Exploring Mill Island’s industrial past

On Friday I shared the more-absurd side of my visit to Mill Island. Now let’s focus on the area’s history.

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After I announced this would be my next neighborhood, Harley sent me an email. “An existing steel structure was part of National Lead,” he wrote. “My Dad kept our very old boat at Anderson’s which shared a potholed driveway with that building (1959-1966) which was used for steel fabrication at that time.”

National Lead Company, now known as NL Industries, was one of the founding members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1896. It purchased in 1900 a small plant owned by General Philip Crooke, and by 1922 had around 500 employees. It made mostly automobile parts.

The former National Lead site, like our other items of historical interest, is located on the northwest corner of Mill Island. We did reconnaissance on our targets from across the Mill Basin, getting a good view from behind a Home Depot. The Basin is dotted with little marinas.

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At one point, we were approached by a man asking for ID. He was the owner of the marina; someone had notified him that two strangers were taking photographs of his property, and he wanted to know if we were from the City. We assured him we were only interested in the historical aspect; surprisingly, he acknowledged that he knew we had every right to take pictures.

AG&P Mill IslandMuch of Mill Island was filled in by the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific Company in the early 20th century. They got into the property game in 1909, purchasing about half of the island to take advantage of the burgeoning industry (see yellow area at left). After the failure of the Jamaica Bay Project, they sold out to developers.

AG&P is still around – but only in the Philippines.

We attempted to get a better view of the site by pretending to check out some U-HAULs in an adjacent lot. Between the two is a parking lot for new cars. We did find an old building that we agreed would make a killer beer garden if someone fixed it up right.

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Red’s was a popular Brooklyn toy store. Apparently the owner, Red, wasn’t a very nice man, and he (and an employee) inspired a movie called All Saint’s Day. Director Tommy J. La Sorsa describes some of the conditions:

A typical day usually began with the removal and cleaning of dog shit from the storefront. The rest of the day saw employees isolated in a decrepit, basement stock-room that was continually flooded to the ankles with untreated raw sewage from nearby polluted Jamaica Bay. And with no air-conditioning in the summer, the foul odor often left employees sick. But, everyone knew that if you left sick – You left forever. Red didn’t believe in sick time or vacation days.

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We found an unmarked road running next to Red’s, alongside the future beer garden, and behind some newer buildings: a strip mall, a bowling alley, a 24-hour Harbor Fitness. It appeared to serve as a dumping-ground for unwanted things.

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Escaping this forgotten world through a hole in a fence, we saw some of the newer offerings of Mill Basin. There were camps on camps on camps at Strike 10 Lanes, an attempt by a pro bowler to turn a previously-decrepit alley into a destination.

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Then we were off to do some house-hunting.

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3 Responses to Exploring Mill Island’s industrial past

  1. H. Nemzer says:

    Keith does an amazing job capturing the true essence of each neighborhood he visits; far better than most of the folks that live there. And the “Red” bio? Priceless and right on the button.

    • Roy Nemzer says:

      I remember “Red’s” toy store very well.

      Also all the auto mechanics that dwelt on Utica Ave and repaired (or almost) many an exotic car for us…including a Sunbeam Tiger and a VW convertable that Harley drove around town.

      Roy Nemzer…..(Harley’s Dad)

      • Keith says:

        Welcome, Mr. Nemzer! Your recollections, like your son’s, are always welcome – and very much appreciated – here.


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