New York is constantly renewing, tearing down, paving over, rebuilding, but you can experience the crunch of history under your feet at Dead Horse Bay, Brooklyn. At different times, this place once known as Barren Island, isolated in Jamaica Bay, served the city in a variety of marginal capacities.
In the nineteenth-century, Dutch flour mills gave way to plants for rendering the city's horse population, from which the cove on its south-west flank gets its name.
In the late 1920s, Barren Island and surrounding estuaries were blanketed with fill to create Floyd Bennett Field, New York City's first airport. In 1937, Robert Moses extended Flatbush Avenue across the remaining resident community of Barren Island to connect Brooklyn to the new Jacob Riis Park on the Rockaways via the Marine Parkway Bridge.
At some point, Moses arranged to have city garbage deposited as fill to the west of Flatbush Avenue over what remained of Dead Horse Bay (in the area to the lower right of this photograph).
Howard Warren, as a teacher at Trinity School, was among the first to study the area in depth and believes the dumping occurred during an intense but brief period in 1953, which helps explain the consistency of style in many of the glass items that now wash up on shore. Warren also has the only permit to take artifacts from the beach and disparages those who take sizable spoils from what is now federally protected parkland.
A visit to Dead Horse Bay brings this history to the surface. The area is best accessed at low tide.
There is a Q35 bus stop next to the trail head, as well as car parking in the southern entrance to Floyd Bennett Field, which like all of Jamaica Bay is now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, maintaned by the National Parks Service. (Heading south, turn left at the last light before the Marine Parkway Bridge and find parking just past the gate). The head of the well-maintained trail is across Flatbush Avenue and not quite apparent at the crosswalk, but meets the road just a few yards south of the light. The hike in is a beautiful quarter mile or so. When the trail comes to a three way intersection, take the path to the right for Dead Horse Bay. When reaching the water, turn left. A few yards on is "Bottle Beach."