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Get To Know 34 of New York City's Most Obscure Islands

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No man is an island, but New York basically is. Really. The Bronx is the only borough connected to mainland America. The four floating boroughs aren't alone amid NYC's waterways, however—they are joined by dozens of other land masses. The more substantive among them are definitely islands, and then there are the occasional outcroppings of rock, ripe for some new micronation, that can count, too. The islands are ranked in order of how easy they are to get to, but even those at the "top," like Rikers and Hart's Island, aren't a piece of cake to access. Fun fact: in the Long Island Sound alone there are 20 islands, once known as the Devil's Stepping Stones because of an Native American fable that claimed, as per the Times' archives, that "Indians were chasing the Devil across the sound, and every time he put his cloven hoof down, an island was formed." Below are 34 islands even slightly worth knowing. Quick, befriend someone with a boat, and try to visit them all before winter sets in.
—Hannah Frishberg


· North Brother Island coverage [Curbed]
· Birds and Beaches in Brooklyn: A Canoe Trip to White Island [Curbed]

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1. Rikers Island

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This, um, highly exclusive Upper Upper East side reef is for criminals only. Populated by 12,300 inmates and their officers, the island is barely 400 acres and serves as New York’s main jail complex. The prison has its namesake in Abraham Rycken, a Dutch Settler whose grand kiddies owned the island till 1884, when they sold it to the city and cashed in on $180,000—so, like, a studio in Bushwick. The only way you’re visiting here is getting yourself arrested, and then the boys in blue will give you a free ride over. [Photo via Wikipedia]

2. Hart Island

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Hart Island
Bronx, NY

Hart Island is unoccupied - by the living. The island’s 101-acre potter’s field is home to the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world, with well over a million souls buried beneath it, a third of them infants and stillborn babies. Burials are conducted by Rikers inmates, and island access is thus restricted by the Department of Corrections . Those who can prove, through paperwork, that they are family members of the deceased, are only occasionally granted access to the island - and then they are allowed only to look at the burial field from a distance, from inside a gazebo. So not only can you not get to Hart Island, you shouldn’t want to be able to get to Hart Island. [Burials in the Common Trench at the Hart Island potter’s field. Photo via MCNY.]

3. North Brother Island

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The king of ruin porn and the wet dream of urban explorers, North Brother Island is an entire island of abandoned buildings. North Brother’s history begins in 1885 when Riverside Hospital relocated there from Roosevelt Island. An open minded smallpox hospital that also treated other life-threatening, quarantinable diseases, it was graced by such celebrity as Patient Zero: Typhoid Mary. It was the site of the 1904 General Slocum disaster, housed war veteran college students after World War II (AKA it’ll probably be NYU housing soon), and was a rehabilitation center for teenage drug addicts in the 50s. Today it’s a bird sanctuary, so you’ll need to pry a permit from the Parks Department or brave the East River’s currents with a boat or wetsuit to go exploring. Oh, and it’s right next to Riker’s Island, so security tends to be a little intense. [Photo]

4. Big Tom

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A submerged rock that is the only significant hazard for navigation in Eastchester Bay, Big Tom hides under the water, only visible at extremely low tide. We couldn't find a photo of it, but it's on Google maps, which is impressive.

5. Middle Reef

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It’s a freakin’ mussel-covered reef, but this list is all-inclusive goddammit. A 1995 New York Times article on New York’s islands writes for Middle Reef’s bio, “HISTORY none”. [Photo via Flickr/jag9889.]

6. East Nonations and South Nonations

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These two are a real bummer. Apparently these islands were so impossibly useless neither Holland nor England could be bothered to fight for them. Hence the name. (Do we have to spell it out for you? No... nation.)Pretty sad. At high tide, both are completely submerged. [Photo via Marie Lorenz.]

7. Green Flats

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Green Flats play peek-a-boo with the tide, so it’ll have to be pretty darn low for you to get a glimpse of these babies. “Flats” means shallow in nautical talk. The islands are green. Green Flats. Get it.

