Did you know that Coney Island Creek was once connected to Sheepshead Bay?
According to the NYC Parks website, a tiny strip of land (similar to today’s scenario) connected Coney Island to the mainland. However, Thomas Stillwell (after whom Stillwell Avenue is named) and other stakeholders wanted a shipping canal that would connect Gravesend Bay to Sheepshead Bay via the Coney Island Creek. They intended to call this waterway the “Gravesend Ship Canal” and hoped that it would transform the area into a bustling seaport. Digging of the new canal started around what is now called Cropsey Avenue and continued east to Sheepshead Bay.
However, the new canal never quite lived up to expectations. According to Underwater New York, the area lost most of its economic significance once all the 5 boroughs were consolidated in 1898. Thus, maritime stakeholders were encouraged to dock ships at other ports in the city.
Nevertheless, Gravesend Bay, Coney Island Creek, and Sheepshead Bay remained one continuous waterway until the mid 20th century. As time progressed, various sections of the waterway became landfills. Finally, construction of the Shore Parkway required that a major section of the creek be filled. This resulted in the permanent separation of Sheepshead Bay from Coney Island Creek and Gravesend Bay. In addition, the Coney Island area became adjoined to South Brooklyn. Coney Island ceased to be an ‘island’ and once again became a peninsula – a piece of land projecting out into the waters of Lower New York Bay.
The Gravesend Waterway Today
Today, the waters of Gravesend Bay and Coney Island Creek are littered with abandoned ships and barges. This makes navigating the area impossible or very treacherous.
Also, Cropsey and Stillwell Avenues together with an MTA train bridge cross over the Coney Island Creek.
The Shore Parkway, which now runs between the Coney Island Creek and Sheepshead Bay, bounds the creek to the east.
However, while Gravesend Bay and Coney Island Creek eventually fell into disuse, Sheepshead Bay’s waters have remained quite active.
On a given day, many yachts, party boats, and charter fishing vessels can be found sailing in and out of the bay.
There is little to no trace of the former Gravesend Ship Canal today. But, can you imagine what the Coney Island Area would have been if it still existed? Would the canal have remained in disuse? Or, would it have nurtured the same level of maritime activity that currently exists in Sheepshead Bay?