Home » Connecting with David’s Island and Fort Slocum

Connecting with David’s Island and Fort Slocum

If you spend time in nature it will increase the odds that it can be saved. Sometimes passion is all it takes.

Embedded in my mind and the minds of thousands of people, young and old, are memories of warm summer days and sultry nights spent on the strip of beaches across from David’s Island in New Rochelle, New York, where Fort Slocum used to be.

I remember standing next to my Dad on the beach when I asked him what that chunk of green land across the water was. I was only 7 or 8 years old but I can still visualize this. He was looking at the island, not at me, in that way he often did. “That’s Fort Slocum,” he said. I knew he would know, he knew everything back then.

This view of David's Island is seen from Glen Island, which is a bit south of the place I continually viewed the Island from. Photo: Jim Henderson, Wikimedia

This view of David’s Island is taken from Glen Island, which is a bit south of where I continually viewed the Island from. Photo: Jim Henderson, Wikimedia

I have memories of looking through my Dad’s binoculars with the boys – I was often the only girl in the sun-tanned, scrappy pack – as we tried to see and imagine cannons and embattlements in the ruins. The island fort fueled our imaginations and became a holding ground for our whimsy and our fear.

Although I never stepped foot on the Island – it was only part of the scenery across the water – I was constantly aware of its presence. The trees on David’s Island were like guardians that quietly held our experiences; watching  without judging or interfering.

Looking back I see that the Island was a living breathing metaphor for that time in our lives. We were in a safe place – like the fort once erected for our protection; but the recklessness of our youth was triumphantly in motion – like the lush vines and bushes that grew up and over the ruins. Life at the beach was secure but exciting; wild but not destructive.

This is the exact angle of view I used to see David's Island from, but the wrong time of year. The island was green in summer as in the picture above. The water tower was part of the ruins at  Fort Slocum that were recently knocked down. I hadn't seen or thought about this water tower in decades, seeing it when I found this photo touched the deep recesses of my brain. Photo: Jim Henderson, Wikimedia Commons

This is the exact angle of view I used to see David’s Island from, but the wrong time of year. The island was green in summer as in the photo above. The water tower was part of the ruins at Fort Slocum that were recently knocked down, which is why it is absent in the other photo. I hadn’t seen or thought about this water tower in decades, seeing it when I was searching for photos to use here, touched a place in the deep recesses of my brain. Photo: Jim Henderson, Wikimedia Commons

Plans to Bulldoze David’s Island

The impact the Island and Fort Slocum had on me and others became surprisingly evident when a dozen or so years ago, there was talk of turning it into a massive condominium development. An outpouring of public outcry resulted. Efforts to preserve it were underway and I supported those whole-heartedly, even though I no longer lived in the area.

I was upset that one of the few pristine landscapes left in that urbanized place would vanish. I wanted other people to have the same kinds of life-changing outdoor experiences I had and if the Island were developed, that opportunity would be lost. Even back in the 1970’s, the beaches were closed to swimming on some of our summer days due to water pollution, so the idea of large quantities of new effluent being discharged into these waters seemed horrifying.

I wanted other people to have the same kinds of life-changing outdoor experiences I had and if the Island were developed, that opportunity would be lost.

So many people would say, “you can’t stop progress” and it’s wrong to take claim on someone else’s property just because you are feeling sentimental about it. But progress is in the eye of the beholder.

And if we chide sentimentality, or say that our personal, visceral connection to the land and water should not play a role in how our neighborhoods evolve, then we risk creating broken, comatose communities that suck the life out of the human spirit, rather than nourish it.

Because as it turns out, the arbitrary geographic boundaries that come with land ownership didn’t stop me from feeling like Fort Slocum and David’s Island belonged to me; were a part of me. And that is how it is with all things in nature.

Preserving Land and Natural Resources

Communities would be irresponsible if they didn’t identify the valuable resources within their boundaries, understand their impact on the whole community, and work towards reasonable preservation solutions, and this does happen all the time.

