2005-05-12 / Little Old Canarsie

Little Old Canarsie

Using The Pump To Do The Wash

This 1914 photo features just a few fish caught in one excursion on Jamaica Bay around the turn of the 20th century.  Canarsiens grew up on fishing as their livelihood, until the bay got too polluted, according to historians.         Canarsie Historical Society/Merlis collectionThis 1914 photo features just a few fish caught in one excursion on Jamaica Bay around the turn of the 20th century. Canarsiens grew up on fishing as their livelihood, until the bay got too polluted, according to historians. Canarsie Historical Society/Merlis collection

  • John Denton
  • Up until 1918, folks living here didn’t have water supplied by the city and depended on a hand pump, which had to be moved up and down to bring water up from the ground. This was a hard job and first you had to use your right hand and then switch over to your left to fill up pails of it for cooking or drinking,

    The hardest job was late Sunday afternoon when mom had to have big tin tubs of it to wash all the weeks dirty linen with a tin boiler full on top of the coal stove in the kitchen and then into the washtub where each piece was scrubbed on a washboard by rubbing up and down with a large cake of Kirkman soap to get them good and clean (no machines or soap powder in those days). Then came the job of hanging all the wash on the lines to dry. When it was brought in, the next job was to iron the fancy pieces with flat irons that were placed on top of the stove lids to heat up.

    But despite all this, people enjoyed life during that time. Those who didn’t have a pump to get water had a well all bricked up from about eighty feet down in the ground with two large wooden buckets on a large pulley with a long rope so when you let one down to fill up with ice cold water, the one on the top had to be let down to bring the other one up. For safety sake, a large shed that was boxed all around for about five feet so those children playing in the yard could not fall into the open well.

    Many folks that had no icebox would let one of the buckets down in the cold water during the summer months to keep butter and meats from spoiling. When they wanted these items, they would just pull up the bucket that stood in the cold water and takes them out to cook the meat and use the butter for the family dinner.

    Most of our families those days ate plenty of seafood from our clean Jamaica Bay waters be-fore the sewers came in to ruin it. We had delicious clam chowder or fried clams or oysters in season and baked blue or weakfish, also fried soft-shell crabs and those who liked them would have smoked eels or nice eel stew or eat them fried.

    Some folks ate what comes out of a large shell we called conks but now they call it “scungilli”. Some people use these shells when they are empty on their knick-knack shelves. When you hold these empty shells up to your ear, they al-ways said you can her the ocean roar from inside of it. The people of this generation can’t get all the delicious seafood that came from the great body of water of good old Jamaica Bay or from any other bays of Long Island, New Jersey or Connecticut and Massachusetts.

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