This was the first time I had been to City Island since 2008 when I visited the island for research for my third book “Dinner at Midnight” in which one of the main characters is a witch that moves to City Island. I had walked every street on the island trying to get a feel for what it might be like to live on the island and what the character may experience. There is a very important scene in the book where her boss comes to the island to search for her and notes to close proximity to Hart Island, New York City’s ‘Potters Field’.
He comes searching for the truth about his unusual employee and finds out too much. I will just leave this as a spoiler as I have not…
The Blackwell House on Roosevelt Island finally opened for tours after a major renovation of the house. When I had visited Roosevelt Island the last time in 2017, the house was corded off and was not open for touring. It had looked like it was falling apart from the inside out.
The home has now gone through a major renovation. The grounds outside were beautifully landscaped and gave the house a very warm and welcoming entrance to the property. In the middle of the summer, the flowers and trees were all in bloom and it was a nice view from the street. The house is conveniently located in the middle of the island, so it is not far from the tram and the subway.
I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the tour of the house what there was of it. The house had gone through a renovation but not a historic restoration, so the house is not a period piece with historic displays of furniture and art objects. It was like touring a modern home. I felt like I was walking through a 1980’s McMansion.
When you enter the front hall, there is a reproduction of a portrait of Captain Blackwell, who was a Captain in the Revolutionary War. The house was built in 1796 for James Blackwell and added to in 1804, when the family fortunes had improved after the war.
The island had been ‘patented’ to Captain John Manning by British Governor Nicolls in 1668. Before the Dutch had arrived, the island had been used by the Native Americans for hunting and fishing. The island had been inherited by the captain’s stepdaughter, Mary Manningham Blackwell and her husband, Jacob Blackwell, thus named Blackwell’s Island, upon his death. The island passed to her children, James and Jacob. The island was sold to the City of New York in 1823 (Roosevelt Island history).
All around the first floor, which is the only floor you can visit, there are all sorts of reproductions of historical maps and pictures of the island. The tour guide who had lived on the island his whole life, told me that the house had always been in disrepair and the local kids had thought it was haunted.
Now you can walk the grounds around the house and admire the beauty of the home from the outside. The only thing historical that I saw inside is when the tour guide opened the door to the cellar and showed me the stones that made up the foundation of the home. They had been quarried locally and still had the look of that time period.
The home is nice for a quick tour but do not expect much from the history side of the house.
The Brinckerhoff House Historical Site was built in three different time periods with the oldest part of the house to the right, the main part of the house was built second and the Sun Room and porch to the left was built last. The house opens up in all parts but you can see the distinct different in the style of the design.
The entrance of the original homestead
The entrance of the Homestead has the schoolhouse and icehouse to the left of the entrance and the blacksmith shop and the carriage house to the right. The Blacksmith shop has a real blacksmith on duty working when the house is open for tours.
The original section of the house in the “Everything Room” where cooking, dining and socializing took place for the first generation of the family. This is the original part of the home that was built around 1755 by John G. Brinckerhoff and his bride, Marie Terboss for their family. There was a single upper room for the family as well. The main room is where all the cooking, eating, socializing and work was done by the family.
The original Brinckerhoff Kitchen in the first section of the home
When their family grew, the moved out and John’s brother, George G. and his wife, Elizabeth Wilcox moved into the house. After the Revolutionary War was over (both brothers were captains in the local militia), George G. added the main addition to the house with four additional rooms in the eastern wing of the house.
The addition showed the affluence of the family in that they could have separate rooms for socializing and higher ceilings meaning that they could heat the house properly.
The formal Dining Room in the Victorian times set for entertaining. A hot chocolate service is on the table which was a luxury at the time.
The formal Living Room is where socializing and work was done. Spinning and needlepoint as well as dressmaking where done by the ladies here.
The Living Room at the Brinckerhoff House
In the main hallway of the addition to the home services as a display area for all sorts of artifacts that deal with the different time periods of the home. These items are from the Revolutionary War.
Display cases in the main hall
The family remained in the house until the death of George G. in 1812 when his brother moved back in and then it was sold to Thorn Purdy in 1814. The Purdy family added the west wing of the house in 1830 that houses a small summer kitchen with a fireplace, crane and small brick oven.
The house was donated to the East Fishkill Historical Society by developer Gustav Fink in 1974 along with three acres when he could not sell it for redevelopment.
