Iona Island (New York)

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Aerial view of Iona Island in the brown waters of the Hudson, looking northeast.
Iona Island from atop Bear Mountain

Iona Island is a 556-acre (2.2 km²) bedrock island, part of the Hudson River nature reserve in the town of Stony Point, New York, about one mile south of the Bear Mountain Bridge. It is part of Bear Mountain State Park. The island is separated from the Hudson's western shore by mudflats and freshwater tidal marshes. It and its surrounding marsh were designated a National Natural Landmark in May 1974[1] as well as the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve and a "Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat Area".[2] It serves mainly as a bird sanctuary, particularly known as a winter nesting place for bald eagles.[3]


View of Iona Island from Popolopen Torne

Iona Island is transected by active railroad tracks, but is accessible to the public only by a causeway connecting it to U.S. Route 9W in Bear Mountain State Park, near Doodletown. It is maintained by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.

The southeastern part of the island, once cut off by marshes, is known as Round Island. It was attached to the south end of Iona Island with fill in the early 20th century. The hill on the western side, south of the causeway, was also once treated as separate, and referred to as Courtland Island. Snake Hole Creek originates in the low marshes towards the center of the island and flows southwesterly, then turning to the southeast and finally east in a long crescent to reach the Hudson. It separates the marshes of Salisbury Meadow, on the west side, from Ring Meadow, on the east side.


Iona Island as seen from West Mountain

Native Americans spent the summers fishing from the island’s shores. Artifacts excavated on Iona Island are on display at the Bear Mountain Trailside Museum and Zoo. In 1683, members of the Van Cortlandt family purchased the land from the natives.[4] It was originally known as Salisbury Island, and later as Weyant's Island[5] (for the local Weyant or Weiant[6] family). It was occupied by British troops during the Revolution.[7]

In 1847, it was bought by John Beveridge for Dr. E. W. Grant, his son-in-law, who renamed it Iona Island and planted it with Iona grapes and fruit trees.[6] Grant supplied the Union army with produce during the Civil War. In 1868, his creditors foreclosed on the island.[5]

The island was purchased by a group of investors and developed a summer resort on the island. Grant’s mansion home became a hotel, and the investors gradually added an amusement park with a carousel, ferris wheel, dance floor, pavilion, and picnic grounds.[5] It also had a dock to accommodate steamboats which brought pleasure-seekers up from New York City and New Jersey.[6] The construction of the West Shore Railroad across the island in 1882 made it even more accessible to tourists.

The naval facility on Iona Island.

In 1900, the island was bought by the U.S. Navy for use as a naval ammunition depot, becoming one of the largest ammunition facilities in the nation, at that time. On November 4, 1903 an explosion at the site killed six workers, and blew out windows across the river in Peekskill, three miles away.[4] The explosion occurred while men were drawing the explosive charges from a consignment of old shells recently arrived from the battleship Massachusetts.[8]

The depot supplied much of the munitions for both World War I and II, and remained in service until 1947. Approximately five of the original 164 arsenal buildings remain, which the park now uses for storage.[4] Following World War II until the early 70s, the famous “mothball fleet” of decommissioned warships were moored near the island at Tomkins Cove. It was bought by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission in 1965.[5] In 1974 it was named a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service. As an active wildlife sanctuary, Iona Island is currently closed to the public.


The island was the subject of a Bioblitz in 2000[9]

List of identified bird species[edit]


  1. ^ NPS NNL Summary[dead link]
  2. ^ "Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve", New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
  3. ^ "Iona Island", Audubon Society
  4. ^ a b c Levine, David. "Iona Island: A History of Bear Mountain State Park’s Most Mysterious Isle in Rockland County, NY", Hudson Valley Magazine, July 2011
  5. ^ a b c d Myles, William J (1999). Harriman Trails (2nd ed.). The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. ISBN 1-880775-18-2. 
  6. ^ a b c Stalter, Elizabeth (1996). Doodletown. Bear Mountain, New York: Palisades Interstate Park Commission Press. ISBN 0-9655737-0-2. 
  7. ^ "History of the Town of Highlands", Town of Highlands
  8. ^ "Explosion At United States Naval Arsenal", The Titusville Herald, Tiusville, Pennsylvania, November 5, 1903
  9. ^ Bioblitz

External links[edit]