Pelham Bay Park

Twin Islands

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Located east of Hunter Island along the northern point of Orchard Beach, the 19-acre Twin Islands and the surrounding environment are a valuable natural asset to New York City. The Twin Islands are one of the last remaining salt marshes in the New York City area. Among New York’s least known, and most valuable, natural resources are its salt marshes. Salt marshes are transitional zones: they lie at the border of land and sea, between the ocean's waves and freshwater rivers and streams. Salt marshes are natural filtration systems that trap pollutants from sewers and septic fields that would otherwise contaminate our bays and oceans. They have a self-cleansing ability and absorb fertilizers to improve water quality. They reduce erosion, and they provide for rich wildlife habitats.

The Siwanoy, a tribe of the Lenapes, originally inhabited the Twin Islands of Pelham Bay Park. Like the adjacent Hunter Island, the islands were known as “Laap-Haw-Wach-King,” or, “the place of stringing beads.” The Siwanoy used the islands for hunting, fishing, and collecting wampum. They also performed spiritual ceremonies on the large glacial boulders, Mishow and Gray Mare. On June 27, 1654, the Siwanoy sold the Twin Islands to Thomas Pell (1613-1669), as part of the Pell purchase. Pell’s manor once included the eastern half of the Bronx and Westchester. The islands changed hands many times before the 1880s, when banker James D. Fish built a red sandstone mansion on them. In 1888 the City of New York acquired the Twin Islands as part of the greater Pelham Bay Park purchase, and Fish’s mansion was torn down. The islands were a popular spot for German, Scandinavian, Czechoslovakian, and Russian boaters and canoeists in the early 1900s.

In 1936 Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981) removed the bungalows along Rodman’s Neck, Hunter Island, and the Twin Islands for the construction of Orchard Beach. Moses’ ambitious $8 million plan to renovate the area added 115 new acres of land, using over 3 million cubic yards of sanitation landfill to join Rodman’s Neck to Hunter Island. Construction crews added white sand from the Rockaways in Queens and Sandy Hook, New Jersey, to the beach at a rate of 4,000 cubic yards a day. The islands, originally know as East and West Twin, were joined to Orchard Beach in 1947.

The Twin Islands are home to a wide variety of animal and plant life. Migratory birds like the Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), Black-crowned Night Heron (Nyctiorax nyctiorax), Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea), Great Egret (Casmerodius albus), Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), and the Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) feed off the fish of the salt marsh. The area also holds saltmarsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), the signature plant of a salt marsh.

The Twin Islands received an important restoration in 1995. The $850,000 Twin Islands Salt Marsh Restoration Project was funded in part by grants from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Environmental Quality Bond Act. Parks’ Natural Resources Group carefully dredged 2,000 cubic feet of marshland and carried out extensive plantings to bring the islands back to their natural state.

Directions to Pelham Bay Park

Know Before You Go

Nature Centers
Orchard Beach Nature Center

Orchard Beach Nature Center is closed to the public.

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