Hoffman Island 1896

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Building an island is no mean task. For two years and more pilots and boatmen of New York bay have watched with interest the work of extending Hoffman island to nearly four times its original size over the surface of the lower bay. From the Fort Hamilton or the Staten Island shore the apparently small extension that is visible gives no idea of the magnitude of the work. Mountains of sand, earth and stone have been used and the undertaking is by no means completed yet. Hoffman island is an artificial piece of land.

It is the upper of the two quarantine islands in the lower bay and was built or at least commenced in 1868 and completed in 1872. Its purpose was for the isolation of emigrants, who had been exposed to dangerous epidemics. The brick dormitories erected then were allowed to become dilapidated and when the cholera scare in 1893 came, they were found to be practically useless. The quarantine commissioners were in a quandary, and the state was compelled to purchase Fire Island to accommodate the passengers from infected ports. This incident not only impressed the commissioners with the necessity for increased and more adequate quarantine stations, but also the legislature, which finally took steps to provide the means of starting the work of enlarging Hoffman Island. Again last year provisions were made to complete the project.

The old island had an area of 2.59x100 acres. The new part extends 150 feet to the eastward and 600 feet southward, so that the total area, or the old and new portions, will aggregate 9.92x100 acres, and this does not include the rip-rap, the mass of stone that will surround the island to prevent any part of it from washing away. These stones are on the outside of the crib work and stone wall that circles the island proper. The crib work is being constructed of 12x12 inch longitudinal timbers and 10x12 inch cross ties, all squared and laid close, and will have a top surface of 12 feet. This crib will not extend above the elevation of mean low water, and on it will be placed the masonry wall, 15 feet high and 4 feet wide at the top. The stone wall will have a vertical back, with a front batter of two to twelve inches; the top elevation to be the same as the top elevation of the old island and it will be covered with cut stone coping, 4 feet wide and 12 inches thick. The sand from the shoals about the island is the material being used for filling. It is pumped in by large and powerful dredges. The erection of commodious and approved dormitories will follow when the island is ready to receive them.

The quarantine station that protects New York is now the most complete and efficient in the world, but it did not attain that distinction without many trials and tribulations. Its career has been a checkered one and dates back as early as 1647, when the first precautions were taken to prevent dangerous diseases form entering this port. In 1716 all vessels from the West Indies were detained at Staten Island, but it was not until 1756 that the first station was established. The provincial government then enacted laws that converted Bedloe's Island to that purpose. One of the first measures of the state legislature in 1784 was the re-enactment of this law. Ten years later the station was moved to Governor's Island, but this action was disapproved of most strenuously by the residents of New York city, who objected to the close proximity of the pest to their homes. The protests were finally heeded and this century was only one year old when the station was again transferred, this time to Tompkinsville, S.I., where it remained for more than sixty years.

In the course of time, as Staten island became more closely populated, the residents made serious objections to the continuance of the station, and in 1857 the legislature ordered the selection of a new site. Sandy night, applied the torch and all that remained of the establishment in the morning were a few smoking embers. The people of Tompkinsville saw how effectively their neighbors rid themselves of a nuisance and adopted the same measures to do away with an unclean neighbor that had been annoying them for over half a century. Richmond county had to pay rather heavily for these nocturnal raids, but the results justified the acts and the state government gave up the attempt to establish the quarantine in that neighborhood. In 1850 a committee, including Horatio Seymour, John C. Green and Governor Patterson, adopted the idea of a floating hospital and the old steamship Falcon entered upon the duty, with a mooring below the Narrows. The feasibility of building artificial islands on the sand bar of the west bank in the lower bay had long been discussed and in 1866 the work of making Swinburne island was commenced and four years later it was completed. The island now contains rows of hospitals, a crematory and other buildings.

It is proposed to make many needed repairs to Swinburne island. The present elevation is too low and during severe storms is frequently submerged. The action of the waves has undermined the rip-rap embankment and it was this that caused the depression, so much so as to endanger the safety of the island. It is proposed to reinforce the island by means of rip-rap work and stone coping, which will be carried two feet higher than the present top surface. The entire outer edge is to be coped with granite or lime stone, forming a stone parapet two feet high and two feet wide. In front of this parapet the old rip-rap will be strengthened by additional rip-rap which will be carried up to an elevation one foot below the top of the stone coping. It will be twelve feet wide on top and have a face slope of one and one-half horizontal, to one foot vertical. The top surface on this twelve foot width will be leveled off and covered with a twelve inch layer of broken stone or coarse sea gravel. When complete this will not only add to the safety and appearance of the island, but will also render available, around the entire island, an additional space, twelve feet wide, and will so increase the area considerably.


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Hoffman Island 1896
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The Brooklyn Eagle November 29, 1896
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