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Rockaway Beach, located on the Rockaway Peninsula, has a rich history dating back to the early 17th century. Called Reckowacky or “the place of our own people”, by the Canarsie Indian tribe who had settled here, Rockaway was first sold to the Dutch in 1639.
The land was then sold to Captain Palmer in 1685. Richard Cornell purchased the land from Palmer two years later.
After the railroad opened in 1872, Rockaway Beach’s popularity grew as a premier beach resort, serving tourists and New York society’s elite families. Later, Rockaway Beach catered to the middle class.
Rockaway Beach was incorporated in 1897. In 1898 Rockaway Beach and the surrounding villages officially became part of Queens County. Steeplechase, the area’s first amusement park, was opened in 1901. Rockaway’s Playland opened in 1928 and remained a popular tourist spot until the 1980s.
Local areas of interest to tourists include “Whaleamena”, a Central Park Children’s Zoo whale sculpture donated to the Rockaways and located at the Beach 95th Street boardwalk entrance. The “Dough Girl” Monument, located on Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 94th Street, recognizes the efforts of women who served in the armed forces. A four block section of Rockaway Beach was officially designated as the city’s first surfer’s only beach. Today, renewed interest in the Rockaways is spurring housing development.
More information about the Rockaway Beach community is available from the following sources:
Old Rockaway, New York in Early Photographs by Vincent Seyfried and William Asadorian
Queens A Pictorial History by Vincent Seyfried
The Peninsula Branch of the Queens Borough Public Library opened in July of 1943 and was then known as the “Rockaway Branch”. The branch was closed from 1958 through 1959 but subsequently reopened as the result of community pressure. In 1972 the branch was moved to a newly built City of New York building and renamed as the Peninsula Branch. A fire in 1999 temporarily closed the Peninsula Branch for several months until repairs and renovations were completed.