History of the Brinckerhoff-Pudney-Palen House:
(From Museum Pamphlet)
Around 1755, John G. Brinckerhoff and his bride, Marie Terboss purchased the land that the home sits on today. The original structure consisted of one room that included a kitchen with a large fireplace and beehive oven and a single upper room.
When their family their family grew, the house and farmed were conveyed to John. G.’s brother, George G. Brinckerhoff and his wife, Elizabeth Wilcox. In 1755, John G. and George G. were given commissions as Lieutenants in the Dutchess County Militia. Both men were promoted to Captain and were active with the Committee of Safety of the Rombout Precinct.
After the war in 1785, George G. built a four-room addition to the original east wing of the house. This is the largest section of the house and contains a spacious center hall, graced by elegant architectural features. The small paned windows, enclosed staircases, Dutch doors and wrought iron “HI” hinges were characteristics of the 18th century. A small shed was added around the same time.
When Captain George G. Brinckerhoff died in 1812, Captain John G. Brinckerhoff took possession of the farm again and in 1814 sold it to Thorn Pudney who christened it “ARCADIA”. The Pudney family would remain at “ARCADIA” for the next 60 years. In 1830, the family added the western wing of the house featuring a small summer kitchen complete with a fireplace, crane and a brick oven with an iron door cast at Fishkill Landing. It also contains an indoor stone cistern in the basement to collect rainwater for cooking, washing and drinking.
In 1875, Edward Palen purchased “ARCADIA” from Thorn Pudney’s son Jacob and changed the character of the farm by focusing on dairy production. It was very convenient to ship their milk to marker in New York City via the rail line two miles away at Hopewell Junction.
Edward Palen’s son, James H. would eventually take over the farm. The Palen farm produced their own lumber from the trees grown on the farm. As James Palen’s health began to fail, the farm was sold to Banton Moore in 1926, who rented it to Gene Satterlee. Gene continued dairy farming for many years until a fire burned the cow barn in 1970.
The house and the farm were sold one last time in 1974 to local developer Gustav Fink, who after many unsuccessful attempts to sell the house to be restored gave the house and three acres to the East Fishkill Historical Society. At this time, the old farmhouse was in a poor state of repair.
The Brinckerhoff Historical Sites Schoolhouse and Icehouse on the estate
Through the continuing efforts of the East Fishkill Historical Society’s members and many years of fundraising and restoration, the Brinckerhoff-Pudney-Palen House has once again been resurrected to its original condition and stands as a fine example of an original Hudson River Valley Dutch farmhouse.
On the grounds are also the 1870 Icehouse, the 1826 Schoolhouse, the 1880 John Hyatt Blacksmith Shop and the 1845 Carriage Barn from the Van Wyck family.
The 1880 John Hyatt Blacksmith Shop
The Van Wyck Carriage Barn from 1845
The entrance to the Brinckerhoff home with the Schoolhouse from 1826 to the left and the Blacksmith Shop to the right and the main homestead of the estate.
The City Island Nautical Museum at 190 Fordham Street
The City Island Nautical Museum
I recently took a trip to City Island, a small community just off the coast off the mainland of The Bronx (which is part of The Bronx) to visit the City Island Nautical Museum. This tiny museum located in the heart of the island is noted for its collection of ship building artifacts and items that are native to a community that once built the vessels for the America’s Cup.
City Island has a rich history in ship building, sail making and fishing it is reflected in the collection of materials in the museum and its archives. The museum really details the growth and history of the boating industry on the island and its importance in the local economy. What I found interesting was the rich history of the creation of the sailing ships for the America’s Cup tournament and how all the winning boats up until the 1980’s were built on the island and the one that lost the cup for us against Australia was the first one not built on the island.
Even Ted Turner’s boat “Courageous” was built on the island. There was a picture of the reunion of the boat winning twice at the museum with the crew’s signatures (The tour guide even said how he ‘freaked out’ members of the New York Yacht Club who did not consider him one of their own). All the sailing vessels lined the walls of the hallway of the museum.
Each room of the museum was dedicated to a different theme. When I toured the Community Room in the back of the museum, it held the records of a lot of old businesses of City Island with pictures and items that were once part of the businesses. There was a small FDNY display, a small WWII display about local residents who fought in the war, wedding garments, maps of the island and a small display of arrowheads.
