Since I was three years old, I’ve spent my summers at Travers Island, across the water from Glen Island. I could see the Island from the pool and our boat was docked directly across but I’d only ever visited once, when I was three years old. I never felt any reason to go back, until while at my internship, I started to research the history of New Rochelle. Turns out, Glen Island has a pretty wild story to tell. So let’s take a trip back in time and uncover this story.
Everything begins with former U.S. Congressman John H. Starin, who served in the House of Representatives from 1877-1881. However, Starin’s two other jobs are what make him so crucial to our story. He owned a transportation company that included almost every tugboat seen in New York Harbor and many passenger steamboats. This would come in handy, as in 1878, he purchased a group of small islands off the coast of New Rochelle, New York. You guessed it—he purchased what would become Glen Island. Starin created these islands into the first theme park and resort known as Starin’s Glen Island. This is where our story takes flight. In 1881, when the park opened, Starin used his steamboats to bring passengers back and forth from New York City to Glen Island. Below is a map of the resort, showing the many activities guests could participate in.
The resort had two particularly notable attractions—a Museum of Natural History and a German castle. This museum was amazing, as it housed mummies from 332 B.C., relics of the Stone Age, and several meteors. The second attraction was a re-created German castle, which housed the “Little Germany” land. Keep in mind, it was the nineteenth century—a German land meant having a beer garden.
The park thrived for twenty years, until things turned sour. In 1904, one of the island’s steamboats burned, resulting in the deaths of 1,000 people. The total end to Starin’s Glen Island soon followed with the death of Starin himself. Without him at the helm, direction was lost and the resort became unprofitable, shutting down. It seemed the story had come to a close– many of the original parts of the resort burned down but a new chapter began in 1924, when Westchester County purchased the islands. The county joined all the islands together into one landmass, taking away the waterside walkways guests of the resort had enjoyed. The county also built a bridge between the island and New Rochelle, linking Glen Island to the rest of the world.
Today, it’s hard to believe that Glen Island ever was the resort Starin created. The only remains of the park are Little Germany, where two castles and many stone structures still stand. Today, one castle was boarded up and the other, where the beer garden once sat, is used for Westchester County storage. I could walk into a small hut structure, the inside of which has become a place for couples to sign their initials. Only two plaques on the entire island mention Starin so here’s to his story, a story that deserves to be told.