|Friday, June 13, 1997 :: History :: 20206 Views ::
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When William Howard arrived to view the 37 acres of tidal marsh he purchased in 1897 the local residents in Ramblersville could not suppress a chuckle. What could Howard possibly want with so many acres of marsh ? Howard's land extended westerly from the banks of Hawtree Creek on both sides of the railroad. The creek at that time extended almost to the Old South Road and its west bank flooded twice daily upon the rise of the tides. Howard at first was likely viewed as an eccentric; few could envision the transformation of the marsh into a community with streets, sidewalks and houses.
The absorption of the outer counties into the City of New York paved the way for Howard's planned development. Kings and Queens counties had hundreds of miles of waterfront acreage just waiting to he filled, paved over and built upon. Bill Howard was one of the first realtors to recognize this possibility and appeared on the scene at just the right time to take advantage of it.
Ramblersville only had ten year-round residents at this time, one of whom was Mayor Blace Brown, who already had built his home on Broadway in Ramblersville. The "Little Venice" built on stilts increased its population by tenfold on weekends and a hundredfold in summers as folks flocked in from the city to enjoy the salt air swimming, fishing and boating. Scores of homes had been built in the 1890s along the banks of Hawtree Creek. No longer fishermen's squatter shacks, these were homes being built, intended to last many years and designed for year-round use.
There were no streets or roads in 1890s Ramblersville; the homes were all connected by a wooden boardwalk built above the marsh. The boardwalk known as Broadway became the main street, but was negotiable at low tide due to the rising waters. Broadway often flooded over at high tide. The lack of roads only served to keep the community remote and secure, just the way the residents liked it. Bill Howard was viewed with a skeptical eye at first by the folks in Ramblersville and the two new towns just beginning on the east side of the railroad-South Aqueduct and East Hamilton Beach. While these three sites were progressing, developing and populating, along comes Howard to buy up the unwanted swampy marsh on the west side of the creek.
In 1899 the Long Island Rail Road added a stop at Ramblersville. There was no station; the train simply stopped at Russell Street and the passengers disembarked. If the tide was high they stepped from the train into afoot of sea water A short walk led them to the connecting boardwalk called Broadway, from which they could walk to any location in town.
The railroad at this time also handled freight as well as passengers. It surprised the folks in Ramblersville when Howard imported ten carloads of Angora goats. The goats were off-loaded and led to Howard's marsh where a sod wall was built as a goat-pen. This must have been a sight to see; dozens of goats grazing on the barren marsh with only the sod to keep them corralled. A good storm would take out the sod wall and the goats, but Howard could not be deterred. Bill Howard's plan was to breed the goats for leather which could be turned into goods-gloves, footballs, wallets, coats by his brother's firm, Howard & McDermott.