History of City Island

City Island is a small community at the edge of New York City located just beyond Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx and surrounded by the waters of the Long Island Sound and Eastchester Bay. With Execution Light to the northeast and Stepping Stones Lighthouse to the south, City Island has a rich nautical history, much of it preserved by the Historical Society and Museum.

City Island’s history of European settlement began around 1614, when Adriaen Block claimed the land for the Dutch. Colonists from Europe began to arrive in greater numbers through the 1600s, forcing the local Siwanoy people off the land. In 1655, the Englishman Thomas Pell (ca.1608-1669) came to the island and purchased land from the Siwanoy. Dutch Governor Pieter Stuyvesant tried to eject him, but Pell refused to leave. He was eventually permitted to remain on condition that he swear an oath of allegiance to Dutch rule. The Pell family owned City Island until 1749.

In 1761, Benjamin Palmer purchased the island, known variously as Mulberry, Minniffers, Minneford’s, and Minnewits. He planned to build on his new property a city that could be a commercial rival to Manhattan, and so the name New City Island came into use around 1800. As the island began to develop its own commercial identity, the community of oyster fishers and shipbuilders chose to drop the ‘New’ from their name, to become simply City Island. In 1896, residents of City Island voted to detach themselves from Westchester County and to become part of New York City proper.

The shipbuilding industry on City Island prospered into the 20th century. During the First and Second World Wars, City Island produced minesweepers and tugboats, as well as many of the landing craft used in beach invasions. In the post-war period, yacht production continued to prosper. City Island has produced seven Americas Cup-winning yachts.

A bridge away from the American mainland of the Bronx, City Island has retained a unique small-town, atmosphere frequently compared to that of a New England fishing village. This atmosphere is paradoxically sustained and threatened by the crowds that flock to the island on Friday and Saturday nights. Like many of their fellow maritime towns farther up the coast, City Island residents are trying to strike a balance that will allow the community to prosper without the loss of its individuality.

The Walsh room, dedicated originally in 1976, displays more than 60 paintings of City Island and nearby areas made during the 1930s by professor Harold Vendervoort Walsh. The historical library contains books, magazines, newspapers, and scrapbooks collected by individuals, organizations, and churches.

The Nautical Room is filled with memorabilia and photographs carefully arranged to demonstrate City Island's proud heritage as a shipbuilding community. Each of the shipyards is honored with historical pictures of the yachts and the men and women who dedicated their lives to building them.

The School Room shows what life was like for the school children in the 1830's, as they struggled to preserve their own cultural and religious heritage and to acquire knowledge and skill. The Community Room contains treasures donated by Island residents whose precious heirlooms help bring the early 19th century alive for visitors curios about the Island's past

Thanks to the City Island Museum for their contribution to our web site. For more information about City Island and it's history please come visit us; we are easy to find!

As for the museum they are located at:
190 Fordham Street
City Island, New York 10464

Hours of operation are:
Sundays and Wednesday
from 1 5 p.m.
by appointment


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