1823 Toll House Sign, Coney Island’s Oldest Artifact, Now on View at Coney Island History Project

Photo Showing Restoration of 1823 Toll House Sign, Coney Island’s Oldest Artifact, Now on View at Coney Island History Project

Among the treasures on display at the Coney Island History Project’s exhibit center this season is Coney Island’s oldest surviving artifact from the dawn of the “World’s Playground.” The 1823 Toll House sign dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to “the Island” was 5 cents!

The earliest settlers of Coney Island knew better than to build at the ocean’s edge. In the early days, development began along Coney Island Creek, where violent winter storms were less likely to wash away structures. Coney Island remained isolated until March 1823, when the Coney Island Road and Bridge Company constructed a bridge and toll house on Coney Island Creek at what is now Shell Road. The Coney Island Causeway toll road opened for business in early 1824 and horse-drawn carriages were soon speeding south to the beach.

James Cropsey and Daniel Morell operated the toll house until 1839. John Lefferts took over as toll-taker until 1876, when Andrew Culver bought the property for his Prospect Park and Coney Island Railroad, the predecessor of today’s Culver Line. Coney’s first hotel, the Coney Island House, opened on a sand dune a short distance away on the current site of McDonalds’s restaurant on Neptune Avenue. This small triangle of land witnessed the beginning of Coney Island as a resort.

The Toll House stood at the corner of Shell Road and Coney Island Creek for over a century before the City demolished it in 1929 during a street-widening project. The sign was rescued by Coney Island ride inventor and amusement manufacturer William F. Mangels, who put it on display in his American Museum of Public Recreation on West 8th Street and Neptune Avenue. Mangels collection was sold in 1955 and the sign was purchased and restored by the Coney Island History Project in 2007.

1823 Toll House Sign, Coney Island’s Oldest Artifact, on View at Coney Island History Project

1823 Toll House Sign on View at Coney Island History Project Exhibit Center, on West 12th Street under the Wonder Wheel

Today, the 192-year-old sign, often described as Coney Island’s "first admission ticket," is on view for the first time since 2010 at the History Project’s exhibit center. It complements this season’s special exhibit “Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920.” Stereoview photography of Coney Island began in the 1860s, providing the earliest documentation of the resort. This exhibit features original stereoview photo cards, antique stereo viewers, and enlargements of some of the oldest photographic images of Coney Island including Coney Island Creek itself.

The History Project’s exhibition center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with "Skully," a veteran of the Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama, and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. New hours are 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

(Posted on Jun 09, 2015)
Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920

Our first special exhibit of the season, opening on May 23, will be "Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920." Stereoview photography of Coney Island began in the 1860s, providing the earliest documentation of the resort. This exhibit features original stereoview photo cards, antique stereo viewers, and enlargements of some of the oldest photographic images of Coney Island.

Long before television, radio, movies, and the internet, the main form of family home entertainment was an exciting new technology called stereoview photography. Most homes could afford a simple wooden hand viewer and a collection of stereoview cards that covered every subject imaginable.

The cards were actual photographs shot with a stereo bellows camera and pasted on a cardboard backing. The viewer split the card, creating a 3-D image, something that had never been possible before.

Coney Island was one of the earliest subjects photographed. During the 1860s Coney Island consisted of a tiny resort centered on Coney Island Creek at the terminus of Shell Road. The Coney Island Tollhouse, Wyckoff House and Oceanic Hotel were prominently featured in these vintage stereoviews, as was Coney Island Creek itself. Hunting, fishing and rowing on the creek were the main attractions in the resort's early days.

Coney Island History Project: Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920

Late 19th century images included the Elephant Hotel, the first roller coasters, and a variety of humorous bathing attire. Our exhibit features modern enlargements of these early images, as well as the cards themselves. Commercial stereoviews continued to sell well into the 1930s.

While this form of stereo technology may seem primitive by modern standards, visitors to our exhibit can peer through an antique stereoviewer and experience the earliest days of Coney Island as it was transformed into the "Playground of the World."

"Please join us on this journey into the heart of Coney Island and leave the digital world behind," says Charles Denson, curator of the exhibit and director of the Coney Island History Project.

This program is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and our members and contributors.

Coney Island History Project Exhibit Center, Steeplechase Horse and Giant Skull

Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, the Coney Island History Project is just a few steps off the Boardwalk. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past. Visitors are also invited to take free souvenir photos with an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name and "Skully," a giant skull that is a veteran of Coney's Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama.

The History Project's exhibition center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. New hours are 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

Join our unique walking tours based on Charles Denson's award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found, the interviews from CIHP's Oral History Archive, and other primary sources. Visit our online reservation site to see the walking tour schedule and purchase advance tickets online or book a group tour.

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(Posted on May 13, 2015)
It's My Estuary Day

You're invited to It's My Estuary Day on May 30 from 10:00AM-4:00PM, a day of service, learning and celebration along Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park! The rain date is Sunday May 31.

