before we get started, Iona Island was not in the New York Metropolitan
Area, but like Fort Terry located in Suffolk County, it had
a railroad. And Iona was just north of the City of New York. Perhaps
most importantly, Iona Island served the New York Metropolitan Area as
this was where the Naval
Munitions were stored and or assembled for those ships under
construction, refit or scrapping at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
made it worthy of inclusion on this website. I'm only sorry I didn't add it sooner!
U.S. Marine Corps guards at Main Gate Iona Island Naval Magazine; Iona Island, NY - pre-1916 image courtesy of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission archives added 29 April 2019
The military history of Iona Island can be traced back to the American Revolution when Iona
Island would be occupied by British troops. However, its U. S. military history began in 1899 (some resources state 1900).
The original name was Weyant's Island, and during the 1860's was
home to a nursery and vineyard. The Iona grape was propagated here and
gave a new name to the island. The owner of the vineyard failed in his
business endeavors and at which time the Navy purchased the
property totaling 115.8 acres for the sum of $160,000; to store munitions, gunpowder and explosives, and inspect same.
This facility was directly associated with the Brooklyn Navy Yard as evidenced by the following document:
Annual Reports of the Navy Department for Fiscal Year 1904 Google Books added 02 May 2019
There were two outstanding reasons for Iona Island Naval
Munitions Depot to be created. The first: munitions, shells and other
were not allowed to be stored in the New York City proper, and
with good reason. Historical records show many devastating munition /
armament explosions taking place in urban centers, all too often with
catastrophic devastation and loss of life.
Ammunition Storehouse - Iona Island Naval Ammunition Depot - unknown date courtesy of Donald "Doc" Bayne added 29 April 2019
Even this did not alleviate the risk completely because on 05 November 1903, munitions workers had trouble
removing a fuse and forced the issue using a wrench. The shell exploded,
setting off thousands of others. Six men were killed and almost every
building damaged or destroyed to some degree. The explosion occurred between Shell Houses 3 and 4 (former Buildings Nos. 210 and 209, respectively).
One could only imagine the consequences, had this explosion taken place in a densely populated area of say
the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The explosion was a major newsworthy event and carried in newspapers across the United States:
The Titusville Herald Pennsylvania
EXPLOSION AT UNITED STATES NAVAL ARSENAL.
DEATH AND DESTRUCTION AT LARGE MAGAZINE AT IONA ISLAND, N.Y.
Iona Island, N.Y., Nov. 4. -- Six men were killed and ten slightly
injured this afternoon by an explosion at the United States naval
arsenal, one of the largest magazines in the United States, which is
located here, on the Hudson River, forty miles from New York City.
The explosion occurred while men were drawing the explosive charges from
a consignment of old shells recently sent here from the battleship Massachusetts.
List of Killed: FREDERICK LOCKE, Peekskill. FREDERICK BROWN, Haverstraw. PATRICK CURRAN, Haverstraw. GEORGE MOOREHEAD, Tomkins Cove. JAMES CONOLLY, Peekskill. FREDERICK WARD, Stony Point.
Partial List of Injured: OTTO FRIES, Chief Gunner, badly cut and bruised. FREDERICK ANDERSON, badly cut and bruised. FRANK KERWIN, scalp laid open, seriously hurt.
Three massive shell houses were completely destroyed and a rain of
fragments of projectiles of all sizes were scattered in every direction.
The force of the explosion or series of explosions broke windows at
Peekskill, three miles below, and the detonation was heard for many
miles. Adjacent buildings, including two store houses for fixed
ammunition, were riddled with the fragments, and the eleven largest,
composing the garrison, were completely demolished. The dead were
workmen employed by the naval ordnance department. The detonation of
part of the charge of a shell being exploded in shell house No. 1
exploded all the other shells in the house and the fragments of shells
driven into the adjoining house exploded their contents. There were two
main explosions, with an interval or several minutes between, and a
succession of minor ones as individual shells went off. Fire then
followed and for several hours the marines who fought the fire were in
imminent danger from constantly exploding shells.
The second reason for the location of Iona Island was that it was
sufficiently inland to be protected from attack or bombardment by
seagoing forces, yet connected to a navigable waterway, that being the
Hudson River. A contributing factor to its location was its proximity
to a railroad trunk line; the West Shore Railroad.