8. South Brother Island

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Unlike sibling North Brother Island's storied life of drugs, disease, and abandonment porn, South Brother was easily the much more private of the two brothers - literally. The last East River Island in private hands, South Brother was bought by a Long Island sand and gravel company called Hampton Scows for $10 in 1976, and remained in their hands until the City of New York bought it for $2 million just seven years ago in 2007. Smaller and more remote than its northern brother, South Brother Island also lacks the decayed buildings, or any trace of humanity, really. It is a testament to what New York would’ve looked like should humans never have stumbled upon it. [Photo via Empire Guides.]

9. High Island

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A part-time island, High Island houses the radio transmission towers for CBS Radio and is accessible from City Island via sandbar at uber low tide. It’s shaped like a gumdrop and used to be surrounded by sharks. Once, in 1967, a plane crashed into it, and no one listened to WCBS for a week. [Photo via Untapped Cities.]

10. Rat Island

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Currently owned by a Mr. Alex Schibli of City Island, Rat Island has been, in past lives, a typhoid quarantine, an artists’ colony, and, according to the island’s surprisingly personal Wikipedia page, home to “a Great Blue Heron that sleeps on the island during daytime”. Legend has it the island was named for escaped prisoners of nearby Hart Island, known as “rats”, who’d swam to Rat Island before escaping to the mainland. [Photo by Nathan Kensinger.]

11. U Thant Island

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East River
New York, NY

Unofficially named after former Burmese United Nations Secretary General U Thantt by a group of U.N. employees who followed Queens mystic Sri Chinmoy in the 1970s, Belmont Islandd is Manhattan’s smallest island. Just 100 by 200 feet, this spit of land is not open to the public, but that didn’t stop filmmaker Duke Riley from rowing a boat to it and proclaiming it a sovereign nation during the 2004 Republican National Convention. [Photo via 100thingsnyc.com.]

12. The Blauzes

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Westchester Ave
Bronx, NY 10459

The name is contested to have many origins: is it the Old English “Blazer” for marker or guide, or perhaps “de Blauwtjes”, Dutch for the little blue ones. Wherever it came from The Blauzes has more name than it does island. Two reefs more rock than island in City Island Harbor, The Blauzes refers to a section of the 600 yard reef that extends to Hart Island’s northern tip. They’re known locally as the Blue Breasts cause, well, they’re shaped like boobs and they’re blue. If it’ll really float your boat, take a swim on over and go fishing on em - no one’s stopping you. [Photo via thisissydnie.]

13. Cuban Ledge

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Only visible at low tide, the history and name origin of the Cuban Ledge are tightly linked and also blurred by time. Is the namesake the Cuban Lady, an ill fated cargo ship that ran aground on the island? Or perhaps simply a comment on the island’s similar shape to that of Cuba? Nobody can be sure. [Photo via Topoquest.]

14. Twin Island

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Twin Island isn't an island (anymore), or even a twin, thanks to a 1934 landfill that connected East and West Islands (the “Twins”) to Pelham Bay. Twin Island is especially beautiful and important because its proof of legit nature (not just, like, grass) in the form of some of the city’s last remaining salt marshes. [Photo via Panoramio.]

15. Mill Rock

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1,000 feet from 96th Street, the seemingly inconsequential Mill Rock has housed many strange souls and events in its time. From 19th century farmer Sandy Gibson, who squatted and operated a farm on Mill Rock back when there were two islands - Great Mill Rock and Little Mill Rock - to the time the United States Army Corps of Engineers detonated the largest explosion New York had then seen to date, blowing up the treacherous Flood Rock with 300,000 lb of explosives (the remains of Flood Rock filled in Great and Little Mill Rocks to create the island there today). A Parks Department regulated three acre park on Mill Rock is not open to the public. Unless you are a bird. [The view of Mill Rock from the Wards Island Bridge. Photo via Wikimedia.]

16. Chimney Sweeps Islands

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Another one gone to the birds. Purportedly named after their broom-like shape, some contest that in fact a chimney-sweep turned millionaire had bought the place at some point. Whatever it was, The Chimney Sweeps (which are made entirely out of bedrock) are owned by the Parks Department and you aren’t invited. Nature is only for birds, you know. [Photo via Empire Guides.]

