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, January 08, 2018

Remnants of the Ten-Story Mountain of Garbage That Looms Over Pelham Bridge

"A million years had gone into the making of that rich miracle
of soil and water, and a million years would not undo the
damage if we were to act unwisely now."

Words of New York City Parks Commissioner August Heckscher
in 1967 to then New York City Mayor John Lindsay in an Appeal
to End Plans to Expand Garbage Dump Destroying Pelham Bay Park.

Each day many Pelhamites drive along Shore Road into Pelham Bay Park and across Pelham Bridge.  Just southeast of the bridge is a high terraced hill that looks entirely out of place in the midst of all the low-lying countryside at the edge of Eastchester Bay and Long Island Sound.

It IS out of place.  Though it has settled and been somewhat reduced in size, it is the remnants of a ten-story high mountain of New York City garbage dumped there in the midst of Pelham Bay Park during the 1960s.  Now known, euphemistically, as the "Bronx-Pelham Landfill" site, the garbage was piled on what once was Tallapoosa Point -- one of the most scenic, historic, and popular recreational areas from which to view the gorgeous vista that stretched from Pelham Bridge across Eastchester Bay toward City Island and beyond.  The mountain of garbage there now is evidence of the greatest environmental crime ever committed against Pelham and the surrounding region.

Google Maps Satellite Image Showing Location of
Bronx-Pelham Landfill" Towering Above Pelham Bridge.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Tallapoosa Point once was an island in the lower waters of what is known today as Eastchester Bay.  Landfill was used to connect the island to the mainland at some point during colonial times.  Thereafter, and throughout the 19th century, the point was a very popular recreational area and fishing spot.

In about 1879, a New York City poltical group known as the "Tallapoosa Club" leased the point and used the Lorillard Mansion there as a summer clubhouse and activity center.  As one would suspect, the point thereafter took its name from the club, being known as Tallapoosa Point.  The club, in turn, took its name from the City of Tallapoosa in Haralson County, Georgia where some of the club founders reportedly had fought a battle during the Civil War.  In more recent years, the area came to be known as "Tallapoosa East."  The adjacent region of Pelham Bay Park to the west of Tallapoosa East became known, in turn, as Tallapoosa West.  See, generally Pons, Lois, Pelham Bay Park:  Creating the Santuaries, p. 9 (NY, NY:  Administrator's Office, Van Cortlandt & Pelham Bay Parks, City of New York Parks & Recreation, Oct. 11, 1987) (Booklet published to commemorate 20th anniversary of the designation of the Thomas Pell Wildlife Sanctuary and the Hunter Island Marine Zoology and Geology Sanctuary).

The Tallapoosa Club used the Lorillard Mansion as its summer clubhouse until 1895.  At some point thereafter, the mansion became the "Tallapoosa Inn," a hotel and restaurant.  The Tallapoosa Inn became a recreational destination of its own.  For many years it hosted functions for countless organizations including many from Pelham.

Employees of the Tallapoosa Inn in an Undated Photograph
Taken from a Cracked Negative.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

A beach with permanent beach changing rooms was constructed on Eastchester Bay at Tallapoosa Point.  It was a heavily-used recreational beach until the 1930s.

Beachgoers at Tallapoosa Point on Eastchester Bay in an Undated
Photograph.  Source:  Pons, Lois, Pelham Bay Park:  Creating the
Santuaries, p. 10 (NY, NY:  Administrator's Office, Van Cortlandt &
Pelham Bay Parks, City of New York Parks & Recreation, Oct. 11,
1987) (Booklet published to commemorate 20th anniversary of the
designation of the Thomas Pell Wildlife Sanctuary and the Hunter Island
Marine Zoology and Geology Sanctuary).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

During the early 1960s, New York City was struggling with how to dispose of many, many thousands of tons of garbage.  According to a publication released by the Van Cortlandt & Pelham Bay Parks Administrator's Office in 1987, "Precisely when the City's departments of Sanitation and Parks chose Pelham Bay Park as a site for a sanitary landfill is not clear.  A preparation plan for filling an 80-acre area with garbage was submitted to the City Board of Estimate in December 1961, during the administration of Mayor Robert F. Wagner.  Work on this fill started in 1964, during the administration of Mayor Robert F. Wagner.  Work on this fill started in 1964 in the eastern part of the park known as Tallapoosa Point."  

As garbage first was dumped on Tallapoosa Point, City Island residents who lived directly across the water from the Point were horrified and outraged.  According to one account:

"Virginia Gallagher, a civic-minded and active resident of City Island recalled during a recent interview the time this landfill operation got under way.

She said that although area residents fought this operation, the battle was hampered by the suddenness of the plan's implementation and by the fact that community input on such projects was limited.

'The Sanitation Department simply started a landfill there,' she said.  'City Island was in the direct line of the odor.  We'd have to close our doors and light cigarettes to get rid of the smell.'

