The AMC Show Turn, introduced viewers across the country to the history of a Revolutionary War spy ring. One spot that was discussed on the show was an abandoned island off of Staten Island, called Shooter’s Island, between Newark Bay and the Kill Van Kull.
43-acre Shooter’s Island is now part of the NYC Parks Department but began as a hunting preserve for wild geese during the Colonial era (hence its name). According to the NYC Parks Department, “George Washington used the island as a drop-off point for messages, and the place became a haven for spies.”
Post-Revolutionary War, it then became a rather industrial site with a shipyard and oil refinery. The Townsend-Downey Shipbuilding Company actually built a racing yacht for Kaiser Wilhelm II, the emperor of Germany. Thomas Edison shot this video of President Theodore Roosevelt and Prince Henry of Prussia arriving for the launch of the yacht. The company also built the schooner yacht Atlantic which set the record for sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in 1905 which wasn’t broken until the 1980s. Other companies built cargo ships during WWI, and the island was extended 30 acres to accommodate the industry.
After WWI, the island become a polluted junkyard for ships, like the Arthur Kill Boat Graveyard, also on Staten Island. According to the National Park Service, the island was essentially abandoned by 1921. The question of what to do with the island continued past WWII even, and in the 1960s a politician actually proposed the destruction of the entire island to make navigation easier.
In the 1970s, bird life returned to Shooter’s Island as a result of cleaner waterways and sewage filtration in New York City. According to the NYC Parks, “at least seven species of wading birds breed here, and forty-three species have been seen on the island.” A 1990 oil spill in Arthur Kill served as a setback, but settlements helped restore some of the damage from the accident, and in 1994 the island was assigned to the Parks Department.
The island technically belongs to New York and New Jersey, but New York manages the island. The New York Audubon Society manages wildlife research there.
Staten Island has two other abandoned islands off its coast, which were actually completely man-made. Read about the Hoffman and Swinburne Islands here.