At the eastern end of Jamaica Bay, where the Rockaway Peninsula widens into the mainland of Long Island is one of New York’s smallest and least developed State Parks. At 12 acres of wetland, shoreline and lawns, Bayswater Point State Park seems like an unexpected member of a family that includes Niagara Falls, Bear Mountain, and Montauk Point.
The park is one of more than a dozen along Jamaica Bay that are managed by the city, state, Nassau County, and the National Parks Service. This park was previously a private estate that was given to the public in the will of its last owner and then purchased by the state.
Where it Is
The official map for this park shows its few amenities: two picnic areas, a “foundation,” a kiosk that isn’t really there, and a parking lot that also isn’t there. But it has marked trails winding between the marsh vegetation. Bring bug spray because the wildlife here is unforgiving.
Looking west on a Google Earth view, Bayswater Point State Park is located at the tip of its namesake neighborhood, where Mott Avenue dead-ends at the park. Historically this tip of land was known as Motts Point, after the colonial family that lived nearby, whose name also appears on Mott Avenue and Motts Creek. To the park’s south is Norton Basin, which briefly connected to the ocean between 1899 and 1911. The similarly-named, city-operated Bayswater Park faces this inlet. On the opposite side of this park is the former Edgemere landfill, which is undergoing a transformation as a park. On the far right, or north is Head of Bay, an inlet that collects water from Thurston Creek, Simonson Creek, Hook Creek, and Motts Creek. The orange line here separates New York City’s borough of Queens and Nassau county.
To the north of Bayswater Point State Park is Joseph Sanford Jr Channel, a mouthful for a waterway name that’s more fitting for a street of park. To the right in this photo is the state park, which is in Queens. To the left is Inwood Park, which is a small point of Nassau County that sticks into Jamaica Bay and separates the Rockaway Peninsula from the rest of Queens. The channel’s present name is certainly preferable to its former name, Negro Bar Channel. This racially demeaning name has been on the map since 1963, when Congress wiped racial slurs off the map. Prior to that, it was…
A name that I would rather not type as it would land me in trouble. But here’s what it was in 1903, as seen in Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Often, even a demeaning geographic marker such as this would still have some connection to Black history, but in this case there was no significant Black history to be found here. It appears that it was nothing more than a surveyor or mapmaker’s whim to give this inlet such a terrible name. And that’s why it was easy for community leaders, elected officials, and historians to have it renamed. In 2018, the renaming passed Congress and was signed by the president, honoring a fallen Inwood firefighter. Further inland, Sandford Channel narrows into Motts Basin, where the city line hits the shore and then turns south to the ocean. Forgotten-NY followed this borderline in 2003, noting the streets that weave in and out of the city on its border with Inwood and Lawrence.
There are plenty of parks located on saltwater wetlands, so if there is a unique aspect to Bayswater Point State Park, it is the proximity to Runway 4R/22L of JFK Airport. The airplanes seen here barely clear the treetops of the park, so if it not the best choice of bird watchers, it certainly is a plus for plane watchers. On the Google Earth view above, I made two circles at Bayswater Point: dark green for the State Park, and light green for the city-operated Jamaica Bay Park. A wildlife preserve, this park once covered most of the shoreline and islands of Jamaica Bay. In 1972, most of it was transferred to the National Parks Service as Gateway National Recreation Area. Peripheral lands along its edge somehow remained in the city’s jurisdiction.
Ideally, I’d like to see the city’s major streets have plazas or turnaround circles where they terminate, as seen with Soundview Avenue at Clason Point, or Bowling Green Park at the start of Broadway. No such civic gestures here, where Mott Avenue enters the state park. No giant signs either, naming the park and the governor, but there used to be such a sign here a few years ago. On the park map, there’s supposed to be a “kiosk” near this entrance, presumably a bench with a display board. Certainly it would make the park more welcoming to have a map on display with text explaining the park’s history.
The only informative sign that I found in this park is for a butterfly garden near its main entrance. There are a few community gardens to be seen in the Rockaways, and perhaps there’s potential to organize a conservancy or friends group for this state park that could expand on this tiny garden.
The Phantom Mansion
What’s the point of picnicking here if one can’t have a public restroom after eating and drinking? Perhaps if one likes watching airplanes close-up, this lawn is worth a meal. The Edgemere landfill is in the background, having been decommissioned in 1991 after 53 years in use. Its summit rises to 70 feet, according to its very detailed Wikipedia article. What fascinates me about this lawn is the concrete outline in the grass, an item worthy of Forgotten-NY. It is a remnant of a mansion that stood here many decades ago.
