Friday, April 18, 2014

Hell Gate

Location:   The East River
Year:   1614

Hell Gate is a short, shallow and narrow tidal strait in the East River separating Long Island from Randall's Island and Ward's Island. Hell Gate was discovered by the Dutch explorer Adrien Block, who traversed it as he sailed through Long Island Sound to New York Harbor. 

The name Hell Gate is derived from the Dutch word "Hellegat" which can mean either "Heaven's Gate" or "Hellhole." In either case, the name was bestowed ironically. With its swift moving currents, dramatic tides, quick and unpredictable shoaling, and many half-submerged rocks, Hell Gate has always been a dangerous place to navigate, and is a ships' graveyard. The colliding waters of the Harlem and East Rivers historically eddied around Pot Rock, Greater Mill Rock, Little Mill Rock, The Hen and Chickens, Frying Pan, Ni**erhead, Bald-Headed Billy, Bread and Cheese, the Hog's Back, Flood Rock Island, and others too small to name.

Over time, at least a thousand commercial ships have been lost or severely damaged in Hell Gate. It is, unfortunately for hapless sailors, the primary passage for ocean vessels entering New York Harbor from the north. A Hell Gate passage is essential to reach the many ports of Westchester, Long Island, and Connecticut, and saved hours on the trip to Boston or New York through the calmer waters of Long Island Sound.  In addition to the heavy ship traffic, the area is and was a prime fishing area, and ferries used to ply its waters too, moving goods and people between The Bronx and Queens. 

In 1851, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began blasting and dredging in Hell Gate, trying to make it a safer passage. The process took seventy years, and ended in 1912 with the removal of the last of the old obstacles. The Little Hell Gate between Randall's and Ward's Islands was landfilled, and the Bronx Kill was narrowed. 1912 was also the year that the Hell Gate Bridge was built, an arched railroad bridge which connects New England with Long Island.  In 1936, the Triborough Bridge, which connects the boroughs of Manhattan, The Bronx, and Queens was opened for automotive traffic. 

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