Events will include a coastal clean-up, tables representing environmental organizations, demonstrations of water chemistry techniques, oyster monitoring projects, underwater robotics, diving demonstrations, and eco-chats with scientists and ecologists.

Participants include: NYCDOE * NYC Department of Environmental Protection * New York State Department of Environmental Conservation * NYC Partnerships for Parks * NYC Department of Sanitation * New York Aquarium * New York State Marine Education Association (NYSMEA) * Coney Island History Project * US Navy Sea Perch Project * Billion Oyster Project * The Historical Diving Society * Coney Island Beautification Project * Atlantic Engineering * Brooklyn Marine Alliance * Captain Mikes Diving * Cultural Research Divers * The Northeast Diving Equipment Group * Parachute Literary Arts * Union Divers Local 1556 * IS 228 * John Dewey High School * PS 188 * Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies

Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project will give a talk and tour of Coney Creek at It's My Estuary Day. Visitors may also take a self-guided walking tour by following the markers created for the Coney Island CreekWalk by the History Project with the support of Partnerships for Parks.

Last month, Charles Denson launched http://www.coneyislandcreek.org, his new website about Coney Island Creek. "I felt that it was important to create a site that provides a resource for people interested in discovering the creek's history and ecology, and its potential for the future." he said. "It's important for the public to be informed and have a voice as the city is conducting a feasibility study to mitigate future flooding in the area and the waterway might be transformed in many ways in the near future."

The site will have videos, photo essays, maps, interviews with community members, news, and historical photographs and information. Among the first videos on the new site is this kayak tour of the Creek at high tide.

(Posted on May 13, 2015)
Antonetta DelCore

Italian immigrants celebrating the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on the beach with Antonetta DelCore, "Queen of Coney Island" from the 1940s until her death in 1973.

Today as always, visitors of every age, race, color, and country of origin mingle on Coney Island's beach and boardwalk. In the late 19th and early 20th century, it was German, Italian and Greek immigrants, now it's Russian, Chinese, Pakistani and Haitian families, among others, who have settled in Coney Island and the adjacent neighborhoods of Gravesend, Bensonhurst and Brighton Beach.

The Coney Island History Project is seeking Southern Brooklyn immigrants to record oral histories for a new program debuting this year. As part of the New York City Council's citywide Cultural Immigrant Initiative, we are conducting interviews with immigrants and foreign-born New Yorkers in English as well as languages such as Chinese and Russian.

Please email events[AT]coneyislandhistory[DOT]org for info or to schedule an appointment if you or someone you know would like to share a story. Interviews may be conducted at our recording studio or your home or office, as well as at senior centers and community centers, where we will be presenting slide talks about the history of immigrants in Coney Island.

This program is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.
(Posted on May 12, 2015)
Red Grooms, Weegee 1940, 1998-99, acrylic on paper, Private Collection. Image Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York; © 2013 Red Grooms/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Red Grooms, Weegee 1940, 1998-99, acrylic on paper, Private Collection. Image Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York; © 2013 Red Grooms/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

On May 12th, the New York Public Library will host a conversation inspired by Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008, the exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and the Yale University Press publication of the same title. The panelists are the exhibit's curator Robin Jaffee Frank (Wadsworth Atheneum), Charles Denson (Coney Island History Project), Terry Carbone (Brooklyn Museum), Charles Musser (Yale University), and guest artist Red Grooms.

The Art Book Series event will be held from 6:00pm-8:00PM at the 42nd Street Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The event is free to the public. Auditorium doors open at 5:30PM.

Charles Denson has been a consultant and a member of the exhibit's project team for the past five years and has contributed numerous ephemera and prints from his personal archive, as well as writing a chapter for the exhibit catalog.

The exhibit Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland is on view in Hartford through May 31 before traveling to the San Diego Museum of Art, July 11, 2015 - October 13, 2015; Brooklyn Museum, November 20, 2015 - March 13, 2016; and the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, May 11, 2016 - September 11, 2016. It features more than 140 paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, architectural artifacts, carousel animals, ephemera and film clips.

(Posted on May 12, 2015)
Coney Island History Project

Polar Bear Club Member Eddie Mark and Coney Island City Councilman Mark Treyger pose for a souvenir photo with 'Skully,' a veteran of Spook-A-Rama and the Spookhouse, and the newest addition to our exhibit center.

After special hours on Palm Sunday and Easter, the History Project is currently open for weekend walking tours and group visits. Visit our online reservation site to see the walking tour schedule and purchase advance tickets online. For info on booking a group tour, email events@coneyislandhistory.org. Coney Island History Project

This 3-year-old, one of our youngest visitors, and his dad are regulars at Coney Island Always, the miniature animated amusement park in the window next door.

The Steeplechase Park fan seen below poses with our original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave the park its name. Visit our flickr page to view more photos from Opening Day and Easter

Our regular exhibition season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. New hours in 2015 will be from 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

Coney Island History Project
(Posted on Apr 15, 2015)