Coney Island - Timeline

Revised 10/24/97



  • The four story Oriental Hotel capped by exotic minarets opens.

  • The Sheepshead Bay Race Track opened in June. It was built by members of the Coney Island Jockey Club which included millionaire members of the New York business establishment.

  • The rich who patronized the tracks and lived in lodges nearby during the summer racing season, created three great seafood restaurants in the vicinity; Tappan's, Villepique's and Lundy's.

  • Buel T. Hitchcock built the New Iron Pier to handle steamers from Manhattan that pulled up to the pier every twenty minutes and deposited passengers during the busy summer season.


  • John Y. McKane acquired his own police force.


  • Peter Tilyou built Coney Island's first theater, the Surf Theater along an alley that was soon to be dubbed "The Bowery."


  • Fire destroys "The Gut" an area between W. 3rd and W. 5th.


  • Lamarcus Thompson built the first amusement railroad in the world, his Switchback Railroad at W. 10th Street at Coney Island. It consisted of a pair of wooden undulating tracks on a structure 600 feet long. A train started at its highest point and ran down grade and up until it lost momentum. Passengers got out while attendants pushed the train over a switch to a somewhat higher point on the second track. The passengers boarded the train again and rode back to the starting point. It only cost Thompson $1600 to build, but his ten cents per ride receipts averaged $600-700 per day.


  • James V. Lafferty after two years of construction, finished his Elephant Hotel, a small hotel in the shape of an elephant. It stood 122 feet high, with legs 60 feet in circumference. A cigar store operated out of one front leg, and a diorama was in the other. A spiral staircase in the hind leg led visitors upstairs where a shop and several guest rooms were located. The elephant's head, facing the ocean, offered good vistas of the sea through slits where the eyes were located.

  • Brooklyn's reformers tried to enforce anti-gambling statues at Coney's race tracks. While both Engeman and the govenors of the Coney Island Club were indited, authorities couldn't obtain a conviction.


  • Members of the Brooklyn Jockey Club built Coney Island's third race track at Gravesend just off the Ocean Parkway. This jockey club included many of the same men who had formed the earlier Coney Island Jockey Club. Now with three race tracks, Coney became the horse racing capital of the country.


  • A New York State legislative committee in March began investigating the corrupt administration of Coney Island police chief, John Y. McKane. George Tilyou testified against McKane. When the committee's findings were pigeon-holed by McKane's political friends and McKane wasn't prosecuted, the Tilyous lost their family business.


  • The beach became so badly eroded in front of the Brighton Beach Hotel that waves threatened the structure. To save the 500 foot long, three story hotel that weighed 6000 tons, workers jacked up the entire hotel, placed it on 120 rail cars, and eased in inland six hundred feet. Six locomotives in two teams of three each, beginning on April 3, 1888, moved the building so gently that not a pane of glass was broken nor a mirror in a room was cracked. The job was finished on June 29th with the hotel ready for business.







  • The West Brighton Hotel and other buildings including Balmer's Bathing Pavilion burned on January 6th. The fire, which started in Chamber's Drug Store at Surf Avenue & W. 8th., was fanned by gale winds blowing eastward. The loss was $250,000.

  • A smaller fire on June 17th, which started in a bakery, burned an entire block by the West End Railroad Station at Surf Avenue and W. 11th. Boss McKane, alarmed by two dangerous fires in one year, sugguested that the Island needed to buy two steam fire engines.


  • Political boss John Y. McKane was sentenced to serve six years at Sing Sing prison for voter tampering and fraud. Crowds lined the street on March 1, 1894 to watch him depart. The resort's most notorious political boss had fallen.

  • George Tilyou errected a 125 diameter Ferris Wheel (12 cars - each holding 18 passengers) at the Bowery and W. 8th Street near the Iron Tower.


  • Captain Paul Boyton opened Sea Lion Park, the world's first enclosed amusement park charging admission on the east side of Surf Avenue It featured a Shoot-the-Chutes water slide, Old Mill ride, and a Sea Lion show. He also demonstrated his floating rubber suit that enabled him to paddle across the English Channel and down rivers in both Europe and North America.

  • A fire on May 16, 1895 burned everything between Feltman's and the Iron Tower. Steubenbord's, St. Nicholas and the Iron Pier Hotels were burned along with the Post Office, a Ferris Wheel, shooting gallery and two apartment buildings that McKane owned. Damages were $250,000.


  • Fire swept the Elephant Hotel and the Shaw Channel Chute (a roller coaster) that surrounded it on Sunday evening September 27th. The seven story high elephant shaped hotel had been unoccupied for several years.


  • George Tilyou opens Steeplechase Park along the beach on 15 acres. He obtains the rights a British inventor's horse racing ride, improved it and made it his premier attraction. Other rides and attractions were grouped around it within the park's walls. Tilyou charged one price to ride all of the attractions as many times as the visitor wished.

  • "Streets of Cairo," an exotic attraction of alleyways faced with buildings topped by minarets, opened at Surf Avenue & W. 10th Street. Barkers offered camel rides and glipses of belly dancers, but it was actually a shrine to god of chance.

  • After banning coochee coochee dancers in April, Brooklyn District Attorney Backus in August began enforcing the Raines Law in an attempt to improve the resort's moral character. Fortune tellers and palmists were run out of town and the men were arrested who operated games of chance. Even the singing of vulgar songs at "concert" halls was curtailed and owners were warned that women of known "bad" character wouldn't be allowed to perform.



  • On May 27th an early morning fire destroyed $800,000 worth of West Brighton. Sixty buildings burned & 17 people were badly injured . The fire burned along 8 blocks and included Henderson's Bath House. Only one block of the Bowery burned, but Stauch's Dance Hall and Feltman's big casino were destroyed. Five hours after the fire started, and after the sea breeze shifted, the firemen from 18 engine companies contained the fire.