The Arthur Kill (from the Dutch achter kill , or back channel) is a tidal strait separating Staten Island, New York City from mainland New Jersey. Also known as Staten Island Sound, it’s a major navigational channel for the Port of New York and New Jersey. The Jersey side is primarily lined with industrial sites, knows as “the Chemical Coast”: the Staten Island side is primarily salt marsh.
The channel runs some 10 miles (16 km), connecting Raritan Bay on its south end with Newark Bay on the north. Arthur Kill Road follows the marshes towards the southern tip of Staten Island, once a major traffic artery but now mostly replaced by the West Shore expressway.
Near the southern end at Rossville -a town once known as “Blazing Star”- there’s a wide bend in the channel. Since the 1930’s a shallow tidal flat there has hosted one of the last remaining commercial marine-salvage yards in the city, becoming a final port for almost a century of abandoned and wrecked ships. Known as Witte’s Marine Equipment Company since 1947 and still operating as Donjon Marine, the company has salvaged materials from hundreds of wrecked and disused vessels scattered throughout the New York and New Jersey waterways.
|Miru Kim (Naked City Spleen)|
|Abram S. Hewitt passing the Brooklyn Bridge|
One of the most famous ships rusting into the mud flts is the Abram S. Hewitt (1903-1958), the last coal burning fireboat of the NYC fire department.
On June 15, 1904, the Hewitt was involved in fighting a fire aboard the PS General Slocum, a large paddle-steamer carrying 1,400 passengers to a picnic at Eatson Neck, Long Island. The ship caught on fire an hour into its trip and an estimated 1,021 lives were lost, mostly women and children. The event later came to be known as the “General Slocum tragedy”, and was the worst loss of life in New York City until September 11, 2001.
Another relic is the US Navy Submarine Hunter PC-1264, one of only two U.S. Navy ships to have a predominately African-American enlisted complement during the war. PC-1264 served as an Eastern Seaboard escort, operating from its base in New York to Key West and Guantanamo Bay. In early January 1945 the ship’s mission was changed from convoy escort to anti-submarine duty, and began patrolling areas from Long Island south to Cape Charles. She was decommissioned in February 1946, serving a little less than 22 months as a U.S. Navy fighting ship, but the crew’s performance helped convince the Navy to reevaluate its perception of African Americans as members of the fleet.
USS ATR-89 was built during WWII as a ATR-1 Class Rescue Tug for the US Navy and served in the US Atlantic Fleet for 3 years before she was decommissioned and sold into commercial service. Purchased by the Mutual Ocean Transportation Co of Jacksonville, FL in 1947, the former ATR-89 was renamed Hila and operated in the commercial trades for the remainder of her service life. The Hila broke down in the late 50′s on a voyage from Miami, and was eventually sold for scrapping in the late 70’s to early 80’s.
|The Bloxom (aka LT-653) was built in Point Pleasant, WV, for the US Army in 1944.|
|Port Johnson NJ, 1930’s|
|Kill Van Kull 1971|
John A. Noble, the son of the noted American painter, John (“Wichita Bill”) Noble spent his early years in the studios of his father and later worked as a seaman on schooners and in marine salvage. While towing out down the nearby Kill van Kull in 1928 he saw the old Port Johnston coal docks: “the largest graveyard of wooden sailing vessels in the world.” Filled with new but obsolete ships, the coalport had become a boneyard, and Noble built a floating studio there from parts of the abandoned ships. From 1946 on, he worked as a full-time artist, making a life’s work of documenting the slow obsolescence of sailing and steam vessels along the Arthur Kill and the Kill van Kull. Noble died in 1983, but his studio survives at the Noble Maritime Collection at Staten Island’s Snug Harbor Cultural Center.
Although Witte’s is the largest remaining marine boneyard on the Kill, multiple other wrecks line the marshland along its muddy banks.The Rossville shipyard is slowly rotting away; Donjon Marine Company seems to be taking a more proactive approach to actually salvaging materials from the wrecks and keeping the curious out, having erecting 12-foot metal walls around the perimeter of the yard with signs prohibiting any and all photography. In all fairness it is a working salvage yard and as such presents certain dangers to onlookers. Still, the area is popular with kayakers and photographers intent on recording the history there.
The Witte Boneyard- a different kind of graveyard
A Lesson in the History of Ships; 1990 NY Times
A Watery Grave for Historic Ships on Staten Island
Shaun O’Boyle photography
Graves of Arthur Kill- 3fishproductions
The Ships of Arthur Kill -windagainstcurrent.com
List of Shipwrecks in the National Register of Historic Places