WALK THE PLANKS, Broad Channel

by Kevin Walsh

YOU can walk the planks to get home in Broad Channel, as 12th Road is actually a plank walk to a group of homes on stilts in this very marshy island in the middle of Jamaica Bay that despite its remoteness has a stop on the NYC subway, which many neighborhoods around town can’t claim. It’s actually quite rickety and no doubt has to be repaired every so often for safety’s sake.

From the Forgotten Book:

Nestled in the middle of Jamaica Bay is an island community known as Broad Channel. It is the province of seagulls, roaring jets taking off from Kennedy Airport, The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, and a proud, insular neighborhood that claims what it can from the bay, occasionally jutting into it by building on stilts. Unlike many NYC mainland neighborhoods, it features a subway stop. Cross Bay Boulevard is the main artery and carries traffic between Broad Channel and the mainland, as well as the Rockaway peninsula. Broad Channel can be thought of as New York City’s answer to Virginia’s Tangier Island, that isolated fishing community in the middle of Chesapeake Bay home to 800 residents. Many Broad Channel  families have been there for two or three generations, since the island began to become populated in the 1880s.

It is the only permanently occupied island in Jamaica Bay; its actual name should actually be Broad Channel Island. Jamaica Bay itself is full of oddly-named uninhabited islands known only to mariners, such as JoCo Marsh, Silver Hole Marsh, Ruffle Bar (which was briefly occupied in the early 20th Century), Yellow Bar Hassock, Little Egg and Big Egg Marshes (Big Egg is actually the southern end of Broad Channel Island), Canarsie Pol and Nestepol Marsh. The islands are a prime breeding ground for migratory birds such as herons, egrets and ibis.

 The bay, a truly vast space – 18,000 acres vast — was once thought of as New York City’s next big commercial port, but those dreams were never consummated. Instead, it was placed under the jurisdiction of the NYC Parks Department in 1938 by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, and in 1974,  9,000 acres were transferred to the new Gateway National Urban Recreational Area. Moses had been defeated in an effort to oust all Broad Channelers and make the entire island a wildlife refuge. A smaller refuge was created as part of the deal that brought the subway to Broad Channel.

Broad Channel was largely built by the Broad Channel Corporation, which in the 1910s filled in marshes and rented parcels of land for $116 per year for anyone building a summer home in the area, which first gained attention when the New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Railroad bridged Jamaica Bay in the 1880s. The Long Island Rail Road acquired the railroad and ran trains across a succession of wooden bridges until 1950; the railroad sold the right-of-way to New York City, provided part of the island could be retained as parkland. A new bridge was built, and subway trains began crossing Jamaica bay and stopping in Broad Channel in 1956. Until 1975, passengers were compelled to pay an extra fare upon exiting from Broad Channel and the Rockaways, since the stations were so far away from everywhere else in the system. For many years, Broad Channel and three other stops along the NY,W&RR were summer havens for fishermen. By the 1910s, however, Jamaica Bay began to be too polluted for any recreational or commercial fishing to be feasible.

The Roaring Twenties brought Prohibition and concurrent rum-running on the isolated island, which had no vehicular connection to the rest of New York City until Cross Bay Boulevard was built in 1925. The boulevard is connected to Howard Beach by the Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge and to the Rockaway Peninsula by the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge. The Marine Parkway Bridge, later renamed the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge for the Brooklyn Dodger first baseman and New York Met manager who lived in Marine Park, bridged the bay beginning in 1937.

When the Broad Channel Corporation went bankrupt in 1939, the City took title to all homes on the island; residents did not truly own their own homes until around 1980, when “tenants” finally purchased the land from the City. Broad Channel did not have sewers until 1988. It is still protected by a proud volunteer fire department.

I haven’t been in Broad Channel since June 2020 and a return is due.

As always, “comment…as you see fit.” I earn a small payment when you click on any ad on the site.



Joe+Fliel November 6, 2021 - 1:35 am

Broad Channel is truly the land that time forgot. It reminds me of Stormalong Harbor in “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack” cartoons. I live in
Rockaway Park, which isn’t much to talk about either.

Catherine Murphy November 7, 2021 - 10:47 am

The best kept secret in Queens. Also a great place for nature
Jamacia wild life center

Tara Anderson November 6, 2021 - 1:47 pm

Best place to live and without a doubt the best sunsets

Patricia Waldheim November 7, 2021 - 1:39 am

Thank you. We residents refer to Broad Channel as “God’s Little Acre.” Its home to much wildlife and a fierce and proud community.

Anonymous November 7, 2021 - 8:26 am

I looked at the picture and knew it was 12th road before I read the article as I grew up on 12th road.Brings back a lot of great memories

Patsy Tubridy November 7, 2021 - 10:42 am

Broad Channel and its people are trully Islanders and the island should be renamed Broad Channel Island!

Grace Peterman November 7, 2021 - 11:29 am

Love this a land and time far far away always loved❤️

Andrew November 8, 2021 - 12:11 am

I took a very long hike last year from Williamsburg into Queens, down through Cyprus Hills Cemetery, into Cyprus Hills, Ozone Park and Howard Beach before crossing the two Cross Bay bridges along with Broad Channel before finally ending up in Rockaway around dark. Two notable things struck me during the trek: the seeming endlessness of Broad Channel which seemed to be one giant marsh without any visible inhabitation and finding the second Cross Bay bridge’s pedestrian walkway closed for repairs and having to find out how to catch a bus across instead. Blocked from what was literally the “last mile” of a near Marathon-length journey!

Andrew November 8, 2021 - 12:17 am

PS: After writing the above I am now able to recall a quaint little one-road town in Broad Channel before I had to move on to the second Cross Bay Bridge. IIRC there were, and perhaps still are, a flock of feral parakeets or a similar such bird inhabiting the island. You hear them long before you see them, in spite of how brightly colored they are.

David Meltzer November 8, 2021 - 8:21 am

Would you consider Meadowmere as an inhabited island in Jamaica Bay?

Edward B Ryder IV November 8, 2021 - 11:13 am

I’ve made that walk over that boardwalk to the Iroquois Yacht Club many a time. Great memories.

Ange November 8, 2021 - 8:21 pm

IN 1956 and maybe in later years, my dad took us kids to Broad Channel. The water was crystal clear and I would look forward to seeing the “killies.” These were tiny fish that shimmered in the sun light. I have fond memories of Broad Channel — a place I never forgot!

Phil November 9, 2021 - 10:48 am

After CYO basketball in Rockaway, Mr. Lang would take the whole team to Weiss’s (Broad Channels version of Nathans) for hot dogs. Great memories

Margery November 9, 2021 - 4:32 pm Reply
Chee F November 12, 2021 - 1:59 pm

Googlemaps shows that a number of the shacks-on-stilts are still messed up from Sandy.


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