On December 6, 1916, the Navy Department in Washington, D.C.
issued General Order 254, thereby changing the names of all "Naval Magazine"
to "Naval Ammunition Depot".
The following is a Naval Record from World War I show a tally of munitions prepared at Iona:
Navy Ordnance Activities: World War, 1917-1918 Government Printing Office - 1920 Google Books added 29 April 2019
The Navy ultimately constructed 164 buildings, to include: a
guardhouse, barracks, officers’ quarters, icehouse, inspection
buildings, recreational facilities, powerhouse, wharves, as well as the
shell and powder buildings and storage magazines. To efficiently serve
and move the munitions, an internal rail network was constructed
linking the magazines with the other buildings.
The base was secured with tall iron
fencing, guard towers along the land side and a U. S. Marine
Corps detachment for patrols.
The southeastern part of the island, is known as Round Island. It
was originally separated from Iona by
marshes and at one time was a privately owned quarry that supplied stone for the
Brooklyn Bridge. Round Island would be purchased by the US Navy in
1942, and the
construction of 20 additional magazines as well as a dock would be
added. These can be seen in the first of two aerial images, seen below.
Also take note the two track mainline of the West Shore Railroad
with passing sidings for the Iona Island Station. This dates the
image to before 1958 and prior to the cessation of passenger service on
the West Shore.
You may click on the image below for larger size.
Iona Island Naval Ammunition Depot; Iona Island, NY - unknown date (post 1942)
image courtesy of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission archives
In this next image, unfortunately undated, the West Shore
Railroad has been reduced to single track. That and the presence of the
small internal combustion type industrial locomotive on the Iona
Island lead track leads the author to the conclusion this image is
dated circa late 1950' or early 1960's.
Iona Island - undated - ca. post 1960?
Note West Shore RR has been reduced to single track and the small
internal combustion industrial locomotive on the siding on left edge. Palisades Interstate Park Commission archives courtesy of Donald "Doc" Bayne added 29 April 2019
Iona Island would serve the United States Navy from its
construction, through World War I and until just after World War II, as
well as several minor actions throughout the world between World Wars I
The manner in which Iona Island worked,
was that an armed U.S. Naval vessel (either surface or submarine) with
its compliment of munitions would sail north up
the Hudson River to Iona Island and dock. Munitions would then be
offloaded at their wharf. When this task completed, the vessel
would sail south down the
Hudson River, around the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan, and
up the East River to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for repair or refit. Upon
completion of that refit, the process to rearm was reversed.
A newly commissioned vessel would simply be launched at the Brooklyn Navy
Yard, sail around Manhattan up the Hudson to Iona Island, be fitted out
with appropriate munitions. Then sail back south down the Hudson and
then sail for open sea for active duty.
Iona Island operated in
conjunction with other Naval Ammunition Depots in the surrounding New
York Harbor area such as Fort Lafayette, which was located in Brooklyn next to
Fort Hamilton and where the current Brooklyn tower for the Verrazzano
Narrows Bridge stands; as well as Lake Denmark Naval Ammunition Depot located in Northern New
With the evolution
of air power and newer methods of warfare saw
a diminished threat of coastal naval
attacks. This and World War II, led to the creation and construction of
Earle Naval Weapons Station (just inland from Asbury Park, NJ). This
location, which was still sufficiently far from the population
of New York City, but significantly more convenient to New York Harbor,
by being located practically at the entrance to it. Following the
commissioning of Earle Naval Weapons Station in 1943, Iona Island
Ammunition Depot was deactivated in 1947.
Iona Island would not be sold to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission until 1965,
so the activity (if any) of Iona Island from 1947 to 1965 remains
The island and its adjacent marsh were designated a National
Natural Landmark in May 1974, and it is part of the Hudson River
National Estuarine Research Reserve. It serves mainly as a bird
sanctuary, particularly known as a winter nesting place for bald eagles.
Most of the island is still off limits to general visitation,
but the unsecured parts are frequented by bird watchers, hikers,
naturalists and railfans. Yes, railfans. This is due to the fact that
the CSX Albany
Division / River Subdivision runs through the western part of the
island, and is a popular photographic location! This line is formerly
the New York West Shore & Buffalo Railroad, soon to be absorbed
into the New York Central and known as the West Shore Railroad,
(1880-1968), then Penn Central (1968-1976), Conrail (1976 - 1999)
and presently CSX.