In the School Room, the concentration was on PS 17, which the museum is now housed in and its history with all the classroom group shot pictures, graduation pictures and a small classroom set up. There were more records and event items of the current PS 175, which is the K-8 school that the residents attend. There were also records and pictures of St. Mary, Star of the Sea School, the former Catholic school that used to be on the island as well.
The Nautical Room needed an overall as there was too much going on in the room with pictures all over the walls, equipment for navigation and for fishing and records of the ship building companies that used to dot the island. There were boats in various shapes and sizes on display and the companies that built them like Wood Yacht, Nevins Yacht and Minneford Yacht. There was also the history of shipbuilding and sail making on the island. The tour guide told me there were no more ship builders on the island, but one sail maker left.
The Library where all the research is done on the island and on the families and businesses that were once here was dominated by yachting pictures and nautical photography. It held all the City Island records and even the ship building plans.
The museum has a lot to see but it needs to be a bit more organized to really showcase the collections properly. Still, it is one of the best museums I have seen with a nautical history theme. The best part is that you can see the whole museum in about an hour and this leaves you time to tour the island and see how the museum better explains why the island is the way it is right now.
The History and set up of the City Island Nautical Museum:
(From the Museum pamphlet)
History of the Museum:
(From the Museum Pamphlet)
The City Island Nautical Museum is located in one of the island’s most picturesque and historic buildings, the former Public School 17, built in 1897 on one of the highest points on the island. When the residents of City Island voted in 1895 to separate from the town of Pelham in Westchester County and to become part of New York City, the City administration built the school, which continued in use until 1975. When the building was sold in 1986, the City reserved space for use by the City Island Historical Society and the Community Center and several old classrooms now serve as galleries for the museum.
The Main Hall and Gallery:
The Main Hall is lined with photographic essays featuring maps, the America’s Cup, City Island’s most beautiful boats, the City Island Bridges and historic buildings as well as a history timeline, models of a minesweeper and several rum runners, built during Prohibition and a handsome wooden kayak built in the 1930’s. The foyer contains the museum’s gift shop, featuring articles for sale such as books, t-shirts, photographs, postcards and nautical gifts and the desk where the docents greet visitors.
The Gallery features display cases with antique shipbuilding and sailmaking tools and the walls are covered with photographs of yachts built or serviced here and portraits of legendary City Islanders who contributed so much to the life and work on the island.
The Walsh Library:
The recently refurbished library features a collection of books devoted to maritime history and many binders and scrapbooks featuring newspaper clippings, postcards and articles about City Island, Pelham Bay Park and Hart Island. There is an extensive selection of nautical magazines, including Yachting, Rudder, Wooden Boat and Classic Yacht, a data base of all boats built on City Island since 1848 and an impressive display of ship models. Special exhibitions regularly mounted in the library feature the work of local artists and photographs documenting aspects of City Island history.
The Nautical Room:
Shipyards, sail lofts, yachts and the people behind them are all honored here. Historical photographs, memorabilia and artifacts fill the room and tell the story of City Island’s rich nautical past. Also on display are tools used by sailmakers and shipbuilders, several ship models and some vintage outboard motors. Of particular interest in the room are several skiffs, a partially completed boat and a Buchman sailing canoe from the early 1930’s (all built on City Island).
Ship building on City Island
The Community Room:
Celebrating City Island from its earliest days, the Community Room displays photographs, maps and memorabilia, including Native American arrowheads found in the area. The walls are covered with images of street scenes, stores, restaurants, private houses, and the waterfront then and now. Displays include a large relief map of City Island in about 1867, a diorama of the Battle of Pell’s Point that took place in October 1776, a niche devoted to City Island’s religious institutions and many antique home furnishings, including sewing machines, an ice box, and a 100-year-old typewriter. A large counter from Gilbert’s Pharmacy serves as a display case in the center of the room.
The School Room:
Student registers, graduation pictures, autograph books, report cards, the old school bell, and the other artifacts tell the story of City Island’s schools from the first schoolhouse built in 1838 to the present school, P.S. 175, built in 1975 and St. Mary, Star of the Sea RC School, which served the island for over 75 years. A section of the room is set up like a traditional school room, and a unique map of the naval training station that was located in Pelham Bay Park from 1917 to 1918 hangs on the wall.