|Friday, June 13, 1997 :: History :: 10648 Views ::
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William Howard's dream had finally been realized. Folks who earlier had laughed when Howard's goats were drowned now looked upon him with respect and a certain degree of awe. Within a decade he had transformed his swampy marsh west of Hawtree Creek into a major resort and vacation site. The folks at Ramblersville grudgingly accepted Howard despite an inbred reluctance toward outsiders.
The Ramblers were sympathetic after seeing Howard's 2000-foot pier, similar to their entire town, built on pilings above the creek and marsh. This was the heyday of south shore resorts and parks in Brooklyn and Queens; Coney Island and the Rockaways were booming and Howard brought a piece of that merriment to Jamaica Bay's north shore.
Inside the hotel were conveniences contemporary to the new century. The hotel was lit by electricity from Howard's power plant. The lobby seemed rustic, with a piano awaiting a player against the far wall. A turning staircase led upstairs. The dining room held about six tables each seating 8-10, light coming from an overhead chandelier
A recreation room has another piano, plus a guitar, banjo, and other instruments. The bedrooms, had four windows looking out over Jamaica Bay. Billiards can be enjoyed in another rec room. The Comfort Club housed more recreational activities in a separate building. And an enclosed wading tank was in yet another structure at lands end of the great pier.
Howard's Hotel was a big hit in its day. Crowds flocked to it in summer Bill Howard's five children were all between the ages of 10 and 20 while the hotel was open and all enjoyed the boating and swimming at their Uncle's resort.
Howard's luck seemed to improve considerably since the goat fiasco, but another tragedy was about to strike. A portent of things to come occurred in May, 1906, at the height Of Hotel Howard's success: hotel visitors were shocked to look across the bay one day to see a great fire raging on Barren Island (now Floyd Bennett Field). The Digester Building was a raging inferno. The island was the last stop for New York's deceased animals, especially its horses. The fire was visible all day from across the bay; total damages exceeded 1.5 million dollars, a big number in the year 1906.
Fire was a chilling thought along Hawtree Creek at the time. The nearest fire company was in Ozone Park and the local volunteers would be hard-pressed to deal with a similar conflagration in their area, a wooden, roadless community; they would be tested the following year. Bill Howard's luck again slid downhill early in 1907. He was hit hard by the financial panic and stock crash of March 13,1907. He blamed his heavy losses on his broker, who he termed, "a crook. " In another seven months Howard would suffer another, even larger blow, when his beautiful hotel and 2000-foot pier would bum to the waterline and collapse into Jamaica Bay.