City Island and other hidden treasures

One of the places I had on my list to visit in New York was City Island, which is at the northeastern corner of the Bronx. We took two trains and a bus to get there, but it was so worth it, as it’s like stepping into another world and it’s hard to remember that it’s in New York.

The island is just 2.4 kms (1.5miles) long and 0.8km (.5 miles) wide. It is so narrow that you can see the water on both sides from many vantage points.

I read quite a bit about the island before we went and most of the information was about the seafood restaurants, which didn’t interest us at all. Nowhere did I read about where to get off the bus, which I think is an important piece of information. The best part of the island (in my opinion) is between Schofield Street and the northernmost tip. We actually happened to get off at Schofield and walked to the end where all the restaurants are. Photos were taken, but it’s a rather unprepossessing spot. The restaurants are big and lack charm and the best views are from a huge car park surrounded by a high fence and fishy scents.


I was a tad disappointed, so we turned back and noticed a very attractive yacht club with a “Members Only” sign at the front. Grist to my husband’s mill, of course, so in we went!

The key to being a good trespasser is confidence, so we walked in as though we owned the place and headed to the jetty, to be met with a great view of Manhattan, yachts and an unidentifiable bridge.

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The walk back was fabulous. The island’s history is rather interesting. It was purchased from the original owners (rather than plundered) in 1654 by Thomas Pell and was farmed. It was then sold to an enterprising gentleman, Benjamin Palmer, who recognised that its proximity to New York Harbour meant that ships passing through Long Island Sound needed a pilot to guide them into the East River. Every ship was required to stop at City Island to pick up a pilot. Unfortunately the American Revolution was the undoing of this enterprise, and the importance of the island was lost (along with all of Palmer’s money).

The Island then became known for its fishing and oyster industries, but it also specialised in building boats, and there are many boat yards on the way back to the centre of the island, which look as though they just sell, maintain or winter the boats. I couldn’t see much evidence of actual building. A little known fact, imparted to us by a local, is that several of the early America’s Cup winners were built here, and there were several of these images dotted around.


Sails were also made on the island. I loved the paintings on the walls of some of the buildings celebrating the America’s Cup boat race.


We loved the New England style architecture found on the island and I took so many photos of gorgeous buildings. Here is a slide show of a few of them.

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The allegedly oldest house on the island was rather disappointing to us, compared with some of the others. It’s beautifully restored and maintained, but rather sterile and the white picket fence is plastic.


We noticed that many of the side streets are cul-de-sacs, with fences and gates built across the bottom. These fenced off areas are, in fact, private beaches for the residents of the street. What a lovely concept!


I was a bit surprised to see this Californian Bungalow on one of the side streets. IMG_8891

There are several charming churches on the island, and this was my favourite. Beautiful gardens, which were open to all. It is the Grace Episcopal Church which was built  in the 1860s by island shipyard carpenters who styled the rafters like a ship’s hull.IMG_8850

As an aside I’m wearing a hacked Lotta Jansdotter Esme top and a reversible Pattern Union Beverley Wrap made from an Indian shawl.

There is a museum, a fascinating cemetery and a lovely coffee shop, Clipper Coffee, which also houses a second hand bookshop.


This was our first stop on the island and where we first noticed how cheerful everyone was. Mark is a friendly person, so chatted up the little old ladies, and the owner, who is a Wall Street veteran turned barista. He apparently began his coffee shop from a tuk-tuk! We gleaned a lot of information about the island from this coffee shop.

The Black Whale is a really charming restaurant on the main street, and I include it because I read somewhere that it was built back to front!  This is the back entrance apparently, we didn’t know this at the time or efforts would have been made to find the front.


One other interesting thing about City Island is that to get to it you pass through New York City’s largest park, Pelham Bay Park. During the American Revolutionary war this was a strategic buffer zone between the British occupied New York City and the rebel occupied Westchester. We didn’t really explore it, but it has a man made beach, a nature centre, a golf course, a War Memorial, nature and hiking trails, recreation facilities and the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. I think it would be well worth a visit.

City Island has been the setting for quite a few movies and television shows and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has a spare day. Or even half a day!

Continuing our explorations of Brooklyn, we visited the Brooklyn Flea market. It’s in Dumbo, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, and is the area where our original apartment was located (before it got cancelled on us). IMG_8822

I decided that my linen Phoebe Bib & Tucker overalls and madder dyed silk shirt were appropriate wear for this activity. IMG_8832This is a fabulous market, with quite a few hand crafted items, lots of people and a wonderful wooden bar in the shape of a train car. IMG_8836Things were purchased here!

