Historic, but not famous

Liz Christy, community garden builder

Liz Christy was a founder of the urban community garden group, Green Guerillas. She was the first Director of the Council on the Environment, in New York City’s Open Space Greening Program and LCBH garden was the first winner of the American Forestry Association’s ‘Urban Forestry Award.’ In 1973, Liz Christy and a group of gardening activists were planting window boxes, vacant lots with ‘seed bombs’ and tree pits in the area. They saw the large rubble-strewn lot as a potential garden and in December went to the City to find a way to gain official use of the land. Volunteers hauled the garbage and rubble out, spread donated topsoil, installed a fence and began planting. In 1974 they received permission to use the space for $1 a month. The first year, sixty raised beds were planted with vegetables, and then trees and herbaceous borders were added.

The garden she founded and that is named for her is on Houston Street and Bowery (the NorthEast corner). The first community garden in the five boroughs of New York, it is one of the earliest community gardens in the northeastern United States and where you can find the tallest Dawn Redwood tree in NYC as well as hundreds of plants native to North America. This garden sparked a neighborhood garden movement throughout all the boroughs of NYC and the green guerrillas held workshops on how to start a community garden.

Liz Christy Garden is open to the public on Saturday from noon until 4PM, all year, on Sundays from noon until 4 PM, May to October, and Tuesday & Thursday evenings from 6 p.m. till dusk from May until October.

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Historic, but not famous

Kate Walker, lighthouse keeper

Katherine Walker (1848–1931), born in Germany, was an American lighthouse keeper. She married Joseph Kaird and they had a son, Jacob, in 1875, but Joseph died shortly after. In 1882, the widow and her young son emigrated to the United States. She met her second husband, Captain John Walker, while she was a cook in a boarding house in New Jersey.

The couple married in 1884 and became the keepers of the lighthouse in Sandy Hook, New Jersey. A year later, they were assigned to the Robbins Reef Lighthouse in the New York Harbor and she had a daughter less than a year after that. Her husband died of pneumonia in 1886 and Katherine stayed on as the lighthouse tender for the next 33 years, motivated by her husband’s final words to his wife, “Mind the light, Kate,”.

She worked as the assistant keeper for her husband and it took 4 years of men refusing the job at Robbins Reef before she was offered the job as main keeper. She eventually became so used to the island life, it made her nervous to leave. Generally she only left to row her children to school in Staten Island. Once a year, a lighthouse official would stop by the lighthouse to drop off a few tons of coal, barrels of oil, and an envelope containing her wages.

In 1919, at the age of 71, Walker reluctantly retired as the Robbins Reef keeper, as required by a federal law passed the previous year. Her son Jacob took over as keeper. In her thirty-three years at the lighthouse, she saw the progression from kerosene lamps to oil vapor lamps and eventually to electricity. She died in 1931, at the age of 1983, and is buried in Ocean View cemetery on Staten Island. A US Coast Guard Coastal Buoy Tender is named for her. The folk song, “Lighthouse Keeper” by Neptune’s Car was reportedly inspired by Walker.

There is a proposal to restore the lighthouse at Robbins Reef and turn it into a museum with information on Ms. Walker’s life and dedication to the sailors of NY Harbor.

 

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