The railroad network at the Iona Island Naval Ammunition Depot was typical of small military
installations, and not elaborate.
However, it appears due to its close proximity to the West Shore
Railroad mainline, Iona Island was fortuitous to have been accorded its
own station. This image raises questions. As seen in the post 1942
aerial image as well as the 1944 valuation map, the Iona Island Station
for the West Shore R.R. was located on the west side of line.
However, and judging from the background in this image (with the N.A.D.
buildings in the background), this image below is facing southeast. The
telegraph lines in this area along the West Shore were also located on
the east side of the tracks. So, there may have been an earlier
incarnation of the Iona Island Station for the West Shore R. R.
originally on the east side.
Iona Island was also the
site of a significant train wreck on 06 July 1927. A local West Shore
freight train was rear ended by a southbound New York Ontario &
Western vacationers express (NYO&W had trackage rights). Cars of
the passenger train telescoped one another in the impact. United States
Marines from the Naval Depot were among the first to arrive and render
aid. More about this accident can be read in detail here: Iona Island Train Wreck.
Stationhouse (first) at Iona Island, NY - date unknown image courtesy of Palisades Interstate Park Commission archives
added 01 May 2019
We unfortunately do not have an "official" map
yet, but one has been requested of the Navy in a FOIA request, if one still exists. A
temporary maps of sorts has been created by the author using the
aerial image above.
It appears the naval railway at Iona Island Railway had an interchange with
the West Shore Line of the New York Central. Freight service appears to have interchanged with a
switch off the West Shore, just out of the image on the bottom of the
following photo. Passenger service north of Haverstraw, NY ceased on the West
Shore in 1958, so that assists us in dating the aerial imagery.
The following image is that aerial view of Iona Island annotated by
the author, and is the best representation of a track layout that we
have right now.
. courtesy of the New York Central System Historical Society collection of Gerald Clearwater submitted by David Mackay
For this railroad, we know
were locomotives in the roster that would be powered by compressed
to eliminate the danger of fire or explosion. Images
exist of these locomotives, and both appear to have Porter on the
steam chest. This author's copies of H. K. Porter
builders records does contain two entries for Iona Island, but
unfortunately did not contain a notation
for those being compressed air
locomotives, despite a classification system at the beginning of the
records stating compressed air locomotive shall be marked with a "P"
following the wheel arrangement, i.e.: 0-4-0P
However, thanks to the following document located online in
Google Books archives, we can confirm the locomotives were in fact
Navy Yearbook - A Resumé of Annual Naval Appropriations Laws from 1883 to 1919, Inclusive Government Printing Office Washington, D.C. - 1919 Google Books added 02 May 2019
According to "Compressed Air; it's production uses and applications" by Gardner Dexter Hiscox; (1903);
The first compressed-air locomotive for Iona Island, N.
Y., to furnish motive power for cars containing ammunition, under
contract with the United States Government, has been completed at the H.
K. Porter Locomotive Works. It is the type of locomotive decided
upon for moving railroad cars about the vast magazines which are the
storehouses for ammunition used in the coast defences and forts
throughout the country. The engine now finished is a novel one, and was
ordered together with a complete plant for charging and operating.
In event of the new locomotive proving
a success and standing the tests that it will be put to, the Government
will order a number of others like it, all to be used on the same island. Iona Island is probably the greatest storehouse for explosives that is owned by the United States. It is situated in
the Hudson River, a short distance from New York, and from it ordnance
and ammunition are sent out to the various points along the coast. For a
long time the handling of explosives has been done with mules, dragging
cars and carts. It has been a slow and tedious process, as well as a
costly one. The island is covered with a
series of railroad tracks, and cars from the West Shore Railroad are
used in shipping material, being loaded and moved about by teams. It is
absolutely necessary that there should be no fire of any kind near the
storehouses of the ammunition.
The success that attended the use of compressed-air locomotives
in the great plant of the California Powder Company, near San
Francisco, drew the attention of the army officials to the availability
of compressed-air traction for Iona Island, and after much planning the first plant was ordered.
This consists of one locomotive capable
of handling standard railroad cars, a series of charging stations along
the lines of the rails for charging the locomotives whenever it is
necessary, and a complete power plant for operating the compressors.
The new locomotive is said to be one of the largest of its
kind ever built. It will run several miles without being recharged, and can be charged with air at
any one of the numerous stations in less than thirty seconds.
being no fire of any kind about the locomotives, there is not the least
danger from explosion.
