post Record of Real Estate Sales in Greater New York, p. 289 (NY, NY: The Evening Post, Jun. 5, 1900).
"TWO FLEE PRISON; SWIM TO FREEDOM
Get a Rowboat in 'Chimney Sweeps,' Reach Mainland and Escape.
Joseph De Parlo and Gustave Repetti escaped from the reformatory on Hart's Island, in Long Island Sound, yesterday by swimming to the 'Chimney Sweeps,' narrow ledges of rock off City Island.
Before an alarm had been sounded the youths had made their way to the mainland in a rowboat. Up to a late hour last night they were still at large.
Keepers first missed De Parlo and Repetti at the noon roll call. A keeper found footprints in the sand of one of the beaches, and the police in City Island were informed.
Soon afterward detectives learned the two young men had been seen paddling in an old rowboat toward Pelham Bay Park. It is thought the young convicts grounded the boat in the park and then easily found a hiding place.
Careful search of the swamps and brush in Pelham Bay Park was made yesterday and last night. There homes were watched last night. De Parlo lives in Coney Island, and his companion lives in No. 28 West Twenty-third street. A general alarm has been sent out from Police Headquarters."
Source: TWO FLEE PRISON; SWIM TO FREEDOM -- Get a Rowboat in 'Chimney Sweeps,' Reach Mainland and Escape, The New York Press, Jul. 4, 1913, Vol. XXVI, No. 9347, p. 1, col. 6.
"NEW SHOOTING GROUND.
Charles Swan, for many years captain of a volunteer life saving corps in City Island, has leased the large rock known as Chimney Sweeps, off City Island, and will erect a hotel and boathouse there. The Melrose Gun Club also will have their shooting ground on the rock. Chimney Sweeps comprises three and one-half acres [sic]. It was granted by Congress to Henry D. Carey fifty years ago. It is now owned by his son, Allen L. Carey. Mr. Swan will build a ten foot sea wall around the rock."
Source: NEW SHOOTING GROUND, New York Herald, Mar. 22, 1914, First Section, Part IV, p. 3, col. 6.
"CHIMNEY SWEEPS SOLD.
Charles Swan has purchased from the Carey estate Chimney Sweeps, an island near City Island, consisting of about five acres of rock. The price is reported at $4500."
Source: CHIMNEY SWEEPS SOLD, New York Herald, Apr. 13, 1914, p. 17, col. 6.
"TRANSACTIONS RECORDED. . . .
CHIMNEY SWEEPS, being two islands situate off n. shore City Island, containing 400 [-1.000] and 130-1000 acres; also land under water, L. I. Sound, in front of and adj above islands -- Chas Swan to Franz Marquardt, 2249 Maclay av. Feb. 25; attys. Froes & McE. 3639 3d av. . . $100"
Source: TRANSACTIONS RECORDED, The Sun [NY, NY], Mar. 2, 1915, p. 13, cols. 4-5.
"TITLE CHIMNEY SWEEPS DATES TO CHARLES II
'Baron' Marquard Purchased Specks on Sound for Resting Places When Swimming
Chimney Sweeps, two diminutive islands in the Sound off the north shore of City Island, have been admitted to title registration by Supreme Court Justice Hatting after examining the records of the islands back to the time of Charles II in 1666. It was held that the islands were not an interference to navigation and that the old grant was contingent upon the development of the land by a sea wall enclosure and by filling-in. (L.J., October 6, 1926.)
Several years ago, 'Baron' Hans Marquard of the Bronx, an authority on real estate and finance, purchased the islands from the State of New York for a summer retreat. It was the baron's custom on Sundays to swim out to his islands and there rest, dream or read until nightfall, when he would swim back to the Bronx. Occasionally he towed across to his island possessions, either one of which was not much larger than the 'baron,' who was a man of exceptional proportions. When the baron's titles to the islands were questioned he turned to the court an the Torrens law for relief. The islands are now held in the name of the Chimney Sweeps Corporation."
Source: TITLE CHIMNEY SWEEPS DATES TO CHARLES II -- "Baron" Marquard Purchased Specks on Sound for Resting Places When Swimming, The Nassau Daily Review, Nov. 3, 1926, p. 8, col. 5.
"CHIMNEY SWEEP ISLES
Moses Wants City to Buy the Land From Owners.
Whether the two rocky islands in the sound off City Island, which are known as the Chimney Sweeps, can be retained as a vacation place by their nine owners, organized as Chimney Sweeps Islands, Inc., will be decided by the City Planning Commission. The islands comprise about four acres at low tide and much less at flood tide. There are several cottages on them.
Park Commissioner Moses, who has been paying $600 a year for the rent of an old barge on which fireworks are displayed for the visitors at Orchard Beach, decided that the islands would be a better place. He asked the Board of Estimate to appropriate $3,500 for the purchase of the islands and to start condemnation proceedings.
Russell Smith, employed by a bank in this city, is the president of Chimney Sweeps. He and the other owners believe that they spent about $9,000 for the land and cottages. The only notice they ever received, they claim, was a letter from the real estate division of the Board of Estimate asking the owners to sell. A refusal was sent."
Source: CHIMNEY SWEEP ISLES -- Moses Wants City to Buy the Land From Owners, The Sun [NY, NY], Jan. 18, 1939, Vol. CVI, No. 116, 7th Ed., p. 1, col. 6.
"'Chimney Sweeps' Islets Famous More for Wrecks than Populace
In the vicinity of the Blazes we discussed last week are two other tiny islands grouped under the title of 'the Chimney Sweeps.' These rocky islets have been the scene of marine wrecks since Revolutionary times, and modern-day boatsmen do well to avoid them. They were originally included in Thomas Pell's purchase from the Indians, and in later times, were owned by the Delancey and Hunter families.
In 1896 Henry D. Carey of City Island was their owner, and in 1914 his widow sold them to a Charles Swan. In 1915, Franz Marquardt bought them and their acreage was duly listed in official files: 383/1000 Acres and 147/1000 Acres.
Three families erected bungalows out there for summer use, and had to transport drinking water, fuel, food and furniture to the bleak rocks. Even a piano, believe it or not! The campers built narrow boardwalks over and around the rocks to make their footing more secure, and made themselves comfortable as possible.
For a time, the Parks Department used the island as a base from which to set off fireworks displays. In 1939, the City formally acquired 'the Chimney Sweeps' and no one has lived there since.
No one knows with certainty how the name was acquired. One belief is that chimney sweeps used to tie two stones together and lower them down chimneys to loosen the soot. The two rocky islands, once joined by a sandbar, might have resembled this stock-in-trade of a chimney sweep and so acquired the name. But, lest the reader take this as Gospel truth -- this is only a theory!"
Source: McNamara, John, The Bronx In History: 'Chimney Sweeps' Islets Famous More for Wrecks than Populace, Bronx Press Review, Jul. 11, 1963 (copy provided courtesy of Jorge Santiago of the East Bronx History Forum).
"High Island lies north of City Island, and in the vicinity of these larger islands are several rocky islets called Rat Island, the Chimney Sweeps, and the Blauzes. Bolton says that this section was formerly the resort of immense numbers of wild ducks, as many as one thousand being shot in six hours."
Source: Jenkins, Stephen, The Story of the Bronx from the Purchase Made by the Dutch from the Indians in 1639 to the Present Day, p. 20 (NY, NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1912).
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