17. Pralls Island

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Staten Island
Staten Island, NY 10314

All 89 acres of this Staten Island blip were once known as Dongan's Island, but over time people got confused and started calling it Duncan's Island, and then S.I. settler Arendt Jansen Prall Van Naardin, a local farmer whose name was longer than his land, purchased it. Guess why you can't come here? That’s right. The birds need their nature all to themselves. [Aerial view of Pralls Island off Staten Island in the Arthur Kill. Photo via Flickr.]

18. Shooters Island

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Staten Island
Staten Island, NY 10314

It’s not quite within Jersey’s state lines, but Shooters Island certainly deserves its own Springsteen song. Named for its days as a colonial hunting preserve, Shooters Island was a drop-off point for George Washington’s secrets during the Revolutionary War, was home to the Townsend-Downey Shipbuilding Company for 10 years at the beginning of the 20th century, and is now owned and controlled by birds. Unless you are a bird, plan to become one in the near future, or work for Audubon Society studying them, fat chance having a legal visit here. [Photo via Wikimedia.]

19. Isle of Meadows

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Staten Island
Staten Island, NY 10314

NYC is apparently trying to pay reparations to nature by giving all our unwanted islands to birds. Isle of Meadows is another no-humans-allowed bird sanctuary that narrowly escaped becoming a part of the Fresh Kills Landfill in the 1990s. Thank goodness, we always need more egret housing! [Photo via Freshkills Park, courtesy of the City of New York.]

20. Mau Mau Island / White Island

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Born of trash, Mau Mau Island Island came into existence after 1917 when so much offshore dumping turned into its current shoreline (it is also part Belt Parkway, as excavated sand during the Belt’s 1930’s construction was added to the island, along with asphalt patches to stop the sand from blowing away). A Parks Department bird sanctuary, this little uninhabited blip was turned into a warfield during the 2011 Battle for Mau Mau Island, an epic water duel put on by Swimming Cities .

21. Ruffle Bar Island

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Gateway NRA
Brooklyn, NY

Not to be confused with the raspberry candy treat, the Ruffle Bar is a tiny island that minds its own business in Jamaica Bay. It used to be a successful center for the clam and oyster business, but then the Department of Health decided it was too polluted for shellfish breeding. Today it is a lonely bird sanctuary. Sad little Ruffle Bar, why did we have to make her so dirty? [Photo via Marie Lorenz.]

22. Hoffman Island

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Staten Island
Staten Island, NY 10314

A lot like Battery Park or Marble Hill, Hoffman Island is man-made because we were in the mood for some more land. The artificial island lives off Staten Island and was made from landfill in 1872. It was an immigrant quarantine station with a deeply depressing history (perhaps even more haunting than that of Hart Island), and currently serves as a massive waste of a potential public park. Instead, the Parks Service has given the place to the birds, and a few harbor seals who winter there - it’s a protected area. [Hoffman Island in the quarantine days of its youth. Photo via the Library of Congress.]

23. Swinburne Island

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Staten Island
Staten Island, NY 10314

Hoffman Island's little sister, Swinburne is five acres smaller and a tad more remote than her twin artificial island. Also used as a quarantine for diseased immigrants, Swinburne’s history is nearly identical to Hoffman’s - both were also used as anchorages for anti-submarine nets, and are generally off limits to the public today. One difference, however, is that for whatever reason, while the buildings on Hoffman Island were leveled half a century ago, those on Swinburne still stand, although intensely decayed. [Photo via Untapped Cities.]

24. Goose Island

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A 1995 New York Times article on New York’s other islands writes of Goose Island, “Canoeists and fisherman on the Hutchinson River have used this islet since the 17th century.” It goes on to say the city acquired the island in 1935 and that the name makes it obvious there are geese on Goose Island. Who knew? [Photo via Flickr/jag9889.]

25. Davids Island

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78 acres in the Long Island Sound with a history beginning in Native American habitation, then colonial farming, then military occupation and the construction of Fort Slocum, and now, abandonment. Currently uninhabited, the people of Westchester came together to reject a development proposal for luxury housing on the island back in 1981, but still haven’t decided what they do want to happen to the island. According to one news source, in the 45 years since Fort Slocum was shuttered, “Vandals, vagrants, Satan worshipers and pyromaniacs raided the unguarded island and set fires." [Removing ruins at Davids Island, including Building 44 (left) and Building 45 (the water tower, right).Photo via Hudson Valley Ruins.]

