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Iona Island Naval Ammunition Depot - Military Railroads of the New York Metropolitan Area

MILITARY RAILROADS
OF THE NEW YORK METROPOLITAN AREA:


IONA ISLAND NAVAL MAGAZINE /
IONA ISLAND NAVAL AMMUNITION DEPOT

Stony Point, Rockland County, NY

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updated:
SATURDAY, 18 MAY 2019 - 22:30

update summary

date

H. K. Porter Compressed Air Locomotive Catalog - 1914 added18 May 2019
H. K. Porter blueprints for Iona Island #1 and #2 added16 May 2019
images & content added02 May 2019
page created 29 April 2019



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Table of Contents
HistoryTrackageLocomotive Overview & PhotosLocomotive RosterSpecial Thanks

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History

   
   So, 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. 

   This 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

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   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

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   There were two outstanding reasons for Iona Island Naval Munitions Depot to be created. The first: munitions, shells and other explosives 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

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   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

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   The Navy ultimately constructed 164 buildings, to include: a hospital, firehouse, guardhouse, barracks, officers’ quarters, icehouse, inspection buildings, recreational facilities, powerhouse, wharves, as well as the intended shell and powder buildings and storage magazines. To efficiently serve the facility 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

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   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

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   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 and II. 

   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 Jersey.

   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 center 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 Naval 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 unknown.

   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. 

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Trackage


   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
   

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   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. 


Iona Island - undated (believed to be post 1960)
  We can see what appears to be a small internal combustion type industrial locomotive on the siding next to the main line of the West Shore Railroad as well.
Three units have been located in the General Electric builders records, and are in the roster below.
original image: Palisades Interstate Park Commission archives
courtesy of Donald "Doc" Bayne

annotated version: © 2019 ~ www.militaryrrofnyc.info
added 29 April 2019

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courtesy of the New York Central System Historical Society
collection of Gerald Clearwater

submitted by David Mackay

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Locomotives

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    For this railroad, we know there were locomotives in the roster that would be powered by compressed air 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 compressed air.


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


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   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.

There 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
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   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 keyboard. 

   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.

H. K. Porter Modern Compressed Air Locomotives Catalog - 1914

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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

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   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

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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

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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
added 29 April 2019

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http://members.trainweb.com/bedt/milrr/iinad21917.jpg
US Navy Iona Island  #2 - 1917 - Iona Island, NY
H. K. Porter compressed air locomotive - class B-PPP
National Archives Digital Collection
added 29 April 2019

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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

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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
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US Navy - Iona Island Naval Ammunition Depot, Stony Point, NY
 Steam Locomotive Roster


builder

c/n
build
date

gauge
wheel
arrangement
wheel 
dia

cylinders

acquired

number / name

disposition

notes
ref
H. K. Porter 2256 12/1900 std. 0-4-0P 12" x 16" new unknown class B-PP (compressed air)
dual tank
[3]
H. K. Porter 3368 1/1906 std. 0-4-0P12" x 16"new#2unknown class B-PPP (compressed air)
three tanks
[3]
General Electric151521/31/1942std.B-B33"n/anewNaval Ammunition Depot #3?
65-00123
Shippers Car Line,
Milton, PA
50 ton centercab
Cummins HBI-600 (x2) 300hp 
B-B-100/100-2GE733
[15]
General Electric152725/22/1942std.B-B33"n/anewNaval 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
[15]
General Electric152806/20/1942std.B-B33"n/anewNaval Ammunition Depot #5
Iona Island, NY
65-00121

Northern Railway of Costa Rica #7
Rebuilt to 42” gauge
       

45 ton centercab
Cummins HBI-600 (x2) 300hp
B-B-90/90-2GE733
[15]


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



Index:

Military Railroads of the New York Metropolitan AreA
Main Page

New York NavAL SHIPYard
a/k/a BROOKLYN NAVY YARD

Fleet Supply Base
SOUTH BROOKLYN


Brooklyn Army Terminal

EARLE N.A.D.
N.W.S. EARLE


IONA ISLAND N.A.d.

Governors Island /
Fort Jay


Fort Wood /
Bedloes Island


Fort Tilden

Fort Hamilton

Fort Schuyler

FORT TOTTEN

Fort Wadsworth

MILITARY OCEAN TERMINAL - BAYONNE

Fort TerryFort Hancock / SANDY HOOK PROVING GROUNDS
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