The Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association sponsors two barbecues at the NJ State Firemen’s Home in July and August
It was a spectacular day for a barbecue!
After having to cancel our June Barbecue because of bad weather (there was a rain storm all day on our date in June), we lucked out on our first barbecue on July 10th, when we had the most spectacular sunny and warm day with no humidity. It was the same for our second barbecue on August 21st. Clear sunny skies and low 80-degree weather had the residents of the NJ State Firemen’s Home coming out in droves to enjoy good music and delicious food.
The August barbecue was especially special. The crowd included a large contingent from the Maywood Fire Department to help celebrate the 99th birthday of Maywood’s own George Steger, a guest at the firemen’s home…
This was the first time I had been to City Island since 2008 when I visited the island for research for my third book “Dinner at Midnight” in which one of the main characters is a witch that moves to City Island. I had walked every street on the island trying to get a feel for what it might be like to live on the island and what the character may experience. There is a very important scene in the book where her boss comes to the island to search for her and notes to close proximity to Hart Island, New York City’s ‘Potters Field’.
He comes searching for the truth about his unusual employee and finds out too much. I will just leave this as a spoiler as I have not finished the last chapter of the book yet. You can read the first book in my New York City trilogy, “Firehouse 101” that is available at IUniverse.com and Google Books.
My first book in the New York Trilogy “Firehouse 101”
On top of research for my book, “Dinner at Midnight”, I wanted to visit the City Island Nautical Museum for my blog, “VisitingaMuseum.com” as I had not been to the museum since I visited the island again in 2008. That was when I stayed at La Refuge, an inn that is now a private home. To add to the creepiness of the storyline, is that when I stayed at the inn for two nights, the first night in the first room there was no problem.
The former “La Refuge Inn” is now a private home and I think is haunted
When for some reason the second night they made me move to a back room, I could not sleep all night. I kept thinking that someone was in the room with me, and I finally had to sleep with the lights on. I never stayed or came back to the inn before it closed a few years later. I never felt that way before staying in an inn or B & B, and I have stayed in a lot of old houses.
Before I visited the museum, I had to stop for something to eat. I had a very early breakfast wanting to get to City Island early so I got hungry again. I was surprised that the pizzeria around the corner from the museum was closed and the diner near the museum was closing soon as well. I found the Sea Breeze Deli at 325 City Island Avenue just down the road from the museum and stopped there.
The Sea Breeze Deli at 325 City Island Avenue
I felt like I had walked into time warp as the place looked like it was from the 1970’s. Even thought it was a bit dated inside, I ordered a Bacon, Egg and Cheese on a roll ($4.00) and it was terrific (See review on TripAdvisor) and hit the spot where I was ready for a long day of exploring.
The Bacon, Egg and Cheese on a roll is terrific at Sea Breeze Deli
The City Island Nautical Museum located at 190 Fordham Street, had not changed much from that visit. The museum is located on a quiet, residential street just off the main strip of City Island Avenue. It is located in what was the old PS 17, the island’s elementary school. Loaded with information but a bit jumbled with historic artifacts all over the place. Still, it is a great little museum.
The City Island Nautical Museum at 190 Fordham Street
Each room in the museum has a different theme to it with more information lining the hallways (See my review on VisitingaMuseum.com). The Community Room toward the back of the museum shows the history of the City Island starting with the Native Americans and the Dutch and how the settlement grew. Lining the walls were signs and memorabilia from businesses that once dotted the island and a little about their history. There are all sorts of ads and items once carried by the merchants.
The Schoolroom had the history of PS 75 and PS 175 which were the public schools located on the island as well as St. Mary’s, the recently closed Catholic school. It had old class photos, pictures of the school at various times and a complete schoolroom set up. The rooms that dealt with Ship Building and the Nautical past were the most interesting.
City Island has a rich history in ship building, sail making and fishing it is reflected in the collection of materials in the museum and its archives. The museum really details the growth and history of the boating industry on the island and its importance in the local economy. What I found interesting was the rich history of the creation of the sailing ships for the America’s Cup tournament and how all the winning boats up until the 1980’s were built on the island and the one that lost the cup for us against Australia was the first one not built on the island.
The Nautical Room at the City Island Maritime Museum
Even Ted Turner’s boat “Courageous” was built on the island. There was a picture of the reunion of the boat winning twice at the museum with the crew’s signatures (The tour guide even said how he ‘freaked out’ members of the New York Yacht Club who did not consider him one of their own). All the sailing vessels lined the walls of the hallway of the museum.
Each room of the museum was dedicated to a different theme. When I toured the Community Room in the back of the museum, it held the records of a lot of old businesses of City Island with pictures and items that were once part of the businesses. There was a small FDNY display, a small WWII display about local residents who fought in the war, wedding garments, maps of the island and a small display of arrowheads.
In the School Room, the concentration was on PS 17, which the museum is now housed in and its history with all the classroom group shot pictures, graduation pictures and a small classroom set up. There were more records and event items of the current PS 175, which is the K-8 school that the residents attend. There were also records and pictures of St. Mary, Star of the Sea School, the former Catholic school that used to be on the island as well.
The Nautical Room needed an overall as there was too much going on in the room with pictures all over the walls, equipment for navigation and for fishing and records of the ship building companies that used to dot the island. There were boats in various shapes and sizes on display and the companies that built them like Wood Yacht, Nevins Yacht and Minneford Yacht. There was also the history of shipbuilding and sail making on the island. The tour guide told me there were no more ship builders on the island, but one sail maker left.
