This is historical reference material that features information about Coney Island history. The information provided comes directly from the public domain Ebook “Coney Island” by Truax & Co. If you enjoy the information below please feel free to download the entire PDF ebook for FREE at the bottom of this post.
Coney (or Rabbit) Island was in discovered in the late 1800’s. Prior it was known as a sandy waste and windswept region, where the Atlantic surges beat with unrestrained violence; inhabited only by rabbits, “clammers,” “roughs” and numerous three-card monte-men, who bore the name of “Coney catchers.”
Twenty-five years before the inauguration of Coney Island, few people dreamed that it would be the one of the most famous watering places of the world; and doubtless we have but a faint conception of its coming greatness and grandeur.
More than three-quarters of this Island was then a barren waste of land, of which even the ownership was doubted, uninhabited by a few “clammers” and “Coney catchers,”
who lived back in the swamps of the creek separating it from the main land of Long Island.
Occasionally some target excursion from New York City would charter a dilapidated steamer and sail to the Point for a day’s pleasure. A few scattered restaurants, bath-houses and beer saloons were the only places of shelter to be found.
I myself remember paying a visit to Coney Island twenty years ago with my little boy. We sailed down the bay in an antiquated steamer, mid scenes of confusion and hilarty. At the landing there was a barn-like bar-room, more conspicuous than the dingy dining-room with two barrels at either end supporting boards used as a lunch or dining counter. Chops, chowder, steaks, etc., of a very inferior quality, were purveyed at the prices of fashionable restaurants in the metropolis.
Three-card monte men and swindlers occupied tables along the beach, which were either for bathing purposes or promenade. It is no exaggeration to say that respectiable citizens, and especially ladies, could not visit this Island then without danger of robbery or violence.
Strolling along the beach where one of these swindlers seemed plying his trade with considerable success, we stopped a moment, when a “capper” exclaimed, “I can beat that game!” and turning to us said : “Be kind enough to hold my umbrella, please; me and you can win some money.”
Looking with the most profound contempt and disgust at the speaker, I asked “Look at me well; do I look like a person you can ‘rope into a skin game?” Humiliated and keenly cut, to think our appearance did not command more respect, we avoided the Island for some years afterward.
Gradually capitalists became awakened to the fact that this spot, as a summer resort and fashionable watering-place, was destined at no distant future to lead the world. Better facilities for reaching this noble breathing-spot, which is providentially so near the Empire City of the Western Continent, now begun to spring into existence. Companies were formed, railroads and iron steamboats were built; hotels, restaurants, bathing
pavilions, etc., rapidly grew with increased accommodations, until today in which 300,000 visitors can be conveyed to and from the beach daily, and find ample entertainment there.
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