26. City Island

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Perhaps the least boogie down part of the Bronx, City Island feels more like a small New England town than one of the five boroughs. This one and a half mile long island is populated by 4,362 sea-farin' folk who produce what’s probably the best (if not freshest) seafood in New York City. All the beaches are private, but the lobster’s great, and the Seaside Trolley will take you out there free of charge on the first Friday of the month. Many City Island residents take advantage of New York Harbor (unlike most mainland New Yorkers). [Photo by Nathan Kensinger]

27. New York Athletic Club (Travers Island)

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31 Shore Rd
Pelham, NY 10803

Today it is a peninsula connected to Westchester, but before they filled in the water, Travers Island was an actual Island. Home to the tony New York Athletic Club, the island is chock full of top-notch athletic grounds, from an Olympic-sized saltwater pool to cabanas galore and facilities for tennis, yachting, rowing, croquet, and rugby. Membership costs $8,500, and there’s a dress code. Occasionally, though, epic fights apparently break out, so your call on joining. [“A crowd of spectators watch a track and field athlete jumping a stone-wall hurdle at Travers Island” (1896). Photo via MCNY.]

28. Wards Island

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Wards Island Bridge
New York, NY 10029

Originally separated from Randalls Island by a channel called the Little Hell Gate, Wards Island became Randalls’ other half after the channel was filled in during the early 1960s. Wards has a similar history to Randalls, playing host to a number of hospitals, insane asylums, and, today, parks. Both islands can be reached via the Triborough Bridge or the Wards Island pedestrian bridge. [Photo via the Hips List.]

29. Canarsie Pol

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A 300 acre uninhabited oval in Jamaica Bay, Canarsie Pol is a part of Gateway National Recreation Area, and thus open to adventurous kayakers so long as they don't bother the birdies. A map from 1910 shows the island as being significantly smaller, suggesting that the island has expanded, likely due to sand and soil piling on Canarsie Pol after nearby waterways were dredged over time. Canarsie Pol is surrounded by other marshes, but none of them are considered large enough to be islands. [Photo via Outer Space Cities.]

30. Hunter Island

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Another former-island, Hunter Island is named for its former owner John Hunter a wealthy politician who built himself a wildly expensive Georgian style mansion and gardens on the island, as well as a bridge to the mainland (before fill was used to connect it to the Bronx). Today it is a part of NYC’s biggest park, Pelham Bay Park (it’s more than three times the size of Central Park), and is home to an oak forest and nature trail, as well as remnants of John Hunter’s gardens, from grape hyacinth to Tartarian honeysuckle. [An 1882 print of Hunters Island, via MCNY.]

31. Cat Briars Island

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Floatin' in the Long Island Sound, a part of the Hunter Island Marine Zoology and Geology Sanctuary, Cat Briars Island may not have much in the way of human history, but it compensates by bragging glacial erratics, ice aged boulders, and other natural things that don’t tend to last long when humans come along. [Photo via Empire Guides.]

32. Rulers Bar Hassock / Broad Channel

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An inlet of the only inhabited island in Jamaica Bay, Broad Channel is off the mainland and the grid. Artificial canals and dead-end residential blocks make up most of the territory, and the subway ride over is stunning - the Broad Channel stop is the longest in the system, and the train Jesuses over the water to get out there. Stop on by if you feel like it, although there’s not much to do but ogle at how remote it is. [Broad Channel after Hurricane Sandy. Photo via Queens Brownstoner.]

33. Furmans Island

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Ferry Line Rd.
New York, NY 10004

Furman Island has since joined the Queens mainland, but you can still smell its history in Newtown Creek. Once a mecca of industrial activity, Furman Island was home to glue factories, bone burning plants, an “egg factory”, and generally a point of disposal for the 4,000 horses that used to annually die in Brooklyn. In 1910 Furman saw an end to its island status when landfill made obsolete the Shanty Creek waterway that separated it from Queens. [Photo via New York Shitty.]

34. Subway Island

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Deep in the Rockaways, the A train defies the laws of gravity and soars above the tracks out across Jamaica Bay - just kidding, the A is actually just moving on track laid on top of Subway Island. Although built explicitly for elevating track, the 2010 bird census counted the city’s third largest glossy ibis collection there. Subway Island is vital to the allusion that the A train can walk on water. [Photo via New York Observer.]