With a drone or satellite, one can see the concrete outline from above, where a mansion stood at the terminus of Mott Avenue. There is also a crumbling seawall on the edge of this park. Sadly, no historical signs or markers to identify the concrete outlines on the lawn.
The 1924 aerial survey from the DoITT NYCity Map shows a sprawling manor at Motts Point with gardens on one side of the home, and lawns that allowed for views of Jamaica Bay. Who lived here and how did they earn such a pretty spot on the map?
Going back further in time, the 1912 Sanborn atlas shows us the floorplan of this phantom mansion, so in theory it could be rebuilt with the Victorian style that was popular at the time. Traveling inland on Mott Avenue, there are dozens of large turn-of-the-century homes to be found. They’re expensive to maintain, but they’re ideal for large families. This explains how Bayswater became an enclave for Orthodox Jews, who risk living with storms and flooding for their space and comfort. The Satmar hasidim, who felt the tightness of Williamsburg, initially considered Bayswater as an alternative, but later chose an upstate location for their latest “village.”
By 1951, the mansion at Motts Point no longer had such an elaborate garden, and with suburbanization, many of the summer homes of the wealthy were divided into tract houses for the middle class. In 1948, Idlewild Airport opened nearby, shrouding the bay in the shadow and noise of airplanes. It was renamed for JFK in 1963. At this time, the mansion had an outdoor pool on its lawn and I can imagine had this pool lasted into the present, it would certainly be a popular item in a park. The mansion was demolished in 1988, along with its pool and other structures on the property. That was the year when Bayswater Point was sold to the Trust for Public Land, which then sold it to the state.
In 2011, the blog NYC Edges visited this state park and provided a detailed history of its phantom mansion. It was built in 1907 by banker Louis Heinsheimer, from lumber magnate Louis Bossert. Heinsheimer named it Breezy Point, which would confuse later travelers with the tip of the Rockaways that shares the name. In 1925, his brother Alfred donated it to Hospital for Joint Diseases and the Maimonides Institute for Children. In turn, the Maimonides Institute, a school for mentally and physically disabled children’s purchased the mansion and its two pools in 1964. It was sold to the Trust for Public Land in 1986, and shortly afterward suffered a fire. Too expansive to rebuild, the Tudor-English beauty was entirely demolished and the land was then sold to the state. Gone are the arches, gargoyles, and Guastavino tiles. It was designated as a state park in 1991. New York Times described the phantom mansion as a “Gatsby” type, usually associated with Long Island’s Gold Coast rather than the Rockaways.
Ghost Home in the Park
The Heinsheimer house will never appear again, but the park has a second mansion that could be brought back to life, if there’s enough funding for it. Titled Sunset Lodge, this early 20th-century home was last owned by Victoria Greenidge, a wealthy recluse who bought the place with her husband Joseph in the 1940s. The couple outfitted the house with “fine furnishings and antiques” but never actually moved in, residing instead in a guest cottage around back. After Joseph’s death in 1972, she became a recluse and senile, and the mansion fell into neglect.
Following her death in 1985, Sunset Lodge and the surrounding land were donated, in accordance with her wishes, to the Audubon Society, perhaps as it is an ideal birdwatching spot. But the birding nonprofit didn’t have the funds to maintain it and it suffered looting and vandalism. One can imagine this barn-like structure as a preschool, environmental education center, or a bed-and-breakfast. At the least as an office and storage for the parks agency. But for now, it is boarded-up and the parking lot on the park’s map is chained shut. Of course, no historical markers or signs here to tell the story of Sunset Lodge, other than the stone plaques on the gateposts.
Where does the state park end and the city park begin? One should look for the signage, whose color, font, and logo denotes ownership. On Point Breeze Place, a couple of blocks north of Sunset Lodge, is a sign for Jamaica Bay Park, where city Parks workers maintain the serenity.
Inland in this section of the Rockaways was Wavecrest Lake, which I documented earlier.
Having documented other State Parks on this blog, such as Valley Stream, Hempstead Lake, Clay Pit Ponds, and Roberto Clemente, and the DEC-operated preserve at Mount Loretto, I would love the opportunity to work in Communications for NYS Parks, or as its historian. Perhaps a supportive reader can provide me the connection for an interview.