'It was heartbreaking,' she added.  'There was no community planning boards yet.  Once the City decided to do it, it was an accomplished fact.'

Incineration was starting to come under attack as a means of refuse disposal during this time.  By 1966, air pollution was a topic of deep concern within the City.  Weather balloons and new types of meters were put into use to measure the cleanliness of the of the air people were breathing, a Public Health Service survey found the City's air the most polluted in the nation and photographs of Manhattan's skyline during a Thanksgiving smog emergency served to shock many.

It was in April of 1966 that a far-reaching clean-air bill was introduced in the City Council.  Among the provisions in the bill, which was signed into law on May 20, was one saying that owners of apartment buildings with at least seven stories must modify their incinerators within one year.  

This bill led to Sanitation Department predictions for a refuse-disposal crisis and calls for additional landfill areas.  Soon, it was clear that Pelham Bay Park's wetlands were among the areas the Sanitation agency's leaders had in mind for new landfill sites."

Source:  Id., pp. 9-10.

In short, although New York City already was building a mountain of garbage overlooking Eastchester Bay and Pelham Bridge on an eighty-acre site within magnificent Pelham Bay Park, the City was looking to expand the garbage heap by appropriating more than three times the garbage dump acreage of additional park property in the Tallapoosa West area to dump even more refuse!  This time, City Islanders mobilized for an incredible fight.  According to the same publication quoted above:

"This time around, Virginia Gallagher was in a better position for a fight.  She was now chairperson of the since-instituted Community Planning Board 10, and had knowledge of the plan long before it was to be implemented.

It was in November of 1966 that Gallagher received a call from Vincent Starace, a former Bronx Deputy Borough President who wsa settling into a job as an Assistant Commissioner of Sanitation.

'That was when I found out about the plan,' she said, 'when Starace called me and said, 'Are you aware there's a plan at the Sanitation Department to create 300 acres of landfill in Pelham Bay Park?'

Thus began one of the most impressive fights by a community in the City's history.  'I was outraged,' said Gallagher.  'I wrote to everyone.  There was no avenue I didn't appeal to.'

Gallagher's initial actions launched a campaign that accomplished what Mario Merola during a recent interview cited as a textbook example of how a community can fight City Hall.

Source:  Id., p. 10.

That campaign centered around the involvement of the Bronx Historian, Dr. Theodore Kazimiroff who "spearheaded" the fight against the landfill.  The fight began in 1967 as Sanitation Department plans to expand the garbage dump moved along quickly.  The Sanitation Department planned a two-phase expansion expected to begin in the autumn of that year:  "The Split Rock II operation, which was to be sited east of the Hutchinson River near the Pelham Bridge, would take place from then until the end of 1973 . . . and the Split Rock III project, in the remote northwest corner of the park [would] complete the cycle by mid-1977."  

Kazimiroff mobilized additional support from the academic and scientific community including the New York Botanical Garden Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Zoological Society, the New York Aquarium, Fordham University, Columbia University, New York University, Manhattan College, Mount St. Vincent College, Hunter College, Queens College, Brooklyn College, and the City College of New York.  
By late May, even the United States Secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall, was involved.  The Interior Secretary sent a telegram to New York City John Lindsay stating "I am deeply disturbed over the decision to use the Pelham Bay Park site for the disposal of solid wastes . . . I urge your careful consideration of the destruction of this area and ask you to fully weigh its immeasurable values.  It should be preserved."

Only days later, Mayor Lindsay informed appropriate officials that "the plan for filling in more than 400 acres in the park would not be implemented."  On June 2, 1967, the forces opposing expansion of the dump put out a press release declaring victory.  In a move intended to strengthen protections against future expansions of the dump, on September 24, 1967 the Parks and Thoroughfares Committee of the City Council approved local laws 101 and 102 creating the Thomas Pell Wildlife Sanctuary and the Hunter Island Marine Zoology and Geology Sanctuary.  Mayor Lindsay signed it all into law on October 11, 1967.

Yet, the Sanitation Department continued to dump on the original site, growing the mountain of garbage overlooking Pelham Bridge daily.  Additionally, during the summer of 1967 the Lindsay administration moved away from the Split Rock II and Split Rock III proposals.  Instead, it tried to create a small new garbage dump across the road from the Tallapoosa East dump in a small section of Tallapoosa West.  Once again, activists fought and won.  The plans were abandoned.

In May 1968, the landfill permit was revoked.  The giant garbage heap continued to exist for many years until finally being covered and landscaped to create the giant hill on what once was Tallapoosa Point.  There was, however, an odd proposal to convert the garbage mountain into a ski slope during the 1970s.  That proposal went nowhere.

Today Tallapoosa Point has been replanted and serves as a bird habitat.  Yet, the eyesore of an out-of-place hill at water's edge can still be seen for miles around.

Remnants of Garbage Mountain Seen From Pelham Bridge on Shore
Road (Center in Distance).  Source:  Google Maps.  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

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