Site of Negro Coney Island & AIDS burials

1925 and 1981-85, respectively

In the early 20th century, the City owned all but four acres of Hart Island. Those four acres on the southern tip of the island belonged to John Hunter, a member of the same family that sold the larger portions of the island to the City in 1868. Hunter offered to sell the four acres to the City in 1922, but the City passed on the offer, so he sold the acres to Solomon Riley, a millionaire and Harlem developer, for $35,000 in 1924. Riley announced plans in 1925 to open an amusement park on Hart Island for Harlem blacks, who were not permitted to visit amusement parks in nearby Rye and Dobbs Ferry. The planned amusement park became known as “Negro Coney Island.” According to The New York Times, “Mr. Riley’s workers constructed a dance hall, eight boardinghouses, and a 200-foot boardwalk, and converted an old ice boat into a bathing pavilion. In June, Mr. Riley announced plans to buy a fleet of 60 motorboats to ferry customers from the mainland. Corrections officials cringed, suddenly afraid that the park would invite escape attempts, smuggling and unrest among the prison population…” So, to prevent Riley from progressing further, the City acquired the property by condemnation and purchased it from him for $144,000. The City then demolished the buildings and used the land for a sewage treatment facility. The location later became the burial site for sixteen AIDS victims who died in 1985.

Image ©2017 Alon Sicherman l-vision courtesy The Hart Island Project