On The Raunt

Recently, we ran into a fellow birder at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge’s East Pond. He alerted us of a rare marbled godwit located at “the Raunt.” In late summer, the JBWR is the place to go birding if you’re in the city. Migrating shorebirds heading south stop by by the dozens, hundreds, and, for some species, thousands, to rest and feed in the fresh water and on the exposed mud flats, while JFK jets lumber overhead. The Raunt itself is a birder’s landmark on the east side of the pond, about a fifth of the way up the mile-long body of water, whose level is lowered this time of year for the birds. (See The City Birder’s Google map of the local hotspots.) The remains of an old pier or boardwalk or bridge are revealed when the water level is reduced. A tall pair of waterproof boots and some caution are necessary to reach the Raunt through the gooey murk. But just what is the Raunt?

Well, my curiosity was finally peaked.

Turns out it used to be a stop on the Rockaway Beach branch of the Long Island RR. The railroad company crossed the bay to the Rockaway Peninsula in 1869 and soon thereafter started stopping at the Raunt for fisherman. (If you’ve ever taken the early weekend Metro North and wondered why it stops at stationless Breakneck Ridge and Manitou, it’s for the hikers). Here’s a picture from the Queens Archives’ Flickr, taken in 1933.

Eventually, people settled the Raunt. There were even three hotels. It was mostly a summer community, and, one imagines, knowing of Broad Channel today (the community just to its south) it was probably pretty insular. In a snappy and snippy Life Magazine article from March 17, 1967, the Raunt’s erstwhile residents were referred to as “marshland squatters.”

Emperor Moses’s Parks Department got control of Jamaica Bay in the late 1930s. In the early 1950s, the MTA, then still the NYCTA, took over the LIRR. They wanted an embankment instead of the existing fire-hazard-of-a-trestle, but Moses wouldn’t let them dredge unless he got something in return. Ah, simpler times. He got two fresh water ponds, imaginatively named West and East, and a bird sanctuary by 1953.

In 1972, the area became part of Gateway National Recreation Area as the airport at JFK threatened to expand all the way into Brooklyn. Elizabeth Barlow (now Elizabeth Barlow Rogers) wrote this piece in New York, Dec 8, 1969, detailing the refugue’s history on the eve of transformation into federal territory.

The Raunt was named for a channel, since filled in. In fact, there were/are several “Raunt” channels in the area. The topography of the area north of Broad Channel has changed radically in a century. A little archipelago has been cobbled together into one piece of land by dredging and filling. Some of the bits of land that were consolidated were Goose Creek, Rulers Bar Hassock, Black Bank Marsh, and Jack’s Hole. Life’s man says “Raunt” is from the Dutch. I couldn’t find any sign of it in the English. This piece in the Rockaway Wave offers some folk etymology, but I’m not convinced. Got any ideas? This NPS pdf of a history of Jamaica Bay has some basic maps of the changes in the area, starting on p.76.

The resiliency of place names, those ghosts on the land, in the face of radical geographical and political changes, is a curious phenomenon. It’s the birders who carry on the tradition now.

15 Responses to “On The Raunt”

  1. 1 Out walking the dog September 3, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Still haven’t made it out there. Love your research into this bizarrely named spot.

  2. 3 Diane LeBlanc October 28, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    My grandparents lived in The Raunt , and I summered there in the 1940’s and early 1950’s. It was paradise for a child. I still have a watercolor of their house on stilts.

    • 4 mthew October 28, 2012 at 7:38 pm

      I can just imagine what it was like to be there as a child then. Absolutely marvelous. Fascinating how almost nothing but some rotting wood remains… you must post that watercolor on-line. Or write a book about that lost world.

    • 5 Nancy Bachant December 8, 2012 at 3:52 pm

      You must be a relative of the McKeags. So am I. My stepfather Jack McKeag, son of Catherine Bird and Benjamin McKeag, lived at the Raunt as did his parents and me and my sisters for a short while. It was a magical place I still have wonderful memories of….fishing for killies with a milk bottle full of brad crumbs off the front porch….crabbing below the house….the rickety boardwalk with holes and sometimes no railings. I have some wonderful pictures, including the original photograph that the watercolor was done from. Would like to share if you have anything I might be interested in. Nancy

      • 6 mthew December 8, 2012 at 4:26 pm

        Hi, Nancy. I have no idea if Diane will see your comment, but I may be able to forward it to her. You two should get together at something like StoryCorps to share your histories and memories.http://storycorps.org/

      • 7 Diane LeBlanc December 10, 2012 at 9:07 pm

        Thank you for the message, Nancy. I do know who you are, and I remember that you were a daughter of Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jack along with Karen and Janet and younger sister Donna. that’s how I remember it. my mother Estelle was a sister to your stepfather. I loved The Raunt and I named my first daughter for my grandmother Catherine. I would love to hear any memories of The Raunt and the McKeags. Keep in touch. Diane LeBlanc. Dianeleb@cox.net

      • 8 Maryann Mink, October 4, 2013 at 10:24 am

        Hello Nancy, I left a reply to Diane about The Raunt, also I read your reply, I have some pictures of my parents home. Do you remember the pump by the parking lot where you would get fresh water and the big glass bottles to hold the water. Would like to hear from you. Maryann Mink.

    • 9 Maryann Mink, October 3, 2013 at 3:54 pm

      Hello my name is Maryann Mink my parents had a summer bungalow at The Raunt 1st house on right after you crossed the bridge going towards the train station my neighbors were the Duffy’s, I too have wonderful memories, swimming in Jamaica Bay, no indoor bathrooms, only out houses and rain water for dishes and washing up.

  3. 11 Diane LeBlanc October 3, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    I know who Nancy Bachant is, and the Duffy’s were friends of my grandparents, although I don’t remember the Duffy’s. I would like to exchange emails with them.

    • 12 Maryann Mink, October 4, 2013 at 10:32 am

      Hi Diane, I know the Duffy’s lived in Hamilton Beach, I used to pal around with Ronald Duffy, also Father Fransis Duffy a priest in the family would visit The Raunt often, across was Nick & Milly Givinello they used to rent out row boats by the hour their house was not on stilts, also a small beach was next to their property, it is so good to talk to someone about The Raunt, hope you get this message.

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