|Friday, June 13, 1997 :: History :: 15523 Views ::
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The origins of Howard Beach can be traced to three key 19th century ingredients that converged in 1897
1. The attractiveness of Hawtree Creek and its environs.
2. Construction of the Long Island Railroad line across the creek and Jamaica Bay to Rockaway.
3. The arrival of William J. Howard, the founder and namesake of Howard Beach.
Hawtree Creek had meandered north-northeasterly for centuries before the first fishermen's squatter shacks were built upon its banks in the years after the Civil War. These haphazard structures were designed to protect the old salts from the elements and gave way in the 1880s to more permanent homes built atop pilings driven into the mud bank of the creek.
Both sides of Hawtree Creek slowly developed rows of stilt homes connected by wooden boardwalks. The west and east sides of the creek each had a road nearby leading north away from the bay and marshes. The old dirt trail known as the Road to Remsen Landing wound its way to the creek from Aqueduct, on the east side of the creek, Hawtree Creek Road led from Jamaica Bay northeasterly to Jamaica Village.
Hawtree Creek and Jamaica Bay were ideal in the late 19th century for fishing, clamming, boating, swimming and the fine salt air and lack of congestion that plagued the big city. What began as getaway shacks for fishermen slowly evolved into the community of Ramblersville. By the 1890s it was known as "Little Venice, " a summer and weekend resort community which by then had year-round residences.
The construction of the Long Island Rail Road line to Rockaway Beach dissected the budding community on Hawtree Creek. The rail line went due south over the creek, the community beginning east of the railroad would adopt the name South Aqueduct, while a smaller settlement east of the rail line and on the edge of the bay would be known as East Hamilton Beach.
Ramblersville would be the name adopted by folks who lived along Hawtree Creek west of the railroad. A 1,913 New York Herald article relates a stranger's visit to the town in the 1890s, during which he exclaimed, "this is the greatest place for a ramble that I ever struck!" The name stuck and was appropriate for the sleepy fishing village on stilts all connected by a wooden boardwalk.
To the west of the railroad and between Ramblersville and Jamaica Bay with Hawtree Creek to its north and west was the handful of houses that would become West Hamilton Beach. Just as the early stilt homes along the creek were threatened by the rise and fall of the tides and the freezing and thawing of the salt water in winter, so too was West Hamilton Beach exposed to the elements. When first settled the land was a marsh that needed to be filled and raised above the tidal line to support a year-round community. The land west of the creek was a marsh.
The arrival of William J. Howard with his purchase of 37 acres of marsh west of Hawtree Creek in 1897 brought all these elements together Howard would provide the impetus to fill and develop his land and create the town of Howard Beach, into which Ramblersville, South Aqueduct, East Hamilton Beach and West Hamilton Beach would later be absorbed.
To this day, however, the folks of Ramblersville and West Hamilton maintain their towns individual names and identities, having never formally recognized being annexed into greater Howard Beach.