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1. Rikers Island

Bronx, NY

This, um, highly exclusive Upper Upper East side reef is for criminals only. Populated by 12,300 inmates and their officers, the island is barely 400 acres and serves as New York’s main jail complex. The prison has its namesake in Abraham Rycken, a Dutch Settler whose grand kiddies owned the island till 1884, when they sold it to the city and cashed in on $180,000—so, like, a studio in Bushwick. The only way you’re visiting here is getting yourself arrested, and then the boys in blue will give you a free ride over. [Photo via Wikipedia]

2. Hart Island

Hart Island, Bronx, NY

Hart Island is unoccupied - by the living. The island’s 101-acre potter’s field is home to the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world, with well over a million souls buried beneath it, a third of them infants and stillborn babies. Burials are conducted by Rikers inmates, and island access is thus restricted by the Department of Corrections . Those who can prove, through paperwork, that they are family members of the deceased, are only occasionally granted access to the island - and then they are allowed only to look at the burial field from a distance, from inside a gazebo. So not only can you not get to Hart Island, you shouldn’t want to be able to get to Hart Island. [Burials in the Common Trench at the Hart Island potter’s field. Photo via MCNY.]

Hart Island
Bronx, NY

3. North Brother Island

New York

The king of ruin porn and the wet dream of urban explorers, North Brother Island is an entire island of abandoned buildings. North Brother’s history begins in 1885 when Riverside Hospital relocated there from Roosevelt Island. An open minded smallpox hospital that also treated other life-threatening, quarantinable diseases, it was graced by such celebrity as Patient Zero: Typhoid Mary. It was the site of the 1904 General Slocum disaster, housed war veteran college students after World War II (AKA it’ll probably be NYU housing soon), and was a rehabilitation center for teenage drug addicts in the 50s. Today it’s a bird sanctuary, so you’ll need to pry a permit from the Parks Department or brave the East River’s currents with a boat or wetsuit to go exploring. Oh, and it’s right next to Riker’s Island, so security tends to be a little intense. [Photo]

4. Big Tom

New York

A submerged rock that is the only significant hazard for navigation in Eastchester Bay, Big Tom hides under the water, only visible at extremely low tide. We couldn't find a photo of it, but it's on Google maps, which is impressive.

5. Middle Reef

Forest Hills, NY

It’s a freakin’ mussel-covered reef, but this list is all-inclusive goddammit. A 1995 New York Times article on New York’s islands writes for Middle Reef’s bio, “HISTORY none”. [Photo via Flickr/jag9889.]

6. East Nonations and South Nonations

New York, NY 10035

These two are a real bummer. Apparently these islands were so impossibly useless neither Holland nor England could be bothered to fight for them. Hence the name. (Do we have to spell it out for you? No... nation.)Pretty sad. At high tide, both are completely submerged. [Photo via Marie Lorenz.]

7. Green Flats

Bronx, NY

Green Flats play peek-a-boo with the tide, so it’ll have to be pretty darn low for you to get a glimpse of these babies. “Flats” means shallow in nautical talk. The islands are green. Green Flats. Get it.

8. South Brother Island

New York

Unlike sibling North Brother Island's storied life of drugs, disease, and abandonment porn, South Brother was easily the much more private of the two brothers - literally. The last East River Island in private hands, South Brother was bought by a Long Island sand and gravel company called Hampton Scows for $10 in 1976, and remained in their hands until the City of New York bought it for $2 million just seven years ago in 2007. Smaller and more remote than its northern brother, South Brother Island also lacks the decayed buildings, or any trace of humanity, really. It is a testament to what New York would’ve looked like should humans never have stumbled upon it. [Photo via Empire Guides.]

9. High Island

New York

A part-time island, High Island houses the radio transmission towers for CBS Radio and is accessible from City Island via sandbar at uber low tide. It’s shaped like a gumdrop and used to be surrounded by sharks. Once, in 1967, a plane crashed into it, and no one listened to WCBS for a week. [Photo via Untapped Cities.]