"Compressed Air; it's production, uses and applications" Gardner Dexter Hiscox; 1903 Google Books added 18 May 2019
One of the great things about the internet age (and trust me,
there are plenty of bad things about it as well) is the access to open
resource websites. Without them, I could not have even have begun to
attempt to search for information and documents pertaining to the
locomotives used at Iona Island. Nor would I have ever expected to find
the actual catalog published by H. K. Porter for their line of
compressed air locomotives no further than a few strokes of my
So, in my
quest to provide complete information, I was able to download the
catalog and provide you, the reader; with a copy for your reading
pleasure. It explains, in layman's terms; how the compressed air
locomotives operated and the physical plant required for supplying them
with air. In addition to this, it also gives the specifications for the
various models on Compressed Air Locomotives offered by H. K. Porter.
This second edition was published several years after the Iona Island
Locomotives were constructed, but the information remains applicable.
US Navy Iona Island #1 - undated - Iona Island, NY H. K. Porter compressed air locomotive - class B-PP Palisades Interstate Park Commission archives courtesy of Donald "Doc" Bayne added 29 April 2019
This next image is of an identical H. K. Porter Compressed Air
locomotive, class B-PP (0-4-0, pneumatic - single tank) also marked Ordnance Department U. S. Navy, but date and
location are not noted. It could be Iona Island or may not.
But I think it is in fact Iona Island #1, and here is my
reasoning why: the H. K. Porter blueprints below note that c/n 2256 was
not equipped with coupler box (for MCB coupler & draft gear) while
the other two B-PP (c/n 2457 and 2613) were built with coupler
boxes; and as c/n 2566 had a steel cab (as did c/n 2457 for "Lake
Denmark Naval Powder Depot") but the third B-PP - c/n 2613
for McCormick Harvesting Machine had a wood cab.
As we have a confirmed image showing Iona Island #1 to compare to
(above) and shows link & pin style coupler identical to the image
below; we can draw the conclusion that no coupler boxes + steel cab =
Iona Island. Details, the answers are always in the details.
US Navy Iona Island #1 - undated - Iona Island, NY Douglas Self collection "The Self Site" www.douglas-self.com/index.htm added 29 April 2019
H. K. Porter side & end elevation blueprints for c/n 2256 (Iona Island #1) Canada Science and Technology Museum archives authors collection added 15 May 2019
US Navy Iona Island #2 - undated - Iona Island, NY H. K. Porter compressed air locomotive - class B-PPP image courtesy of Palisades Interstate Park Commission archives
H. K. Porter compressed air locomotive - class B-PPP National Archives Digital Collection
added 29 April 2019
H. K. Porter side & end elevation blueprints for c/n 3368 (Iona Island #2) H. K. Porter compressed air locomotive - class B-PPP Canada Science and Technology Museum archives authors collection added 15 May 2019
General Electric 45 ton / 50 ton Centercab of the type used at Iona Island Naval Ammunition Depot, Iona Island, NY (50 ton had thicker deck plate)
added 01 May 2019
US Navy - Iona Island Naval Ammunition Depot, Stony Point, NY Steam Locomotive Roster
number / name
H. K. Porter
12" x 16"
class B-PP (compressed air) dual tank
H. K. Porter
12" x 16"
class B-PPP (compressed air) three tanks
Naval Ammunition Depot #3? 65-00123
Shippers Car Line, Milton, PA
50 ton centercab Cummins HBI-600 (x2) 300hp B-B-100/100-2GE733
Naval Ammunition Depot #4? 65-00122
ACF Industries, Shippers Car Line, TX 8/1966 Rescar Industries, Longview, TX Power Source (dealer) Ed Bowers (dealer) General Railroad Services
45 ton centercab Cummins HBI-600 (x2) 300hp B-B-90/90-2GE733
Naval Ammunition Depot #5 Iona Island, NY 65-00121
Northern Railway of
Costa Rica #7 Rebuilt to42” gauge
45 ton centercab Cummins HBI-600 (x2) 300hp B-B-90/90-2GE733
With special thanks to:
Donald "Doc" Bayne Historical Society of Rockland County Matthew Shook and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission David Mackay, Lionel Sander IV and John Ham and the New York Central System Historical Society as well as the New York Central Railroad Fangroup on Facebook