Arline Zatz grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, just a short distance away from Coney Island. She recalls that every summer she and her friends would take a short jaunt to the popular beach and amusement parks to lie on the sand and enjoy the day until the crowds dwindled.
"Then the water was all ours, and we'd float in the ocean," she remembers. "I have tremendous fun memories of Coney Island - of waiting at Nathan's for fries and hot dogs, going through the barrel at Steeplechase Park"¦those were the days."
Perched along the southeastern, Atlantic-facing edge of Brooklyn, Coney Island has been a symbol of fun and frolic since the late 1800s when it lured its wealthy visitors to stroll the boardwalk, lounge in the sun and dine on freshly-caught seafood.
Long before that, however, Coney Island was home to bands of Canarsie and Mohawk Indians, who hunted the area's salt marshes for waterfowl, fish, and shells. In the early 1600s, Henry Hudson's expedition arrived on its quest to find a western route to the East Indies. After Hudson came the Dutch, who settled the area all around the shallow bay, cobbling together villages like Gravesend and Amersfoort, some of which formed fragile alliances with the Native Americans, while others were repeatedly attacked by Indian war parties.
After the English defeated the Dutch in 1694, Coney Island remained a collection of small farming communities scattered around Gravesend until the early 1800s, when a permanent road was constructed to connect Coney Island to the mainland. Up until then, the island was only accessible over a causeway during low tide. Construction of the Shell Road enabled entrepreneurs to capitalize on the area's proximity to the water, and heralded the first whispers of the Coney Island's booming tourism industry.