10. Rat Island

New York

Currently owned by a Mr. Alex Schibli of City Island, Rat Island has been, in past lives, a typhoid quarantine, an artists’ colony, and, according to the island’s surprisingly personal Wikipedia page, home to “a Great Blue Heron that sleeps on the island during daytime”. Legend has it the island was named for escaped prisoners of nearby Hart Island, known as “rats”, who’d swam to Rat Island before escaping to the mainland. [Photo by Nathan Kensinger.]

11. U Thant Island

East River, New York, NY

Unofficially named after former Burmese United Nations Secretary General U Thantt by a group of U.N. employees who followed Queens mystic Sri Chinmoy in the 1970s, Belmont Islandd is Manhattan’s smallest island. Just 100 by 200 feet, this spit of land is not open to the public, but that didn’t stop filmmaker Duke Riley from rowing a boat to it and proclaiming it a sovereign nation during the 2004 Republican National Convention. [Photo via 100thingsnyc.com.]

East River
New York, NY

12. The Blauzes

Westchester Ave, Bronx, NY 10459

The name is contested to have many origins: is it the Old English “Blazer” for marker or guide, or perhaps “de Blauwtjes”, Dutch for the little blue ones. Wherever it came from The Blauzes has more name than it does island. Two reefs more rock than island in City Island Harbor, The Blauzes refers to a section of the 600 yard reef that extends to Hart Island’s northern tip. They’re known locally as the Blue Breasts cause, well, they’re shaped like boobs and they’re blue. If it’ll really float your boat, take a swim on over and go fishing on em - no one’s stopping you. [Photo via thisissydnie.]

Westchester Ave
Bronx, NY 10459

13. Cuban Ledge

New York, NY 10040

Only visible at low tide, the history and name origin of the Cuban Ledge are tightly linked and also blurred by time. Is the namesake the Cuban Lady, an ill fated cargo ship that ran aground on the island? Or perhaps simply a comment on the island’s similar shape to that of Cuba? Nobody can be sure. [Photo via Topoquest.]

14. Twin Island

Bronx, NY 10464

Twin Island isn't an island (anymore), or even a twin, thanks to a 1934 landfill that connected East and West Islands (the “Twins”) to Pelham Bay. Twin Island is especially beautiful and important because its proof of legit nature (not just, like, grass) in the form of some of the city’s last remaining salt marshes. [Photo via Panoramio.]

15. Mill Rock

New York

1,000 feet from 96th Street, the seemingly inconsequential Mill Rock has housed many strange souls and events in its time. From 19th century farmer Sandy Gibson, who squatted and operated a farm on Mill Rock back when there were two islands - Great Mill Rock and Little Mill Rock - to the time the United States Army Corps of Engineers detonated the largest explosion New York had then seen to date, blowing up the treacherous Flood Rock with 300,000 lb of explosives (the remains of Flood Rock filled in Great and Little Mill Rocks to create the island there today). A Parks Department regulated three acre park on Mill Rock is not open to the public. Unless you are a bird. [The view of Mill Rock from the Wards Island Bridge. Photo via Wikimedia.]

16. Chimney Sweeps Islands

New York

Another one gone to the birds. Purportedly named after their broom-like shape, some contest that in fact a chimney-sweep turned millionaire had bought the place at some point. Whatever it was, The Chimney Sweeps (which are made entirely out of bedrock) are owned by the Parks Department and you aren’t invited. Nature is only for birds, you know. [Photo via Empire Guides.]

17. Pralls Island

Staten Island, Staten Island, NY 10314

All 89 acres of this Staten Island blip were once known as Dongan's Island, but over time people got confused and started calling it Duncan's Island, and then S.I. settler Arendt Jansen Prall Van Naardin, a local farmer whose name was longer than his land, purchased it. Guess why you can't come here? That’s right. The birds need their nature all to themselves. [Aerial view of Pralls Island off Staten Island in the Arthur Kill. Photo via Flickr.]

Staten Island
Staten Island, NY 10314

18. Shooters Island

Staten Island, Staten Island, NY 10314

It’s not quite within Jersey’s state lines, but Shooters Island certainly deserves its own Springsteen song. Named for its days as a colonial hunting preserve, Shooters Island was a drop-off point for George Washington’s secrets during the Revolutionary War, was home to the Townsend-Downey Shipbuilding Company for 10 years at the beginning of the 20th century, and is now owned and controlled by birds. Unless you are a bird, plan to become one in the near future, or work for Audubon Society studying them, fat chance having a legal visit here. [Photo via Wikimedia.]

