2007-01-04 / Little Old Canarsie

Little Old Canarsie

The Old Lamplighter Went The Way Of The Gaslight

In the early teens, when there were only two routes to go to and from the city, one of them was called the main road (later known as East 92 Street). The other, Rockaway Avenue, from Foster Avenue down to the shore, later became Rockaway Parkway. In those days the street lights used gas, which had to be turned off and on with a long stick.

I recall when one of the men, whose job was lamplighter, would come around at about 4 p.m. each day and then at sunrise to service the lights, which were about two or three blocks apart.

Mr. Belford, of an old Canarsie family, was one of the lamplighters. There were also two brothers who in their early days here also went around with a long stick to put the lights on and off: The Ferraioli brothers, who raised large families here. One lived on Conklin Avenue and East 96 Street. The other lived over on the East 105th Street section.

When these lights were discontinued and replaced with electricity, a man used to come around with a small ladder and turn a crank on the pole to let down the lamp. Then he would replace two carbons that met together to burn all night. After a few years, they started to use bulbs and then the lights operated by a clock, which was set for them to go on and off automatically according to the length of daylight and darkness.

When they no longer needed a man to come around every day to service the lights in the later teens, we also saw something new come to town. Some of our earliest Italian men rented a cellar in some store and would put out a sign "Tony-Ice-Coal and Wood" or "Dominick-Ice-Coal and Wood" where they would sell you a hundred pound bag of coal or a ten cent piece of ice or a bag of wood. One of these men I recall was Tony Battaglia, who had his place on East 92 Street and what is now Avenue J. Then there was one on Conklin Avenue and East 93 Street. Another was on Rockaway Parkway near Avenue L owned by a Mr. Accardi.

When the building boom ended in 1929, an ice dock was opened by a well-known former oysterman and builder - Harry Dickens - right alongside the famous Fortmeyer Candy Store, next door to P.S. 115, where he sold lots of families ice cream until refrigerators came out and these places closed down.

How this generation would have loved to walk down East 92 Street in the summer months and hear the croaking of bull frogs in the swamp area and strains of music from the Murphy Carousel at the shore where the tune of "Sweet Dardinella" could be heard as soon as you passed P.S. 115 at Avenue M. And so we end another chapter of Little Old Canarsie of the days long ago.

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