History: Hell Gate & the Removal of Rocks

Hell Gate

The swirling tides of the East River were famed for bedeviling sailors, starting with the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block in 1614. He gave the East River's midway point the name Helegat, meaning "bright passage." But as a place of whirlpools and dangerous rocks, the Anglicization that stuck was Hell Gate.

The Hell Gate contains the remains of countless ships. Most will forever remain nameless, while some have become legendary.

The H.M.S. Hussar was one such vessel. The Hussar was a British frigate of War, part of a fleet of privateers. It had left Charles Town carrying soldiers, slaves, rations and a vast fortune of Gold and Silver -- payroll for the British forces stationed in the colonies. On her way she attacked two ships, confiscating their treasure and sinking the. Then she met two sister ships. Both had been commissioned into battle so unloaded their cargoes onto her. As you can imagine, the Hussar was now heavily overloaded, and became easy prey for the the jaws of Hell Gate. Weighed down, she was unable to maneuver around the currents and smashed her bow into Pot Rock. She went down on November 23rd 1780 with 150 men and $15 000 000 worth of gold on board. Some believe the treasure still lies on the river bed today. A treasure, is now estimated to be worth up to $1.5 billion.

Hell Gate from Barn Island
blasting hell gate rocks
Blasting the Hell Gate Rocks
The largest manmade explosion

prior to the atomic bomb

In 1885, engineers dug excavations, and inserted explosives in them to remove the treacherous reefs and rocks. This culminated with the largest manmade explosion before the atomic bomb.

Today, the Hell Gate is spanned by the Hell Gate Bridge, completed in 1917, and the Triborough Bridge, completed in 1936.

hell gate
Map of Hell Gate From 1885
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See our links page to find an East River organization that needs your help.

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