“First a horse rendering plant, then a 19th century landfill, this beach of glass is scavenger heaven”
Dead Horse Bay is a small water body off Barren Island between the Gerritsen Inlet and Rockaway Inlet in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. During the seventeenth century, Dutch settlers built tide mills to grind wheat into flour. A remaining millstone can still be found along the Millstone trail. From the nineteenth century to the twentieth century the area has been used in a variety of ways, including manufacturing fertilizer from the remains of dead animals, producing fish oil from the menhaden caught in the bay, and more recently a landfill for the disposal of New York City’s garbage. In 1926, much of the salt marsh surrounding Dead Horse Bay and the rest of Barren Island were pumped with sand from Jamaica Bay. This raised the land to 16 feet above the high tide mark and connected the islands to each other, and the mainland of Brooklyn, in order to create Floyd Bennett Field as New York City's first municipal airport. The entire area, including the historic airfield, are now managed by the National Park Service as part of the Jamaica Bay Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Today, school groups are taken to Dead Horse Bay on a regular basis to walk the Millstone trail, seine for a variety of fishes, and learn about the natural and cultural history of the area. Its shores are also a popular sport fishing spot, and home to a marina operating in Deep Creek as a National Park Serviceconcession. Today one can find a large array of glass bottles and pieces of broken glass on the beach, along with old shoes and construction materials, many from the landfill which is now leaking. It is a popular place to collect strange decorative materials for artists and crafters. Along Millstone Trail near the bay, a millstone is left over from the 17th century, when Dutch settlers used the water for tide mills to grind wheat into flour. The bay was given its name sometime in the 1850s, when horse-rendering plants still surrounded the beach. From the New York Times: "Dead Horse Bay sits at the western edge of a marshland once dotted by more than two dozen horse-rendering plants, fish oil factories and garbage incinerators. From the 1850s until the 1930s, the carcasses of dead horses and other animals from New York City streets were used to manufacture glue, fertilizer and other products at the site. The chopped-up, boiled bones were later dumped into the water. The squalid bay, then accessible only by boat, was reviled for the putrid fumes that hung overhead." As the car industry grew, horses and buggies – thus horse carcasses – became scarce, and by the 1920s there was only one rendering plant left. It was during this era, around the turn of the century, that the marsh of Dead Horse Bay began to be used as a landfill. Filled with trash by the 1930s, the trash heap was capped, only to have the cap burst in the 1950s and the trash spew forth onto the beach. Since then garbage has been leaking continually onto the beach and into the ocean from Dead Horse Bay. Thousands upon thousands of bottles, broken and intact, many over 100 years old, litter the shore. Other hardy bits of trash pepper this beach of glass: leather shoe soles, rusty telephones, and scores of unidentifiable pieces of metal and plastic. The beach is usually empty, conjuring a quiet, eerie post-doomsday kind of scene that is the perfect setting for scavenging another era's trash. The horses aren't quite gone either; found throughout the bay are one-inch chunks of horse bone, a somewhat unpleasant reminder of Dead Horse Bay's pungent past.
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