Staten Island
Staten Island, NY 10314

19. Isle of Meadows

Staten Island, Staten Island, NY 10314

NYC is apparently trying to pay reparations to nature by giving all our unwanted islands to birds. Isle of Meadows is another no-humans-allowed bird sanctuary that narrowly escaped becoming a part of the Fresh Kills Landfill in the 1990s. Thank goodness, we always need more egret housing! [Photo via Freshkills Park, courtesy of the City of New York.]

Staten Island
Staten Island, NY 10314

20. Mau Mau Island / White Island

Bronx, NY

Born of trash, Mau Mau Island Island came into existence after 1917 when so much offshore dumping turned into its current shoreline (it is also part Belt Parkway, as excavated sand during the Belt’s 1930’s construction was added to the island, along with asphalt patches to stop the sand from blowing away). A Parks Department bird sanctuary, this little uninhabited blip was turned into a warfield during the 2011 Battle for Mau Mau Island, an epic water duel put on by Swimming Cities .

21. Ruffle Bar Island

Gateway NRA, Brooklyn, NY

Not to be confused with the raspberry candy treat, the Ruffle Bar is a tiny island that minds its own business in Jamaica Bay. It used to be a successful center for the clam and oyster business, but then the Department of Health decided it was too polluted for shellfish breeding. Today it is a lonely bird sanctuary. Sad little Ruffle Bar, why did we have to make her so dirty? [Photo via Marie Lorenz.]

Gateway NRA
Brooklyn, NY

22. Hoffman Island

Staten Island, Staten Island, NY 10314

A lot like Battery Park or Marble Hill, Hoffman Island is man-made because we were in the mood for some more land. The artificial island lives off Staten Island and was made from landfill in 1872. It was an immigrant quarantine station with a deeply depressing history (perhaps even more haunting than that of Hart Island), and currently serves as a massive waste of a potential public park. Instead, the Parks Service has given the place to the birds, and a few harbor seals who winter there - it’s a protected area. [Hoffman Island in the quarantine days of its youth. Photo via the Library of Congress.]

Staten Island
Staten Island, NY 10314

23. Swinburne Island

Staten Island, Staten Island, NY 10314

Hoffman Island's little sister, Swinburne is five acres smaller and a tad more remote than her twin artificial island. Also used as a quarantine for diseased immigrants, Swinburne’s history is nearly identical to Hoffman’s - both were also used as anchorages for anti-submarine nets, and are generally off limits to the public today. One difference, however, is that for whatever reason, while the buildings on Hoffman Island were leveled half a century ago, those on Swinburne still stand, although intensely decayed. [Photo via Untapped Cities.]

Staten Island
Staten Island, NY 10314

24. Goose Island

Bronx, NY 10475

A 1995 New York Times article on New York’s other islands writes of Goose Island, “Canoeists and fisherman on the Hutchinson River have used this islet since the 17th century.” It goes on to say the city acquired the island in 1935 and that the name makes it obvious there are geese on Goose Island. Who knew? [Photo via Flickr/jag9889.]

25. Davids Island

New York

78 acres in the Long Island Sound with a history beginning in Native American habitation, then colonial farming, then military occupation and the construction of Fort Slocum, and now, abandonment. Currently uninhabited, the people of Westchester came together to reject a development proposal for luxury housing on the island back in 1981, but still haven’t decided what they do want to happen to the island. According to one news source, in the 45 years since Fort Slocum was shuttered, “Vandals, vagrants, Satan worshipers and pyromaniacs raided the unguarded island and set fires." [Removing ruins at Davids Island, including Building 44 (left) and Building 45 (the water tower, right).Photo via Hudson Valley Ruins.]

