The Rockaway peninsula, a barrier beach eleven miles long in southern Queens, includes the neighborhoods of Far Rockaway, Arverne, Rockaway Beach, Rockaway Park, Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, and Neponsit. The original inhabitants of the Rockaways were the Canarsie Indians. It is thought the name Rockaway is derived from “rechquarkie”, an Indian word with many spelling variants, which means “the place of our people”, or “the sand place”.
The Rockaways, along with Coney Island in Brooklyn, were long a favorite summer resort for New Yorkers, only declining in popularity after World War II. Considered a healthy place to get away from the dirt and heat of the city, people flocked to the beaches in the summer. There were once piers, pavilions by the water, grand hotels, large rooming houses, and colonies of beach cottages. Most cottages have disappeared, but some still are in use today, and in some areas there is attention to their preservation. The amusement park “Playland” opened in 1901 and enjoyed a heyday until it closed in 1986. The entire area has undergone many changes: enduring urban blight, seeing vigorous housing development, moving from being largely a resort area to a bedroom community.
In 1935, 30,000 to 36,000 people lived in Rockaway Beach. According to the U.S. Census, the largest immigrant groups were Irish, German, Russian, and Jewish. The population rose 25% between 1950 and 1959, including the addition of African-American residents. In 1998, the population of the Rockaways was almost 100,000. Today, the population of the community includes Polish, Hungarian, Hispanic, Chinese, Korean, and Arabic immigrants.
Its proximity to the mainland still draws thousands of summer visitors from the rest of the city to enjoy its beaches and sea air.
An article in the Rockaway Argus newspaper in 1930 refers to “numerous additions” to the “collection of books” at the first Seaside Branch, located at the north side of Beach Channel Drive. In her annual report for 1929, the children’s librarian refers to the many summer beachgoers coming to the library.
In April 1961, the Seaside Branch relocated as a “storefront library” on the ground floor of the Pioneer Hotel at 184 Beach 116th Street. Open House was held during National Library Week. There were 52,000 books in its collection. Harold Tucker was Chief Librarian of QBPL. That branch closed in January 1977 while construction continued on the present branch at 116-15 Rockaway Beach Blvd. The staff moved to the Peninsula Branch until the new Seaside Branch was completed and opened in 1979.
In 2010 the Seaside Library was renovated. The renovation included new furniture, interior changes, self check out, RFID technology, a Young Adult area, and more public computers
Seyfried, Vincent and William Asadorian. Old Rockaway, New York in Early Photographs, Dover, 2000
Bellot, Alfred H. History of the Rockaways from 1685 to 1917, Bellot’s Histories, Far Rockaway, NY, c1918.
The Wave, Wave Publishing Co., Rockaway Beach, NY.
Rockaway Argus, Rockaway Beach, NY.
Annual Reports, Seaside Branch. Long Island Division, Queens Library.