An area called Red Hook isn’t well known to tourists, but it is worth visiting. If IKEA is your thing, then Red Hook has a big one. However, there are more interesting aspects to the area.

We found the Valentino Park and Pier which is in a cove off New York Bay with amazing views of the Statue of Liberty, Lower Manhattan, Governors Island, and Staten Island. There are seats for relaxing as well as lovely grassed areas for recreational sports. This was once an area which serviced the shipping industry, and of course has a history as part of the American Revolution, but now is being gentrified and is full of artists, chocolate makers, whiskey and bourbon factories and design stores of every type, as well as still being fairly industrialised with lots of warehouses.

I hadn’t quite expected the view of the Statue of Liberty to be so good. It’s better to the naked eye of course.


From this angle you can actually see her face rather than the usual back of her head.


We walked from Red Hook through Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill, finishing up in Brooklyn Heights. These are all lovely areas of Brooklyn, full of interesting shops and pretty architecture.

Borough Hall in Brooklyn Heights is a beautiful building

IMG_8945There are tables and chairs scattered around at the front and we had lunch here.


I wondered where Mark had gone but he was just playing photographer!


Market umbrellas can be seen in the background so we went to explore because we do so love a market! This one was really busy given that it was midweek.


Just look at these tomatoes! There was a whole table of different varieties, many of which I have never seen before.


I have been following a business called Fab-Scrap on Instagram for some time. This is the most wonderful initiative as it takes textile waste from various manufacturing organisations which it then recycles and sells. This is particularly important for fabrics containing spandex or lycra as they cannot be recycled and therefore go into landfill unless reused. Other fibres can be shredded to create insulation, carpet padding, and those felted moving blankets. This is an initiative worth supporting!

Because we are staying in Brooklyn I thought we should visit the warehouse located in that borough. First we had to find it! Luckily the Fab Scrap website has very detailed instructions on how to find it. It is located on the 5th floor of Building B of the Brooklyn Army Terminal.


This is an enormous building. The lobby is really interesting, with a train sitting on tracks in the middle of it. This photo shows it if you look carefully – it’s the rounded object just past that tin roof.


Once we found the right spot we were warmly welcomed into the space. Volunteers do the sorting and I think they receive free fabric for doing this. The black bin liners are full of fabric which has yet to be sorted. They try to keep the pile at this size, but every now and then they do a 24 hour busy bee to reduce the pile to be sorted to a manageable size as it’s so intimidating. The fabric gets sorted into saleable fabrics and those which get shredded and the volunteers were sorting those little sample squares, separating them from the paper and cardboard boards. Some of the fabric gets shredded and turned into moving blankets, carpet underlay and insulation. Anything containing lycra and spandex cannot be recycled and if not sold, it will go into landfill.  I know all this because Mark interviewed the volunteers!


At the back in the photo above, fabric can be seen against the wall, this is on rolls in no sort of order. The clothes rack contains damaged garments for sale. Everything for sale is by weight and costs $5 per pound.

This big pile of fabric is where the real treasure hunt happens. I can see the orange denim that I bought. Much of this fabric is in long lengths and can be cut to requirement, but first it has to be hauled out of the pile, which was a two person job in some cases. IMG_8957

Mark was sneaking around taking photos of me, and here I am paying for my purchases. I’m wearing a The Sewing Revival Kingfisher top made with beautiful indigo dyed gauze fabric given to me by Lynne from LynnesewsIMG_8961

Just a side note, only the warehouse sells by the pound. The shop in Manhattan is more organised (and prettier, according to the staff member who served me) and sells by the yard. The warehouse gives people first pick of the fabrics, and I suspect is much cheaper.

I have so much more to share, but in the interests of keeping my posts at some sort of reasonable length I shall leave this one now, but will be back with more well-kept, and not so well-kept, secrets of New York!







9 thoughts on “City Island and other hidden treasures

  1. This post is so interesting Sue! You are taking us off the beaten tracks and how brilliant is Mark’s confident attitude in order to trespass private zones. I was laughing out loud reading this. Your gorgeous pics just make me want to get to NYC right away!

    1. Thank you dear Hélène, Mark is, of course, an anarchist, so doesn’t hesitate to ignore signs such as this one. City Island is definitely worth a visit one day if you ever get time. x

  2. Fabulous post, as always, and I’m exhausted just reading about your days! Marks attitude is admirable – it’s amazing what you can get away with as long as you look confident 😂.
    City Island certainly looks worth a visit, and that scrap shop looks wonderful! Can’t wait to see what you use the orange denim for.

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