26. City Island

Bronx, NY 10464

Perhaps the least boogie down part of the Bronx, City Island feels more like a small New England town than one of the five boroughs. This one and a half mile long island is populated by 4,362 sea-farin' folk who produce what’s probably the best (if not freshest) seafood in New York City. All the beaches are private, but the lobster’s great, and the Seaside Trolley will take you out there free of charge on the first Friday of the month. Many City Island residents take advantage of New York Harbor (unlike most mainland New Yorkers). [Photo by Nathan Kensinger]

27. New York Athletic Club (Travers Island)

31 Shore Rd, Pelham, NY 10803

Today it is a peninsula connected to Westchester, but before they filled in the water, Travers Island was an actual Island. Home to the tony New York Athletic Club, the island is chock full of top-notch athletic grounds, from an Olympic-sized saltwater pool to cabanas galore and facilities for tennis, yachting, rowing, croquet, and rugby. Membership costs $8,500, and there’s a dress code. Occasionally, though, epic fights apparently break out, so your call on joining. [“A crowd of spectators watch a track and field athlete jumping a stone-wall hurdle at Travers Island” (1896). Photo via MCNY.]

31 Shore Rd
Pelham, NY 10803

28. Wards Island

Wards Island Bridge, New York, NY 10029

Originally separated from Randalls Island by a channel called the Little Hell Gate, Wards Island became Randalls’ other half after the channel was filled in during the early 1960s. Wards has a similar history to Randalls, playing host to a number of hospitals, insane asylums, and, today, parks. Both islands can be reached via the Triborough Bridge or the Wards Island pedestrian bridge. [Photo via the Hips List.]

Wards Island Bridge
New York, NY 10029

29. Canarsie Pol

Brooklyn, NY

A 300 acre uninhabited oval in Jamaica Bay, Canarsie Pol is a part of Gateway National Recreation Area, and thus open to adventurous kayakers so long as they don't bother the birdies. A map from 1910 shows the island as being significantly smaller, suggesting that the island has expanded, likely due to sand and soil piling on Canarsie Pol after nearby waterways were dredged over time. Canarsie Pol is surrounded by other marshes, but none of them are considered large enough to be islands. [Photo via Outer Space Cities.]

30. Hunter Island

Queens, NY 11101

Another former-island, Hunter Island is named for its former owner John Hunter a wealthy politician who built himself a wildly expensive Georgian style mansion and gardens on the island, as well as a bridge to the mainland (before fill was used to connect it to the Bronx). Today it is a part of NYC’s biggest park, Pelham Bay Park (it’s more than three times the size of Central Park), and is home to an oak forest and nature trail, as well as remnants of John Hunter’s gardens, from grape hyacinth to Tartarian honeysuckle. [An 1882 print of Hunters Island, via MCNY.]

31. Cat Briars Island

Brooklyn, NY

Floatin' in the Long Island Sound, a part of the Hunter Island Marine Zoology and Geology Sanctuary, Cat Briars Island may not have much in the way of human history, but it compensates by bragging glacial erratics, ice aged boulders, and other natural things that don’t tend to last long when humans come along. [Photo via Empire Guides.]

32. Rulers Bar Hassock / Broad Channel

Broad Channel, NY 11693

An inlet of the only inhabited island in Jamaica Bay, Broad Channel is off the mainland and the grid. Artificial canals and dead-end residential blocks make up most of the territory, and the subway ride over is stunning - the Broad Channel stop is the longest in the system, and the train Jesuses over the water to get out there. Stop on by if you feel like it, although there’s not much to do but ogle at how remote it is. [Broad Channel after Hurricane Sandy. Photo via Queens Brownstoner.]

33. Furmans Island

Ferry Line Rd., New York, NY 10004

Furman Island has since joined the Queens mainland, but you can still smell its history in Newtown Creek. Once a mecca of industrial activity, Furman Island was home to glue factories, bone burning plants, an “egg factory”, and generally a point of disposal for the 4,000 horses that used to annually die in Brooklyn. In 1910 Furman saw an end to its island status when landfill made obsolete the Shanty Creek waterway that separated it from Queens. [Photo via New York Shitty.]

Ferry Line Rd.
New York, NY 10004

34. Subway Island

Broad Channel, NY 11693

Deep in the Rockaways, the A train defies the laws of gravity and soars above the tracks out across Jamaica Bay - just kidding, the A is actually just moving on track laid on top of Subway Island. Although built explicitly for elevating track, the 2010 bird census counted the city’s third largest glossy ibis collection there. Subway Island is vital to the allusion that the A train can walk on water. [Photo via New York Observer.]