The History of Coney Island

Coney Island is a peninsula that is situated in the southernmost part of Brooklyn, New York. In the early 20th century, Coney Island was widely regarded as the world’s best amusement area, providing visitors with wonderful entertainment and exhilarating amusement rides.

Coney Island was synonymous with the three grand amusement parks, namely, Dreamland, Luna, and Steeplechase. Besides the amusement parks, there were several other attractions around Surf Avenue and the Bowery, which drew visitors from all over the world. In the 19th century, it was also a famous spot for horse racing, with race clubs such as the Brighton Beach Race Association and the Coney Island Jockey Club, and it was frequented by the rich and trendy set of New York.

The first mention of the name “Coney Island” appeared during the late 17th century, when it was referred to as “Conney Isle”. Coney Island was inundated with rabbits when people first settled on the island. In fact, in the earlier days, Coney Island was a preferred rabbit hunting ground. As the resorts started to develop, the rabbit population began to dwindle. The Native Americans who inhabited the area used to call the island “Narrioch”. Later on, the Dutch named the island “Conyne Eylandt”, which meant “Island of the Rabbits”. Some scholars believe that “Coney Island” is the English version of the Dutch name. Interestingly, “Coney” is an outdated English word that means “rabbit”.

After the American Civil War, Coney Island served as a resort, and the Coney Island-Brooklyn Railroad streetcar line was established in 1860 to ferry passengers from Brooklyn to the island. The immigrants with background checks who arrived in New York from to 1885 to 1896 were first greeted by one of Coney Island’s famous landmarks, the Coney Island Elephant, before they got a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. Subsequently, steamship lines gave visitors easy access to the island, and in the years that followed, Coney Island established itself as a major tourist attraction, with horse racing, amusement parks, and a few other tawdry entertainments such as Three-Card Monte and gambling.

It was in the early 20th century, however, that Coney Island reached the peak of its popularity. The carousel at the Vandeveer's bath-house complex and Nathan's Famous hot dog stand were some of the earlier landmarks of Coney Island. The electrification of the steam railroads by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company was one of the reasons behind the surge in visitors to Coney Island. Since steam railroads gave people from New York and other parts of the country easy access to the island, Coney Island was transformed from a resort to a favorite hangout for day-trippers. It was during this time that Coney Island attracted millions of visitors each year.

Some of the major attractions of Coney Island during the early half of the 20th century included the Wonder Wheel, a Ferris wheel built in the year 1918; the Cyclone roller coaster, one of the USA’s oldest wooden roller coasters; the Parachute Jump, which was also called “Brooklyn's Eiffel Tower”; the B&B Carousell; and the three famous parks of Dreamland, Luna Park, and Steeplechase Park. Although the popularity of Coney Island as a major amusement area waned after World War II, there are still some thrilling amusement areas such as Kiddie Park, Eldorado Arcade, Deno's (famous for Spook-a-Rama), Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, and Astroland, which help Coney Island attract a steady flow of visitors all year round.

For the food aficionados, there are some great restaurants that offer sumptuous cuisines as well. Some of these include Rocky’s Italian Restaurant, A Little Pizza of My Heart, Paradise Grill, and Candlestick Inn. Some major Hollywood films have been filmed in Coney Island too, few of which include Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, Sophie’s Choice, Boardwalk, Speedy, and The Warriors.

The popularity of Coney Island has resurged in recent years, following the addition of brand new attractions such as KeySpan Park and Coney Island Park. For many people, Coney Island is still the best place for fun in the sun.

Coney Island Timeline

1609 – Coney Island was discovered by the Dutch explorer Henry Hudson.

1829 – Brooklyn linked with Coney Island by Shell Road.

1877 – The Manhattan Hotel, the first luxury hotel of Coney Island, was opened.

1884 –.The launch of the world’s first roller coaster in Coney Island.

1897 - The opening of the Steeplechase amusement park.

1904 - Opening of Dreamland amusement park.

1920 - Manhattan and Brooklyn connected to Coney Island by subway.

1927 - The world famous Cyclone roller coaster opens.

1944 - Luna Park was burnt by a fire.

1964 - Closing of Steeplechase Park.

1969 – The acreage of the Steeplechase Park was bought by New York City for $4 million.

1977 – Tornado roller coaster was damaged by fire.

1995 – The Hell Hole was closed after 14 people were injured while riding it.