Sadly, the city of New Rochelle ultimately decided to demolish rather than restore the ruins of Fort Slocum, destroying this historic resource. But there is talk of turning the island into a park and the condo development is off the table. So we have a partial victory, which is better than nothing.

But no victory would have happened if people didn’t care about the Island in the first place. The remarkable thing, is that most of the people who fought for the island were never even on it. Even in the background, this bit of nature exerted a powerful pull on hundreds of people who had the privilege of being in its presence. This is why I know Bob is right when he talks about the value of spending more time in nature.

©Lisa C. DeLuca, 2013 all rights reserved.  It is a violation of copyright law to reproduce this work on the web for any reason, or in print for business use without permission from the author.  Please contact the author with your reprint request.

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy this story about those days at the beach and what it meant: The Key to Time Travel is an Old Beach Towel

4 Responses to “Connecting with David’s Island and Fort Slocum”

  1. Bill Waterhouse, Sp5 US Army, Retired says:

    I am part of a group called “Fort Slocum Friends” on Facebook where we have over 500 photo’s and other items collected about F.S.
    I spent 18 months there in 1961-63 and we started the website in 2004 to connect with former residents and veterans. We have held 3 reunions in New Rochelle and the 2013 one was the final one. The Library has a lot of material about the fort including a DVD that was made in 1962.
    If you are interested, join us on Facebook and look at the old pictures.

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Bill, Thanks for sharing this information. It’s instructive that the island touched so many people in different ways for different reasons.

      Best, Lisa

  2. CONNIE. GOODNER says:

    I LIVED ON SLOCUM FROM ’58 TO ’60. I WAS 18 AND AT 20 I WAS MARRIED AT THE CHAPEL. IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO BE STATIONED AND I HAVE VERY GOOD MEMORIES OF THE BASE. IT IS A SHAME THAT PART OF HISTORY WAS LEFT TO ROT AWAY. THE BIG BLDG WITH COLUMNS WAS THE SITE FOR DANCES ON WEDS NIGHT, POOL GAMES UPSTAIRS, A LIBRARY WHERE OFTEN THE GUYS WOULD PLAY BOARD GAMES. THEY HAD A LIVE BAND EA. WEDS AND SOME TIMES A COMEDIAN. THE MEN WERE THERE ON 7 WEEK INTERVALS (SOMETIMES LONGER DUE TO WEATHER, ETC.)TO ATTEND INFORMATION SCHOOL. DURING THAT TIME THERE WERE ALSO VIETNAMESE OFFICERS ATTENDING THE SCHOOL. I HOPE THEY WERE ON OUR SIDE. COL. JACKSON WAS C.O. THE LAST YEAR BEFORE I LEFT AND LATER LEFT FOR D.C. ASSIGNED TO PRES JOHNSON. WE HAD HURRICANES, ONE OF WHICH LANDED ON THE DAY OF MY WEDDING..SHE WAS CALLED DONNA. ANOTHER STRUCK AFTER I LEFT THAT HAD WATER UP TO THE STEPS OF THE QUARTERS. FOR SOME REASON WE WERE NEVER EVACUATED AS WOULD PROBABLY HAPPEN TODAY. MY SISTER WHO WAS 8 YRS OLD AT THE TIME PLAYED WITH FRIENDS IN THE UNDERGROUND BUNKERS LOCATED ON THE LONG ISLAND SIDE OF THE BASE. SO MUCH HISTORY. THANK ALL OF YOU WHO ARE KEEPING THE FT ALIVE FOR THOSE TO COME AND WHO CARE… CONNIE P.S. I TRIED TO REACH THE MUSEUM…? NEVER GOT THROUGH. I STILL HAVE SOME MEMENTOS IF WANTED.

    • Lisa says:

      Thanks for bringing the place to life again by sharing your memories. It’s no wonder it resonates with so many people, sounds like there was a lot of life energy there.

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