What really happened to Hog Island?
Lore has it that Hog Island – a little spit of land off the coast of Far Rockaway that was said to resemble the back of a hog -- was washed away in the hurricane of 1893. But though this story is trotted out every time New York City is threatened (like now) by another hurricane, contemporaneous sources suggest a more gradual end.
J.B. Beers, New Map of Kings and Queens Counties, 1886
The beginning of Hog Island, no less than its demise, has been subject to hyperbole. According to a New York Times article which appeared on December 17th, 1895, “Hog Island rose from the ocean in a single night, thirty years ago,” i.e., in 1865. A more likely creation story is provided by Alfred H. Bellot, who writes in his History of the Rockaways that the island was “formed gradually by the ocean depositing sand on its westward sweep from Long Beach.”
However fast or slow it may have formed, at some point after the Civil War, the “island” – actually a peninsula also known as Far Rockaway Beach -- was deemed well-enough established to support several bathing houses and “two or three restaurants furnishing refreshments and entertainment” (History of the Rockaways, p. 94-95). An 1874 article in the New York Times about local “Holiday Resorts” described Hog Island as “a sandy island several miles in length” on which “all the surf-bathing grounds [of Rockaway Beach] are situated,” and reported that “the majority of the visitors to Far Rockaway spend almost all their time on the island, enjoying the cool ocean breezes to be found there, even in the most extreme heat.”
On the night of August 23, 1893, a hurricane now classified as Category 2 triggered 30-foot storm swells off of Coney Island, flooding lower Manhattan and uprooting trees in Central Park. Although the storm did considerable damage, it did not, as has since been reported, destroy the entire peninsula. As late as 1902, Hog Island was still operating as a resort, as the Brooklyn Eagle reported after yet another storm hit the area in April of that year:
The bathing beach, which is known to the residents as Hog Island, is a long, low and narrow sandbar which lies several hundred feet off shore, with the waters of the inlet flowing between it and the mainland. A long footbridge leads out to it, all of which is owned by [James] Caffrey. Storms in the past have done considerable damage to the property and often threatened to wipe Hog Island off the map. Through all these trials and losses, the owner, James Caffrey, has been undaunted and has rebuilt and improved the sand beach every year. Even yesterday he had a number of men at work saving what was left of his holdings, and he promises to have everything in ship shape again when the season opens.
The final demise of Hog Island is apparently undocumented, but it seems to have washed away with the tides sometime in the 1920’s.