The Library where all the research is done on the island and on the families and businesses that were once here was dominated by yachting pictures and nautical photography. It held all the City Island records and even the ship building plans.
The museum has a lot to see but it needs to be a bit more organized to really showcase the collections properly. Still, it is one of the best museums I have seen with a nautical history theme. The best part is that you can see the whole museum in about an hour and this leaves you time to tour the island and see how the museum better explains why the island is the way it is right now.
After I left the museum, I decided to tour the whole island and started with a tour down Fordham Street which lead me to the new apartment complex and their little walled park. It went in a spiral pattern and then I turned myself around back to the street and stood and admired the views. You get the most spectacular views on the Long Island Sound and the mysterious Hart Island from here.
I then took a tour of King Street and passed the beautiful but eerie Pelham Cemetery. It just sat in front of the beautiful backdrop of the bay still giving you a look of longing. I wanted to walk through it but the cemetery was locked and there was no trespassing signs all over the place. I just admired it from the gate looking for family names.
As I walked up both King and Minnieford Streets, I admired the hodge-podge of architecture of the homes on the island. There are rows of bungalows and elegant Victorians with their large porches and shade trees again with the bay in the background in some cases.
As I rounded up Terrace Street and got to the northern tip of the island, I saw the house that I used in the book as the home of the mysterious and sinister Serena Platt, the spell bounder in my novel. I set her apartment in this house and thought it had the right mood as a place that would be here home. I saw a couple of kids playing basketball on the property and did not want to stay too long to stare at it.
As I walked back down King and Minnieford Streets, I saw another Victorian home with a dark colored paint job that might fit the mood of her home as well. I had not noticed this house when I was walking around the island years earlier on a scouting trip. With its dark tones and wrap around porch, it looked like something you would find in New England or Salem, MA.
As I made my way down Cross Street back to City Island Avenue, I wanted to walk the whole street to see what stores and restaurants were there from I visited last. Most of the seafood restaurants were still there but the smaller antique and clothing stores were now gone. Many of the little unique stores had long since closed someone told me at a store I visited. Between the economy and the pandemic, they had taken their toll on business owners.
That may have been with the traditional businesses but not with the restaurants. As I walked down City Island Avenue from north to south, it seemed that every restaurant was getting a crowd especially as I walked further down the road.
Sammy’s Fish Box at 41 City Island Avenue seemed to dominate the street with its various outlets. They have really grown even more since I on the island the last time. They must have had four different buildings. I could not remember if I had eaten there the last time I visited. At the tip of the island are Johnny’s Reef and Tony’s Pier, two extremely popular seafood restaurants that I do remember eating at then I visited years ago.
When I walked into Tony’s Pier at 1 City Island Avenue, the parking lot was jammed with cars and the line was about 50 deep with customers. I was like ‘no way’ with this wait. It was too long, and everyone was getting antsy in the line. It was going by really slow.
Then I walked over to Johnny’s Reef at 2 City Island Avenue which I had dinner at the first night I visited the last time I came to City Island and the prices had gone up, but the portion sizes were still huge. The fried shrimp platters had not changed one bit. The only problem was the place was just as busy as across the street. It was really mobbed on this sunny warm night.
The sight of people eating all that fried food really turned me off, so I decided to try a restaurant that had been reviewed on my Dining Around club. They said the Fella’s Bar and Grill was where locals ate and socialized, so I decided to try it. It was closer to the middle point of the island near Bridge Park closer to the northern tip of the island. I was very impressed.
The bartender greeted me very warmly and gave me a lot of recommendations for dinner. She mentioned the Chicken Quesadilla and how terrific of it and that the burgers were really good. Then she mentioned how good the pulled pork was and that she had just tasted it. She sold me on that.
The Pulled Pork sandwich with a side of French Fries was excellent. The pork was perfectly cooked, and the sauce was a combination of honey, chilis and tomato for a rich barbecue taste. It was served on a chewy bun with a side of fries that were just out of the fryer (I needed some fried foods), and they were hot and crisp that snapped when you bit into them. I ordered an icy Coke, and it was the perfect meal after a long walk around the island (See my review on TripAdvisor).
While I was eating, I got to talk with the bartender about what was going on the island and about the over-whelming crowds of the restaurants on the southern part of the island. She just laughed and told me that they were really popular with people who lived off the island. I told her I could not understand this as the food was so good here. Then I just watched the game on TV.
The Pulled Pork Sandwich and Fries was fantastic
After I finished my meal, I was walking up City Island Avenue and noticed the large number of cars entering the island over the bridge probably coming for dinner. I walked past the busy Sea Shore Restaurant at 591 City Island Avenue and saw the cars pile into their parking lot and people coming and going. Just past that was the calm of Bridge Park-Catherine Scott Promenade at 549 City Island Avenue. Talk about views of the bay!
The sun was just starting to set so there was a beautiful glow to the Long Island Sound, and you could see all the boats sailing by and people waterskiing around the harbor. In the distance, you could see the skyline of lower Manhattan. It has the most dazzling effect of seeing New York from this standpoint. It was like visiting Cape May and crossing the bridge to a small New England fishing village. City Island is the same way escaping to a beach community with a rich shipping and fishing history and showcasing its nautical past.
Bridge Park at 549 City Island Avenue on the northern tip of City Island
I had come to the island to search for a witch and why she chose to live here and found my answers in the beautiful homes, wonderful parks and spectacular views of the bay. City Island is unique New York neighborhood where you do not realize that you are still in New York City.
*Be on the lookout for “Dinner at Midnight” when it gets published in the future.