New Rochelle has over nine miles of waterfront if you include the inlets and off-shore islands, which were formed by the retreating of the glaciers eons ago. Fortunately, many of these islands have been turned into parks offering waterfront accessibility to the public.
Glen Island Park
New Rochelle was once home to the Glen Island Resort, one of the country’s earliest amusement parks, pre-dating Disneyland by more than fifty years. The brainchild of local legend John Starin, Glen Island was actually a combination of eight islands off of New Rochelle, which could be accessed by steamboat from Manhattan. The islands of the summer resort, each celebrating a different Western culture, were connected by smaller ferries, piers, causeways, and footbridges. The Starnburg Castle (now known as Glen Island Castle) was part of Kleine Deustchland (Little Germany), and used as a beer garden and restaurant featuring waiters in lederhausen. According to guide written by Barbara Davis, Glen Island Resort featured “restaurants, game rooms, a zoo, an aviary, a museum of natural history, bridle paths, beaches, a miniature railroad, and more.”
A drawbridge, still in use today, was built in 1920 to connect Glen Island to New Rochelle, and the islands were filled in to become the 130-acre, Glen Island Park, the second busiest park in Westchester County. The Glen Island Casino from the Big Band era is now a restaurant and there are plenty of picnic areas, pavilions, open space and walkways, along with an active boat launch and a large crescent-shaped beach which opens onto Long Island Sound. From there, you can actually see New York City and Long Island.
Five Islands Park
Five Islands Park is located north of Hudson Park & Beach and accessed via Lefevre Lane. The largest island, Clifford Island, has a beach, picnic area, sandy beach, and recreational areas. Wooden pedestrian bridges take you from Clifford Island to Little and Big Harrison island, the latter which has a fishing dock and an open air pavilion. A waterfront pathway surrounds the landscaped islands. Two other islands, Tank and Sedge islands, are part of the 15-acre park but can only be accessed via boat.
Five Islands Park was opened in 1981, when Clifford Island was known as Oakwood Island. The opening was seen as an important civic moment, as the city was looking to turn around its economy. Transforming these islands into parks instead of allowing for more luxury real-estate development was a key gesture. At the time of the opening, New Rochelle’s City Manager, Samuel C. Kissinger, told The New York Times, “Our intention is not just to bring commerce and industry, but to keep this city as a vital place for those who live here.”